Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Between Worlds

Most of the time I am sure of myself. What I mean by this is, my sense of self is something I can usually pinpoint and own, even in and amid the many varied roles I fill in my life. A glance at the "About Me" here on my blog (currently in the right sidebar) names just a few of these roles, though there are even more roles that aren't listed there: daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, aunt, godmother (this one's new this past weekend!), choir member, parishioner, and so on.

Now, generally speaking this is a sentiment any person should relate to---every person is many things to many people. But for my part, the two of my roles that I've been ruminating on lately are "academic librarian" and "mother". Or more broadly: professional and mother.

As I've written about at great length before, I am more than OK with the fact that I am both a mother and a professional who works in the workforce. I was a professional before I became a mother, but even as a committed professional I also knew that if God led my life to where becoming a mother, in the context of an Orthodox Christian marriage and family, was suddenly a possibility, I would never do anything to prevent it (or "plan" it or "wait until we're ready for kids" or any of those things). When we were dating and Paul and I discussed the possibility of marriage, I shared this with him and framed it as a bit of a deal breaker for me. Fortunately for me (because he's wonderful and even then I loved him), he was more than open to having children as God saw fit for us and not trying to control it ourselves. But part and parcel to this was the simple fact that, if it did happen right away for us, there was no question I would continue to work as I became a mother and he a father. He understood this. So we were married...and then I became pregnant, and Bookie's first due date was exactly nine months after our wedding day. Thus it was I suddenly found (and find) myself both a professional in the workforce and a mother.

So far, I feel I've walked this line pretty well. My workplace is amazingly supportive, my husband is amazingly supportive, the people in our lives are amazingly supportive of our family and all we have on our plates (my husband works too of course). To make sense of my world, I have several different communities I belong to for different parts of my life: my co-workers and professional network for work-related things, and my mommy-groups, -blogs, and -friends for mommy-related things, to name a few. And navigating between and within these communities usually feels natural, organic and right.

Often, though, as I navigate these separate though sometimes overlapping communities, I encounter information or conversations that are firmly rooted in either one or the other of these worlds. And I admit, sometimes when this happens, I am caught off guard by the jarring experience of diving into reading something I was sure I would relate to (being a card-carrying member of said group), only to realize there is something about it that, basically, doesn't apply to me, or applies to me but in a different way.

This happened yesterday when I read a very thoughtful, honest post on a blog I follow, and the rich comments thread beneath it, about finding a healthy balance between "me time" as a mother and the actual work of mothering. At first glance this sounds like something that I'd certainly relate to (and I do!). But then I realized, as I read on and especially delved into the comments, that unlike the very strong and awesome women who were commenting (mostly mamas, many of whom I know IRL, whose work as mothers I respect immensely, and whose friendships I value highly)---unlike most of them (to my knowledge), in addition to my mothering role I have a professional outlet where I can exercise the parts of myself that don't directly come into play when I am mothering Bookie.

And yet, despite this luxury (in the context of the problem being discussed), I still crave "me time" that isn't professional in its nature. God only knows how long it's been since I've grabbed one of my favorite YA novels and just read it because I want to. For instance, I'm dying to reread Ender's Game before the movie comes out later this year. It's not likely to happen, though, at least not in the way it used to before I became a mother, because of two very different but equally important responsibilities I have: 1) mothering Bookie and putting her needs before mine, and, 2) putting any additional energy I have left over, around mothering Bookie, toward the immense amounts of reading, writing and research I need to do in order to maintain and succeed in my professional life. There's no question that, after I've applied my daily quota of energy across these two responsibilities (not to mention being a loving wife to my husband! Bless his supportive and sacrificial heart...), all I want to do at that point is sleep (when the baby lets me), in order to build my energy again for the following day.

I thought about leaving some of this in a comment on that thought-provoking blog post, but somehow felt that the balancing act I'm describing here is unique to my circumstance as a working mother. So I decided to share about it here and link back to the post, rather than hijack a comments thread that feels, to me at least, firmly rooted solely in the world of motherhood. As I read the post and the comments that followed, and experienced my response to them, I was suddenly aware of myself as "between worlds".

That being said, you are not reading a post about loneliness or separateness, but one about adapting and belonging...

On the question of "me time" or the lack thereof as I experience it, i.e., as a working mom, I assure you dear readers that I am not deprived of light and beauty that is unfettered by my mothering or professional responsibilities. Instead, my solution has been to reimagine what "me time" looks like in my new life as a wife and mother, and interestingly enough it has manifested itself in my sharing my usual sources of light and beauty with the two people I love most: my husband and my daughter. So, whereas before we had Bookie I'd grab a book and spend a few hours getting lost in it, now instead I grab the same book and we read it aloud as a family. We started this with Anne of Green Gables, a book that is a balm to my tired soul. It is all the more enjoyable because I am introducing my Bookie to Miss Anne Shirley, my dear (fictional) bosom friend, which fills me with a warmth and joy that would be absent if I were to read the book solo for a few hours. This is just one example, but I've been trying to build into our days and weeks as a family opportunities to feed the parts of me that otherwise may become neglected amid the considerable responsibilities I and my husband have willingly assumed in our daughter and our work lives.

As for the out-of-sorts feeling that sometimes (not always!) comes from navigating between worlds, the best solution that has presented itself to me has been to build a third world between the two. For me this meant that, when the opportunity arose to help form a closed Facebook group for working moms which called upon my talents as a Facebook researcher to help get it off the ground, I took it. The story of how I got involved in the group is still being written, as the group is just under a week old, so I won't attempt to tell it just yet.

But I will provide the link, in case there are any other working mamas reading this who are also in need of a world between worlds: The Wonderful World of Working Moms (If so, please click and request to join!)

And the group description, so you know the culture of the world I'm linking to: "This is a support group for working moms who strive to mother their babies gently and compassionately. This includes moms who work outside the home or who work at home, but who have jobs in addition to the hard work of being a mom. Any discussion about the unique circumstances, both the struggles and the victories, surrounding being a working mom is welcome. Come join us!"

We just passed 50 members this evening, which is pretty exciting in one week. And the professor in me is cracking up at how my involvement as an admin in this group may play out in my professional life down the line: If the group really takes off, and becomes a large community of support to a considerable number of mamas, I can see myself making the case for my admin work in the group counting toward my service requirement as a member of the faculty at my institution. Traditionally "Service to the Community" means service within your local, geographic community; but we're living in a connected world where the definition of "community" is changing or at least expanding to include virtual, networked communities, like my working mamas Facebook group.

And so, I leave you with the image of me cackling to myself in my unabashed geekdom, as I relish the thought of making the case to my colleagues for my work on a Facebook group being bona fide, valid and valuable service to a very real community, when it comes time to apply for promotion later this year. Oh man that's gonna be awesome.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Research Snapshot

What I'm researching at the moment, reflecting two very different areas of study...

From top to bottom:

Information literacy and social media:
Early Christian Liturgy:
And there are more in my stash, on both topics; this was just what I checked out from the library today.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Cost of Admission

It has been almost 11 months since I posted about joining Pinterest. (For an idea of why I would bother writing about this, give that first post a read.) I intended it to be the first in a series of posts about how I use Pinterest, but I can now see this was a bit ambitious for the months leading up to Bookie's birth.

However, Wednesday was the first day of Spring semester here at my university, and I am once again co-teaching the course I helped design with my research partner Teresa, called Rhetoric & Social Media. In the past the course focused on Facebook, but this time we've expanded the sites we're studying with the students to include Twitter, Instagram, and---you guessed it---Pinterest. Since the course is getting me back into a meta frame of mind when it comes to social media, I decided to pick up the thread on this post series and see where it leads.


Image courtesy of a CC0 1.0 Universal 
Public Domain Dedication
When I received an invitation to join Pinterest back in March 2012 and clicked on the invitation link, I was faced with my first decision related to the site: Facebook or Twitter. Huh? I thought we were talking about Pinterest... Well, it turns out I was being asked by Pinterest to choose between signing into this new site with my Facebook credentials or with my Twitter credentials. At the time the site was 1) invitation-only, and 2) did not let users create accounts using their email addresses, but required users to choose between Facebook and Twitter as a means of signing up. I hunted around for a way to bypass the choice and continue without having to make it, but I came up short.

I call this type of gateway the "cost of admission": in order to gain access to the functionality and network of users the site offers, you need to give something in return. Social media by its very nature is "free" in terms of monetary cost but it is never "free" in terms of personal data. That is our currency as users on these sites: the information about ourselves (and our social connections) we are willing and in many cases required to share in order to proceed. Part of becoming information literate social media users is becoming aware of this cost of admission. Almost a year ago Pinterest was not shy about this fact, and was bold enough (and confident enough in its product) that they did not offer users the option to create a stand-alone, un-connected Pinterest account. (It's worth noting that since then, the site is no longer invitation-only and you can now sign up for Pinterest with just an email address. But this wasn't the case when I signed up.)

I chose to create my Pinterest account by connecting it with my Facebook account. Although Facebook has a lot more of my personal data and more relevant data about my social connections than Twitter does, ironically (considering the above) it was precisely because of this that I chose to sign up via Facebook. This is where you can see what you're "buying" with your personal data and what you stand to gain in the transaction: while I was giving Pinterest richer data about me by choosing Facebook, by so doing I was simultaneously better customizing my Pinterest account to improve my experience on the site. In this case, the data I gave enabled Pinterest to identify other Pinterest users I already know, thus giving me the option to connect with them there. I knew that I'd be a lot more interested in finding my Facebook connections on Pinterest than I would my Twitter connections (because of the differences in how I use both sites), so I chose Facebook. So while there's no denying it is a cost, there is also a benefit to be had as well, which is why the user-website relationship "works".

So perhaps the question at the center of this relationship is: Do you trust the site in question to be a good steward of your data?

For my part, I generally do. Which says a lot more about my personality and outlook than it does about the sites I am connecting with. But I'm aware of these facts about myself and the trust I put in sites like Pinterest, and I'm continually reevaluating that trust with each new innovation or development on these sites. And I still believe that this awareness affords me more control and agency in using these sites than if I lacked it.


I definitely didn't expect this reflection to get so..."big brother"-ish, but, it is what it is. *shrug* I bet my next Pinterest post will be a lot lighter, since once I set up my account the site quickly became the online place I go to de-stress (pin ALL the things!!!). I'll share more about this next time.

But I'm always a sucker for good conversation about the politics surrounding information and data---a topic I am only beginning to scratch the surface of in my research (both personal and professional). And so I'll end with a question or three...

To my readers: Did anything I wrote above surprise you? How do you handle the conundrum of giving social media sites your personal data (including information about your social connections) in order to better customize and improve your experience on those sites? Is the "cost of admission" worth what you get in return?