A Confession Letter to the Academy

As I dug deeper into the recent NCA/RSA Distinguished Scholars/RPA controversy, I found myself reacting very strongly — with the need to ponder, reflect, and write. For additional (and in my opinion, more eloquent) insights, I would highly recommend reading Dr. Mohan J. Dutta’s blog post or following Dr. Lisa Corrigan on Twitter, but here is how I’ve decided to comment on the situation.

FYI, this wasn’t easy to write and was even harder for me to hit publish. But as my academic/life goals crush Brené Brown says to herself every morning: “I choose courage over comfort.” And so, here we are: a letter.


Dear Academy,

When I first met you, it was truly love at first sight. I came in fully intending to get my master’s, but realized the power of teaching and conducting valuable research. It seemed like you were into me too.

For years, I fought hard to win your affection. I networked and collected the best mentors in the field. I honed my teaching craft through professional development opportunities to win over students. I applied for awards and won those awards to pad my CV. I took on leadership positions and did my best to excel in those positions. I spent hours upon hours poring over journal articles and memorizing theories and citations to become an expert in my field. I did my due diligence to make you proud — as a perfectionist, I was sure of that.

Then our relationship started to shift, and it got to the point where I could no longer smile and deny it anymore. I was sensing that we needed to part ways.

Maybe it was when I kept noticing the same types of research studies being published and cited over and over again by the same, small group of [privileged] people. Maybe it was the way colleagues didn’t understand my need to advocate for students when there were other “priorities” that seemed more important. Maybe it was when the global advice was to “stay quiet until you got tenure” but I knew I couldn’t when there were serious cracks in the system that so desperately needed to be addressed.

Between serving as a role model for minority students, sitting on committees to hit a “diversity quota,” conducting research studies that might be deemed too “provocative” to be publishable, and feeling like I needed to be “grateful” for my job and that I owed something to the system, something in me snapped. I had to take matters into my own hands and walk away.

Yes, I was ashamed and embarrassed. Back then I felt like a complete failure: unable to “cut it” in academia, the rockstar who got too burnt out, a loser. But as I’m sure other faculty of color could sympathize, I did what I felt I had to do — it was my own self-preservation tactic. I was disappointed and overburdened, and I simply couldn’t do it anymore. The bottom line: there was only so much invisible labor I could take before I would either be deemed a troublemaker or a conformist.

I chose neither.

I chose to leave the only career I knew and loved, even for a few years, so I could recalibrate and reassess what I really wanted.

Please understand that it was SO freaking hard. To this day I see updates from friends and colleagues, and wonder what would have happened if I just stuck it out. I’d have tenure by now. I could have made a difference through my teaching and research.

I could have stayed. Maybebut more likely if I were white.

But I’m not, and this was my experience. I also know that if I had stayed, I would have gotten more sick, anxious, and unhealthy in the process.

Trust me, I know that I’m a huge part of the problem. Years of therapy and journaling exposed where my need for external validation stemmed from, and how I need more self compassion and mercy.

But Dear Academy, I need to call it out for what it is: you normalize it, even encourage it. You make junior scholars feel less than if they’re not working around the clock, or wasting time focusing on the “wrong things,” or having lives outside of your walls. You claim there’s a “diversity problem” but your tactics for change are shallow and cosmetic, and oftentimes you barely attempt to tap into the source — you’d rather fill your committees with token POC faculty than take the time to actually be reflexive and unpack what’s really going on here.

But I understand. It’s SO hard to flip the script when the main offenders are tenured folks who are not yet woke. And yet, you scratch your heads and seem legitimately confused when faculty of color seem hesitant to downright irritated when they need to step away from their [double/triple] work to YET again give YOU perspective? Don’t you understand, Academy? It’s fucking exhausting. Especially when these additional efforts clearly don’t meet your tenure requirements.

For the past two years I kept my feelings close to my chest. For the past two years only a few people knew the whole truth of what drove me away. But recent events have called me to come clean. Current discussions in our field are now coming to a head. And so, I needed to send this confession letter to you. Maybe we are meant to stay separated. Maybe hearing about this controversy was meant to bring me back to you, even for this pivotal moment, to speak my truth. In any case, I’m through with acting like things were amicable when we separated. What I went through with you, by the end, was difficult and painful.

But if anything, it helped me emerge stronger than ever. Now I know the extent of my gifts and talents as a writer and communicator. Now I firmly believe that I am capable of doing so much more than what you expected.

Sincerely,

Dr. Rowena Winkler

Me in South Africa during one of my last trips as a tenure-track professor, 2016.

Striving for Motherhood: A Struggle Revealed

In April, I participated in CampNaNoWriMo to work toward writing one of my (many) book ideas: a memoir. Here is an excerpt.

For as long as I could remember, I have wanted to be a mother. From the time I could talk, I was caring for my “baby” dolls, rocking them to sleep and cradling them in the house. By middle school, I had names picked out for my first son and daughter, even though I barely knew how babies were made. Every serious boyfriend and I would discuss how many children we wanted, and oftentimes I would start stories with the phrase, “with my future children…”. I just knew it was a done deal for me.

In 2016, I married a wonderful man who was also my best friend. After a year of marriage, we decided to start talking about the possibility of having children, which was something we both wanted. And so, in November 2017 I finished my last pack of birth control and we officially started “actively trying.”

And trying. And trying. And trying.

Me and my husband, Derek.

As a Type-A, organized planner type. I sprang into action. I downloaded a bunch of apps to help me keep track of my cycle. I talked to Derek in advance about which days would be the best to “target” with our intimate activities. I started thinking about baby names and how to convert one of our offices into a nursery.

Looks like I was getting way ahead of myself.

Due to the fact that I had been on birth control over 10 years at this point, my body wasn’t quite sure what to do with itself without all the hormonal assistance. Each month was a guessing game of whether I would get my period for a day or two, or if it would continue for several weeks on end. My time of ovulation was so sporadic, it was barely trackable. My husband and I would try as best as we could, but we never got the timing right, and even then, the performance anxiety for us was getting so incredibly debilitating that we couldn’t relax and get into it enough for it to be remotely successful. I quickly became someone who enjoyed having sex to someone who would get so hype about it because I wanted to make sure things were “just right” in case we got pregnant.

A year came and went, and we found ourselves at the end of 2018. We weren’t pregnant, and as we watched several of our friends have beautiful babies, we decided we needed to get the medical field involved. I made an appointment with my Ob-Gyn to see what she could do.

Turns out this was going to be more complicated than I had originally thought.


If you are a recovering perfectionist/planner like me, I’m sure you can understand how frustrating it is to want something so badly and not be able to get it by following all the “steps” that are needed. I got a Ph.D. in three years for goodness sake, and yet, getting pregnant was a whole new level of work and frustration. Every month Derek and I would hope “this would be it,” only to be disappointed when the dreaded Aunt Flo came to town. There was even a month that I didn’t get my period at all, and even though the pregnancy tests said otherwise, I was certain I was pregnant. I even withheld alcohol at our friends’ wedding just because I was so sure. But soon after, my Ob-Gyn told me that this was not the case, and after a lot of tears, we had to repeat the whole cycle all over again.

All the negative pregnancy tests. Hooray.

Speaking of drinking, that became a whole vicious cycle in and of itself. I would refrain from alcohol for about a month in case I were to get pregnant. Then I would get my period, which would make me upset to the point of binge drinking to numb myself from the extreme sadness I felt about yet another “failure.” I knew that this was probably a not-so-healthy way to go about things, but I felt insane continuing this roller coaster of hope-excitement-despair every month. I couldn’t stand not getting pregnant when it seemed like everyone else around me could. I felt awful and responsible and blamed myself for not being able to make this happen.

Finally, it got to the point where Derek and I had to go to a fertility specialist. The almost two-hour intake appointment in February 2019 consisted of discussing our medical history with the doctor. To make matters even worse, Derek and I had gotten into a fight the night before and it wasn’t entirely resolved, so I went into that appointment feeling awkward and upset. But business was business, so we sat side by side in front of the doctor to talk about how to make a child happen. The prescreening checklist was overwhelming—but doable as someone who thrives on to-do lists. Derek and I had to get a series of tests completed before making our next appointment with the doctor.

Just a “sampling” of all the paperwork.

The tests were a whole other beast. I had to make sure my GYN exam was up-to-date, which was the easy part. I then had to do bloodwork, which doesn’t bother me because I had gotten a lot done over the years. But this shit was a whole new level. When it was time to sit down in the raised comfy chair in LabCorp, I watched the technician draw SEVEN vials of blood out of me. SEVEN. I felt like I was floating above myself as homeboy literally threw vials of my blood onto the lab’s table. It was fucking surreal.

Next was the HSG, which was essentially having a radiologist push dye through your fallopian tubes to determine whether they are open or closed. I was extremely nervous the morning of the procedure and asked Derek to come with me. A coworker had gone through a similar procedure and said it was really painful. I had walked into that lab expecting the worst, but the two female technicians were really sweet and in a quick instant, the procedure was done. I cried after it was over due to the overwhelming emotions related to finding out what the fuck was wrong with my body. I’ll soon be told at my follow-up appointment with the doctor.


The day of the follow-up appointment, Derek was running late and I walked into the doctor’s office alone. They wanted to move things along, of course, so I started to take notes without him. The doctor was explaining the results of my (what seemed like a million) tests when Derek called because he couldn’t remember what floor the office was located. I hung up and rolled my eyes at the doctor. Doesn’t he know there’s signage to tell you these things?

The doctor gave me a piece of paper and asked me to create two columns where she spewed out a series of numbers. On the left side, I wrote:

FSH: 10.04
AMH: 1.55
AFC: 9

And on the right side, I wrote:

FSH: < 8-10
AMH: >1
AFC: <10

(Though not quite as legible, as I had forgotten from elementary school math how to denote “greater than” and “less than” signs, smh).

The doctor explained that the left column was my results and the right was what was considered “normal.” She continued that for someone my age it was “surprising” that two of these numbers are borderline. She then stated that it’s likely that I have DOR or Diminished Ovarian Reserve.

In other words, my body doesn’t make quite enough eggs and could explain my variable ovulation periods where one month I have a period for three weeks straight and the next month I have a two day period.

Here are some stats that the doctor threw down at us:

  • On our own, we had a 3-5% chance of conceiving.
  • With IUI we have a 5-10% chance.
  • With IVF it jumps up to 30-40%.

Well then. At least we aren’t completely to blame for our failed efforts the past 16 months.

3 Ways I Gained Perspective in My 30s

ICYMI, I turned 33 years old exactly 10 days ago (you can check out highlights from my Lady Gaga-themed birthday party here). Some folks in my position would be sad to be officially out of their 20s, but in all honesty, I kinda love my 30s.

Why do I prefer this decade of life? I’ve said this out loud to a number of people, but in case you missed it, I’ll lay it out right here, right now: I am *finally* becoming more comfortable with who I am and what I want.

As with everything, this is still a work in progress. However, as my birthday came and went, and we charge into a new astrological new year (where my astrology peeps at?!) I’ve been very reflective lately on how I got here.

And so, after much thinking and introspection, I’ve landed on three major ways my perspective has changed as I’ve embraced my 30s—and more importantly—embraced my authentic self.

New Perspective On Family

Over five years ago (has it really been that long?) my dad passed away, which flipped my entire world upside down and forced me to look at things in a completely different way. I suddenly found myself taking a step back to reflect on what actually matters, and as a result, made some changes in terms of how I live my life. Some days are better than others of course, but after my dad passed I’ve made a concerted effort to not take anything (or anyone) for granted.

How did I gain perspective? By discovering…

  • I have an amazing support system, including a wonderful chosen family in addition to my biological fam.
  • I have a wonderful husband and partner who is ready and willing to stick by my side no matter what life throws at us.
  • My parents are a part of me and have played a huge role in who I am and how I operate in the world.
  • I need to embrace my culture because it is definitely something I want to pass on to my future children.
  • When it comes to family in general, you need to hold on to the things that matter. Let everything else go.

New Perspective On Career

In one of my more popular posts, I talked about my pivot from teaching communication to working in the field of communication at Vectorworks—a HUGE deal because I thought I would be a professor for the rest of my life. Now here we are, almost two years later, and I feel like I’ve already learned so much: about leaning on my team, trusting myself, and remaining curious regardless of where I am employed. I’m proud that my efforts at Vectorworks have paid off in the form of a promotion, where I now have the opportunity as Communications Manager to lead and mentor junior writers on my team. Even though it was very scary at the time, leaving academia has taught me many life lessons that I wouldn’t have received otherwise.

How did I gain perspective? By observing…

  • Perfectionism doesn’t bode well for me in the workplace.
  • Working 24/7 doesn’t bring me joy and balance.
  • Having amazing co-workers makes the workday worthwhile.
  • Having solid mentors and managers is immensely valuable.
  • My “not enough” at work is actually great…even promotable!
  • I am capable of making a lasting impact on my team and organization.

New Perspective On Mindset

Many of my teachers/benefactors have discussed the power of meditation, but it isn’t until very recently that I’ve decided to make the effort to meditate at least 10 minutes every morning. Since beginning this practice, I have been more cognizant of staying present and observing thoughts and feelings without judgment or attachment. As practicing yogi I’ve always understood the power of mindfulness and breath, but through daily meditation, I hope to work on bringing yoga principles to my every day awareness, outside of the mat.

How did I gain perspective? By realizing…

  • The power of staying present reaps many benefits.
  • Being mindful in what I say and do oftentimes reduces my anger/defensiveness/fear.
  • Some deep breathing (even for a few minutes!) can do magical wonders.
  • If I surround myself with people who can serve as teachers/role models on conscious living, I am constantly reminded of what I strive for in my own life.

So there you have it. Not a mind-blowing list by any means, but certainly one that took a few decades of work to bring to my awareness.

Anything you would add? Anything I may have missed?

Making Nature Matter: How Inspiration is Instructive

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“Creativity inspires authenticity. The greatest artist is in the moment, and simply allows.” ~ Adriene Mishler, Yoga with Adriene 

I wake up and walk outside to look over the beautiful horizon, and immediately am moved to write. Poetry that would normally take hours or even days to write back home is now pouring out of my pen and into my journal as if someone is whispering the lines into my ear.

I rise with the expanse that rises alongside me
Marveling at its beauty
While marveling at how little I stop to take in its beauty in the first place
Life is funny like that
You rush through it without realizing what is even there
What you may have lost
What is still open for you to gain

41732493_10101664747883939_1203988730180796416_oThe lack of hustle and bustle can do wonders for clearing your brain and sparking innovationThere’s even scientific research claiming that spending time in nature can indeed inspire creativity. It certainly did for me.

It’s overall good for your health too. Studies have shown that being in nature can improve memory, increase focus, reduce anxiety and depression, and act as an overall de-stressing agent. When I was at Knoll Farm for the Labor Day Namaste Getaway yoga retreat, I’ve never felt so relaxed. I used the words “marvel” and “wonder” more times than I could count; the scenery is just breathtakingly beautiful.

Additionally, the farm would surprise us with little poetic treasures that seemed to spring up throughout the trip. In one example, I found a Robert Frost anthology on a bookshelf and read poems that inspired my own takes of his work. Here’s an example:

RF and RBW

Another gem from the farm was when a bee flew onto my backpack…to drop off a dead fly. In the spirit of my last post, where else would I have even noticed such a fascinating (and kind of morbid) gift?

One final example of the many serendipitous moments that happened while on the farm. Erica, one of our trip leaders, opened up a random book right before our morning practice and used it to lead us in meditation. I think it was perfect:

Anything that goes up into the sky will fall down again to the earth, pulled by the force of gravity. These energies of illusion, these decorations and worldly beauties can never reach great heights, but they still do attract you. This is the way these saktis, or energies and elemental miracles, work.

~M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen’s Come to the Secret Garden: Sufi Tales of Wisdom, p. 125

Elemental miracles indeed. Funny how these “worldly beauties” are never treated as such. I’d like to flip the script to do more mindfully appreciate them, how about you?

THIS POST IS THE SECOND OF A SERIES BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE AT THE LABOR DAY NAMASTE GETAWAY 2018. FEEL FREE TO SHOW SOME LOVE BY SUBSCRIBING FOR UPCOMING POSTS AT THE SIDEBAR TO YOUR RIGHT. ➡️ ❤️

What Happens When Beetles Teach You Life Lessons

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As I looked up from my journal, I noticed something moving on the ground.

A beetle.

“He’s pretty big,” I thought. “I hope he doesn’t crawl this way all over my stuff.”

Suddenly, as if he was listening, the beetle turned left—away from my yoga mat—right on cue. Looking a bit further up, I noticed another beetle on its back, clearly dead.

“A fallen foe?” I wondered. I decided to continue watching the beetle who appeared to be the victor of whatever went down between him and the other creature, and noticed he was actually limping.

“Poor guy,” I thought. Wow, how quickly I went from wanting him to move away from me to sympathizing with his current state.

Now intrigued, I watched him pull himself along the floorboards of the Mountain Yurt—where we finished a yoga practice merely minutes before. He didn’t make it very far before he got caught on the edge of a floorboard and flipped over onto his back.

I immediately sprang up from my seated position on my yoga mat and walked over. Still too afraid to touch the insect that caught my attention, I used some leftover business cards in my backpack to set him upright, but he kept getting flipped over again and again.

Finally, after several tries, I scooped the beetle up and brought him outside. I then picked up my yoga mat and journal and started making the trek back down to the barn, where my group would be gathering for lunch.

***

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This encounter with my newfound beetle friend happened a few weeks ago at Knoll Farm in Waitsfield, Vermont. I was there for the third annual Labor Day Namaste Getaway led by yoga instructors (and my friends) Kristin Walsh and Erica Schommer. This trip was my second time at the retreat and my second time at Knoll Farm. Surrounded by nature in all its beauty and splendor.

…and here I am, sitting a huge Mountain Yurt, alone, staring at a beetle. The whole time all I could think of was: since when do we have time to watch beetles like this? 

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In a world full of distractions (both online and offline), folks can find it difficult to slow down, savor each moment, and keep in mind what’s important.

I think Morrie Schwartz said it best in Mitch Albom’s beautiful novel, Tuesdays with Morrie: “…most of us all walk around as if we’re sleepwalking. We really don’t experience the world fully, because we’re half asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do.” 

I too am guilty of this. I wake up, automatically look at my device, get ready for the day, drive to work to stare at another device for eight hours, go home to watch Netflix on yet another device, go to bed after final moments with my original device, rinse, and repeat.

But not in Waitsfield, Vermont.

No, the reason why I look forward to this retreat SO much and came back a second time (and hopefully will return more and more times!) is that I am forced out of this senseless, robotic routine.img_4875-e1537021434266.jpg

I am forced to look outward AND inward.

Yes, it can be pretty intense…but refreshing and needed. There are SO many things you don’t notice when you’re running around “half asleep.” The gorgeous sunrises, the delightful moments of stillness, the fresh, crisp air.

And yes, you may even miss the epic journey of a tiny beetle crossing wooden planks.

***

This post is the first of a series based on my experience at the Labor Day Namaste Getaway 2018. Feel free to show some love by subscribing for upcoming posts at the sidebar to your right. ➡️ ❤️

 

How to Face Anxiety Through Choreography

Last weekend, Artistic Synergy of Baltimore (ASoB) wrapped up its children’s production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” (YAGMCB), where I proudly served as choreographer. But first, I have a little secret I wanted to disclose before I get into the experience:

I’m not really a trained dancer.

Shocking, but true. I never took dance classes growing up, outside of performing a few Filipino folk dances in my youth. I eventually competed as a ballroom dancer, but this was much later in life, and it’s now become more a social hobby than a serious way to learn dance technique.

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Regardless of training (or lack thereof), I’ve always been quick to pick up movement, and have a pretty good sense of rhythm. And more importantly for musical theater dancing (in my opinion), I’ve always had a strong vision of how the movement should translate on stage to tell a story.

Which brings me back to Charlie Brown.

In college, I was in the ensemble for a production of YAGMCB, and it was an absolute blast. I was only a sophomore then, but it was the first time I felt like a member of the TCNJ Musical Theatre community, and it was such a good feeling. I made a lot of friends doing that show and had a great time playing a child in our intimate black box theater.

Fast forward 10+ years, and I took advantage of an opportunity to choreograph Charlie Brown at ASoB. Although I was super excited to try something new in the DMV theater scene, I was also really nervous about this (seemingly large) undertaking for several reasons:

  • As previously mentioned, I’m not officially trained in dance, so how could I possibly be an authority on dance for this show?
  • I’ve never worked with kids on a theater production, will I be able to connect with them?
  • I’ve never worked with this particular community theater group, what if I don’t fit in?

Questioning aside, because I was so familiar with YAGMCB and loved my time spent doing the production in undergrad, I was willing to push my anxiety aside and give it a go. So, I said yes. I said yes in an attempt to create a similar positive experience for these young actors.

And boy am I glad that I did.

I couldn’t have been more happy with the process “working on the other side of the table” with ASoB. At our first read through, I was immediately welcomed by the production team and felt comfortable and accepted. These kids were serious performers (much more serious than I was at their age!) and they were committed to the show from day one. They also were willing to give me feedback as I tried to figure out the best way to showcase their dance abilities through my choreography. In other words, their professionalism and enthusiasm were simply unmatched.

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Yet there were still moments I felt overwhelmed and/or intimidated. Even though these kids were 20 years my junior, a lot of them had WAY more dance experience than I did, which made me question my own credibility. For the large full cast numbers, I had to corral 20 young actors onto the stage and explore ways to make sure they looked good and were seen—a challenging feat that made me rework things constantly. Lastly, some rehearsals tested my patience regarding giving notes…and having to repeat them because kids don’t always remember everything the first time around. And that’s ok.

But the good times still far outweigh my own feelings of self-doubt, nervousness, and frustration. I experienced beautiful moments where I almost cried watching these kids perform; they truly transformed before my eyes, and it was so incredibly cool to watch. These young performers took the show, shaped it, and made it their own. They infused their own personalities and experiences into the production, and that in and of itself was so special.

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And let’s not forget the sense of community with this group—it was so palpable. Everyone wanted to help. From the costumes, to the props, to the promotion, to the snacks at intermission, there was always a steady flow of parents, volunteers, and theater group members willing to take time out of their busy schedules to put on this show. It was awesome.

So yeah, I may not be completely dance trained. But choreographing this children’s production of Charlie Brown trained me in other skills I find to be invaluable, such as collaboration, teamwork, consistency, passion, perseverance, and communication. These kids helped build my own confidence to believe in myself…by demonstrating how they believed in themselves to put on a fantastic show.

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And at the end of the day, I think that’s what journeying through life—and finding happiness—is all about. ❤️

This is What Happens When You Live Right Now

This past week I went to DC after work to visit my academic friends who were in town for the AEJMC national conference.

Although I was super excited to see my dear ones, I will admit that I also felt a bit nervous. You see, it had been at least a year since I had seen many of these people, and it was almost exactly one year ago when I told them I would be leaving academia and working in industry.

Why was I so nervous? Even though I knew I had to walk away from the career I once loved, the decision was very difficult. I had put a lot of time and energy into my education that prepared me for the academy. My grad program and mentors had invested a lot in me, and I felt like I was letting people down—and I’ve lived most of my life as a people pleaser. So to say I felt anxious walking into that conference hotel with no idea who I would run into is an understatement.

I couldn’t be more wrong.

Faces lit up when they saw me. Pleasantly surprised, folks exclaimed, “what are you doing here?!” before giving me a huge hug. I even ran into my beloved Ph.D. advisor and was able to catch up with her and my grad school friends as if nothing had changed.

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With my academic colleagues at AEJMC

But actually, something had changed, based on what I was told. My friends said I seemed calmer, happier, more zen. My energy was no longer the hot mess of stress and anxiety that appeared to be my norm just over a year ago. That I looked good, that I should keep doing yoga, that my hair looked great—ok, these physical things shouldn’t matter as much, but it was still all very flattering.

I even got a few, “so, you’re coming back to academia, right?!” comments, to which I replied:

“I’m good right now. I have a good job, and I’m happy, and I have better work/life balance. I’m gonna stick with this right now.”

Right now.

Right now I don’t know what my future career holds for me. Right now I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to academia, or if I’ll make yet another pivot down the road. Right now I’m honestly trying not to think about it too much.

Nope, right now I’m going to keep riding this positive wave of energy I’m apparently radiating and continue doing what feels right. Because that’s how I feel.

Right now.