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- 30 -

Megan Betz

Photo by mattjeacock/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by mattjeacock/iStock / Getty Images

I last wrote a birthday post when I was turning 27. Some things haven't changed: I'm again organizing a session for AAGs, this time on vegetal geographies & work that unpacks plant-human relations (1/2). It's the time of year when I turn to Gilmore Girls as background noise for evening work sessions. Our freezer is full of various frozen, puréed squash from our autumn CSA, and I'm continually finding new ways to cook it. 

Other things have changed immeasurably--the tone of our nation; my position in that nation as a mother, feminist, writer, and researcher; my daughter, who was only becoming an idea at the time of that last birthday post. In response, at nearly two months into my 30th year, I've noticed a particular response in myself: a shedding, purging, cutting weight. A holding tightly to the things I love, battling for them, & chopping off the unwanted. 

I'm learning to fully inhabit myself, to take up space, to embrace vulnerability in striving for new skills. But this isn't just about only holding what "sparks joy." It's holding what fuels all aspects of me. The joyous &, equally, the mending or growing; the essentially human, which is more than joy, or even happiness. It's holding the parts of my life that offer up good to others, but not those that deplete my ability to care for myself. No more free labor, unless it offers power to those with less than I, as one example (inspired by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha's work in Bitch). 

I'm on fewer committees. I'm taking on fewer projects. I have fewer deadlines in my planner. I have preventative care appointments made, even though they cut into my workday. I have manuscripts ready to submit, even though my perfectionist brain tells me to rewrite several paragraphs just a few more times--or worse, that it's so overwritten that it's beyond salvaging & is now incomprehensible. I'm taking self care seriously, uncompromising on my own needs, on the vision for my life as an academic.

I'm going slowly, but progressing. I'm confident, now, in saying that one of the methods in my research has given me all it's able & it's time to move to analysis. I'm happy to be shedding academic labels & groups in favor of others that build worlds I'm more interested in.

This is the gift of 30: taking steps to abandon the infantilizing position of simply "student" rather than researcher and writer. Valuing my own expertise, and being honest about what the skills I'm happy to share are. Moving beyond the insecurities of my 20s & being thankful for the next steps in my career, as well as the new uncertainties that this decade brings. 


Megan Betz

I hit up the public library's Book Sale Day, which ended up being less a "sale" & more "giving away all the books for free." I got something to fuel each of my hobbies: French language maintenance, lavender growing, cooking, & sewing.

I hit up the public library's Book Sale Day, which ended up being less a "sale" & more "giving away all the books for free." I got something to fuel each of my hobbies: French language maintenance, lavender growing, cooking, & sewing.

This fall, I'm trying to be more deliberate with my time, since so little of it can be dedicated to the various aspects of my life beyond my full-time job. I'm taking weekends for myself (mostly--though workdays, my primary time for fieldwork, takes place during my daughter's Saturday nap time), doing one thing at a time more regularly, and using more university resources to my advantage. This is largely inspired by several people people urging me to check out the work of Brené Brown, whose research on shame led her to an extensive exploration of vulnerability. I've read The Gifts of Imperfection, just started reading Daring Greatly, and have watched her TED talk (okay, talks). As a result, I'm building in more play, allowing more room for experimentation, and taking time to be still with just myself each day. 

While I've begun the journey to a wholehearted life--a life where I'm comfortable inhabiting the space of imposter syndrome, and am confident in the work I'm contributing and enthusiastic about the questions I'm asking--my husband has been reading The Productivity Project. (Also: Apparently, when we hit our 30s, we became fascinated by "self-help" books & personal projects. Are we the most boring people? I'd worry about that, but I'm living my best life. [hair flip]) I've shared my Brown-inspired take-aways, and in turn, he's given me some tips from this book. My to-do lists look different these days. I don't let myself dump my whole brain onto the page. Or rather, not I'm not attaching to the to-do list the idea that I need to accomplish the entire set to feel good about my day. So, one way this fall is different: I set weekly goals. I set out three tasks I need to accomplish week's end, & I prioritize accomplishing them. I also work with Joe more explicitly to make sure we're hitting marks if they're around-the-house to-do items. 

I also set three daily goals. Some days, it's just the basics: have a smoothie (my first in a series of steps to getting a more plant- and fruit-based diet), exercise for 15 minutes, write for 15 minutes. If I'm feeling like I'm flowing through my week, I change up those three: make dinner, or really dig into a question I've been butting up against in my writing and follow it down the research rabbit hole for as long as needed, or take my daughter out of the house for 1:1 time. The main idea is, I'm focusing less on the details & more on prioritizing what matters--and I let what matters vary by day. It's going well for now. I know that as the weather changes, I'll get called back to Netflix, or I'll get distracted a few days in a row from exercise. I'm not aiming for perfection. But I am aiming at not going off the rails when I hit a bump. Hit the bump, go over it, be gentle with myself, and ease back onto the track. Don't use the bump as a reason to fall apart.

Some external things that are helping my do that this semester:

  1. I have a writing group that I attend weekly for two hours. We offer solidarity, workshop ideas, & are still in some ways using Belcher's 12-week model to make progress on work.
  2. I'm using a spreadsheet to track daily progress--on a particular writing project, but also taking a bit of space to remind myself what progress I made on personal goals. It's a spreadsheet shared by the women in my writing group, so the encouragement & accountability make it more useful. 
  3. I've set some hard deadlines, reinforced by two conferences, to urge me toward a drafted chapter of my manuscript. One is the Graduate Association for Food Studies' Future of Food Conference, where I'll do a first run through my theoretical argument. (I'm on the schedule--check it out for a quick preview.) Next up, my department has set up a workshop with two other institution's geography departments to share a weekend of nothing but helping a few graduate students better develop their articles. Last year, it was a great group. I'm excited to see what comes out of it, & to share my piece with the group for their comments. 
  4. I've also set a goal destination for that manuscript & am using that to set tone and style. Going big with a bucket list publication: Gastronomica.
  5. I'm asking questions. I'm reaching out to people for feedback, idea sharing, solidarity, & advice. I haven't always been great at this, but being away from the classroom--and having given up my student office, since I have my full-time employee workspace--I've felt extra cut-off from academic life. I'm professional staff, & my colleagues do a very different style of work than I'm thinking about in my research. In some ways, the space has been good: it's made me consider what I really need & helped me reach out to those I'd most like to learn from.

the weight of women's bodies

Megan Betz

My stomach at five months pregnant. 

My stomach at five months pregnant. 

Over the past few weeks, I'd been using the word "diet" to myself more than I'd like. I would see elastic bands carve into my belly, still soft from carrying my baby those two years ago. I would hold up my sagging stomach & see the stretch marks flare in red, spanning my abdomen like a topographical globe--craters & valleys from where my body cracked itself open to accommodate her being.

There are times when the universe seems to weigh us down with a message--a piercing note like the buzz of electricity, driving into our brains until we are forced to acknowledge it, forced to give it space so we can think again. Can catch our breath. Four moments made the buzzing so loud I've been forced to face the expectations I still carry out on my own body. Expectations I wear like a (appropriately modest) dress. 

A fellow academic mother shared David Brooks' latest subtle attack on women: Why fathers leave their children. While his opinion column is a consistent source of "traditional family values," the ease with which he reifies the notion that women are problematic--that the damage we cause must be contained--was startling. In the span of only 800 words, Brooks offers a "confident social script" centered on a nuclear family model with low pressure on men, offering them support so they stay around. Women (with their lofty expectations & air of authority) drive men from families. Women are similarly blamed for abortion: "The men are less likely than the women to want to end the pregnancy with an abortion." (This is logical, as the consequences of the pregnancy weigh so little upon them--they could simply walk away. Their bodies bear no scars.) Should the man get to become a father, Brooks writes, the rigors of motherhood create a situation where the man "begins to perceive the mother as bossy, just another authority figure to be skirted. Run-ins with drugs, the law and other women begin to make him look even more disreputable in her eyes." The man is forced, by circumstance, to flee. (In this narrative, white men of a certain socioeconomic status never abandon their families.)

The answer? A stronger nuclear family & a purity myth: "...find someone you love before you have intercourse. Or, make sure you want to spend years with this partner before you get off the pill." However, this ignores the sex education our students receive, the fact that access to birth control is limited & riddled with stigma (with even your doctor questioning your need), and the lack of parental leave or child care once a family is begun. It ignores sex for reasons other than family-building--and doing so will always miss the mark on preventing unplanned pregnancies.

Earlier this week, I was volunteering as an escort at Planned Parenthood. I stood in the parking lot, waiting for women to arrive. I walked them into building, trying to maintain small talk and distract from the protesters shouting at them and holding posters of mangled fetuses. One of the women, a regular in the line of people at the edge of the property, made this argument: "Women don't throw 'fetus showers'. They don't say, 'I'm having a fetus!' They say, 'I'm going to have a baby."

It took all of me to note the verb tense--that we are, in fact, going to have a baby but do not have a baby while pregnant. I wanted to point out that "baby" is not a medical term. I wanted to ask what resources they were prepared to offer when the child arrived--if they were willing to pay more taxes so that the child could eat; so that the mother could stay home, bond with her baby, and rest; so that more children have resources at school and, in turn, more economic prospects to meet all of the expectations we heave on a person when they are born. The privileged position of "baby" exists only in the imaginary. I wanted to ask how their anti-choice position could ever be conceived of as pro-life.

I am aware of how I speak about my body in front of our daughter. I do not want to comment on its flaws, to project ideas of what it should be. I want her to see women fully inhabiting themselves rather than restricting their intake, restricting the space they're allowed to take up. Despite that, I find myself falling into old ways I have of speaking about my body. I put batteries back in the scale & allowed myself to be disappointed in the number. I hide these anxieties from her, but this is not the same as shedding them. It's time to hang the up.

A few weeks ago, I grabbed a dress from Goodwill without trying it on. It's a brand whose fit I'm familiar with. It's black, sleeveless, & woven; it falls at the knee; it fits all the qualifications for my wardrobe. I bought it, knowing that it would be form-fitting & that it would require me to be confident in my body. I put it on while getting ready for work a few days later & was confronted with my body. I asked Joe if I looked pregnant. He was surprised by the question & complimented me in the dress. But I know what people would see when they look at me. Knew the shape of my body, the small swell of my abdomen, was permitted only in one state. 

I made it to campus, walked into a morning graduate student work group--and the first conversation I had began with a (female, childless) peer whispering this question my direction: Are you expecting another baby?

I was surprised, because there are myriad reasons this question is inappropriate. (After a miscarriage, I am hesitant to share news of any kind too early. As a working woman, I am concerned about the workplace repercussions of a decision to be pregnant. As a human, I maintain the right to live in a body that is any shape it lands in.) I was more surprised that I found myself, instead of speaking these truths, helping her be comfortable. I made it okay for her to have asked the question--told her it's okay, that she doesn't need to feel uncomfortable, that it's understandable. I made jokes to put her at ease. Because this is how we respond; this is how we've been taught to inhabit our bodies. They are here to make others comfortable; they are here to be cat-called. This is what we are told when women can "ask for" rape, when women are told to eat x or drink y in the case that they one day decide to be pregnant, when women are given limited access to reproductive health care. We are taught to apologies for our bodies. Taught that our bodies should be compliant. 

Suki Finn asks, "Does the mother contain the foetus or is it a part of her?" As a mother, I answer, "Yes." The day my daughter had lived longer outside my womb than we had shared together, I felt I'd lost my claim to a part of myself when my body was still recovering. I could still fit my fingers between my abs; I still leaked through shirts if away from my breastfeeding daughter too long. But now, whose was she? And had she ever been mine? 

As an always-already pregnant body, I realize that my answer is the same. Yes. I am not the vessel. I contain the fetus;  but I am also obligated to be always-already the mother. Nurturing. Enthusiastically giving my life over to another. This is not to say I don't take joy in parenting my daughter. She is my lighthouse. But I am also a whole being apart from her, & it took work to bring myself to the point of motherhood. Discourses like David Brooks are problematic for men, who become always at risk of running away, always at risk of being unattached to their children. But it is damaging to women--emotionally, economically, & physically. We have not answered this metaphysical question, & the result is women inhabiting both roles in the cultural imagination. Regardless of which is the reality of the body, the woman must be both--the container whose life is near meaningless in preservation of the fetus and the mother who sees herself in the baby she births & nurtures her intuitively.