Monday, February 27, 2012

Photo Poem Montage for Amelia Earhart live

Amelia (both the poem, and the photo poem montage) in honor of Amelia Earhart, is up at V’s place, a new website hosted by E. Victoria Flynn. (updated May 2014: is up now at YouTube).

I met Victoria several years ago over at She Writes when I joined the invaluable writing thread she hosts at She Writes, titled Mother Writer!, and conversely, I invited Victoria to put up our very first guest post at Mother, Writer, Mentor: A Straw Hat for Mama; I hope you’ll stop by and give her a read and a comment if you are in the mood.

To create the photo poem montage Amelia, I had the continued luxury of working with the beautiful photos of Robyn Beattie. How to convey an expansive sky, but without using sky photos per se? How to imply the body but not use the human body? We are up to our usual tricks in this montage, abalone sky, metal sculpture for body, the work of several Sonoma County artists slipped in too: Loreen Barry (butterfly) and Monty Monty (look for his tiny dark bronze-colored airplane, as well as the shadow of one of his other sculptures across a wall in muted beige tones). I may be somewhat tethered to the domestic monastery, but Robyn—her eyes do the ferreting when I can’t during these projects.

New to this collaboration: original guitar music by Michael Greenberg, who I have to thank here for recording the tracks for She Dressed in a Hurry (for Lady Di) and Nefertiti on the Astral as well as a number of tracks for upcoming photo montages in the works. Not only did we pull Michael into our creative process with his original guitar score, but his wife (our friendship goes back to high school), as my voice was shot the day we went to record. Lori O'Hara , a talented writer and blogger herself, stepped up to the plate and hence we have her dreamy, smooth voice reading the poem.

At one point in our process last year, a sensationalist article made it into Yahoo’s headlines reporting the possible discovery of Amelia Earhart’s remains on a South Pacific island, but when I “fell for it” and followed the link,  the article quickly degenerated into trivia:  were the remains in fact turtle parts, and what to make of the random make-up found nearby, raising questions concerning Earhart’s make-up product use…
I have little faith our Amelia would bring such vanities onto her airplane; she doesn’t strike me as the type, rugged beauty that she was. But Robyn and I both enjoyed the nod to the montage we were quietly, secretly making. Perhaps, more likely, Amelia would don a scarf…if you want a bit of the read deal, here’s her actual scarf (San Diego Air and Space Museum), though it’s a shame it isn’t gracing the neck of an aviatrix right now…

Friday, February 24, 2012

Counterpoint to Tips for Mothers Considering Pursuing an Online Degree by Marlene Samuels, PhD

Marlene Samuels, PhD
After hosting a guest post by Brittany Lyons earlier this month titled, "Tips for Mothers Considering Pursuing an Online Degree", I put out a call to mothers with PhDs. I'm thrilled to have this counterpoint, by Marlene Samuels, PhD, in which she takes up some of her concerns about the nuts and bolts viability of an online PhD experience. Marlene earned her PhD "in person" and brings valuable expertise to our discussion. I am still shopping for mothers with online PhDs...feel free to contact me for a guest posting opportunity. In the meantime, enjoy Marlene's insights.

Recently a post published on this blog addressed the feasibility of earning an on-line Ph.D. degree as an approach well suited to busy mothers. After thinking about it for long time, and being really bothered by it, I realized it was critical for me to post a “rebuttal” if that’s the correct term.  If not, then I think the key term is “reality check.”

After considering each “tip” posted very carefully, I still had a lot of trouble believing they weren’t pulled from the pages of a science fiction tale.  In the name of credibility, I have to mention that I’m well qualified as a commentator on this topic. I, myself, am a PhD holding busy mom.  
I earned my PhD in research sociology from University of Chicago, in real-life time at a real-life “bricks and mortar” kind of place, the old fashioned way while I was a super “busy mom with young kids” whose husband worked insane hours. In addition to managing the daily grind, I was also more fortunate than are most women in my situation because obtaining critical extra household help and child care wasn’t an economic issue.   My two sons were fairly well behaved, too but even though they weren’t babies, they still needed a good dose of adult supervision. So, I guess I can say my situation was (and should have been) ideal, right?  Wrong and here’s why:

Issue I:

If you are considering pursuing a doctorate degree, an online PhD program can be an excellent choice. There are many advantages and disadvantages of online degrees, but for a busy mother, earning your degree online can give you the flexibility you need to balance both family and academic goals.”—(this and all subsequent quotes are from the blogpost by Brittany Lyons  titled: “Tips for Mothers Considering Pursuing an Online PhD”)

The idea of pursuing an online Ph.D. reminds me of the days when matchbook covers sported ads for earning diplomas or licenses by mail. Likely, this is too long ago for most blog readers to remember? One of my favorites: “Earn your semi-truck driver’s license by mail and earn more money”, or how about “become a graphic artist in your spare time.”

It’s not that I’m anti-technology or opposed to online learning - oh contraire! At this time I’m in the 2nd week of a 4-week “online course” for which I signed up and paid. I’m really learning an incredible amount but that noted, even though it’s only a 4-week course, I’m already way behind!

No longer do I have little ones at home who suck up all my attention and brain power. No longer do I have to commute to and from an office - I work from home so I can’t complain. Even better: I have my very own, very state-of-the-art computer so I never worry about access.  You’d imagine all my time is all my own.  In a perfect world, I’d enjoy unlimited opportunities in which to complete online assignments, while writing thoughtful, witty and helpful comments to my online classmates, and ….

Honestly, don’t be na├»ve!  You may be able to stay in your pajamas and participate in class without thinking about your bad hair day but that’s where it ends. Even at this point in my life there are plenty of impositions on my time. My gigantic dog needs walking, feeding, brushing and attention. There’s laundry to do, errands to run, calls to return, doctors’ appointments make and keep, shopping, meals to prepare, family obligations, repairmen to interrupt my deeply creative thoughts, bills to pay and finances that demand increasing amounts of time to manage. Oh, did I mention social commitments as well? Then there’s reading – keeping on top of developments in my field.

The current era has us believing that almost anything we do “live” also can be accomplished satisfactorily online.  And now, earning a Ph.D. degree has joined the list. It might seem enticing to the woman who fantasizes about commanding increased respect with a Ph.D. but there’s a legitimate reason that pursuing a PhD in any field is referred to as the “long-haul degree.”

On-line participation may be possible during the early stages of degree requirements but a true Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) demands significant original research, anywhere from 4-6 years of course work, incalculable hours in the library – researching and reading to prepare for writing, incalculable hours  of revisions, and lots of meetings with lots of professors.

I definitely do know about that too - I’ve done it! Sure, a great deal has changed in the decade since I was awarded my conventional Ph.D. the old fashioned way. One of the major technological advances is the ability to take online courses.  But here are some real life issues to ponder before buying into the program’s feasibility.  

Tough Questions and Honest Answers:

Women need to articulate all their unstated concerns way before they buy into the online possibility of all things. If they don’t, it will be impossible to obtain honest reliable answers. Busy mothers can barely find enough time to go to the bathroom alone.  I know about that too, remember that I’ve been one! Exactly how and where busy moms plan to find time and space (translation: uninterrupted privacy) alone with a computer on which to complete demanding assignments is a mystery.

It’s great to imagine our kids nodding off after an easy dinner and thus allowing the busy mom plenty of time in which to work on her degree. Reality:  by the time kids nod off, the last thing most “busy mothers” feel like doing is repairing to the computer for hours of assignments. By the time dinner has ended, clean up, bath time, homework finished, and all those other quotidian events, I’m guessing little real time remains in which to complete any work. Did I mention that I’m assuming busy moms enrolled in online Ph.D. programs enjoy relationships with supportive and undemanding spouses or their significant others?

We’d have to assume that “nodding off” children do their nodding off without fuss, sleep the night through, rarely take ill, never need homework help or supervision - nor will there occur any of the myriad unanticipated surprises that provide the busy mom’s daily challenges.  Do we never encounter last minute problems such as, “Oh mom, I forgot I need to bring 28 cupcakes to school tomorrow for Pippi Longstocking’s birthday party?”

Issue II:

“According to U.S. News and Reports, individuals with an advanced degree earn approximately $25,000 more per year than individuals with only an undergraduate degree. In the United States, doctorate-level degrees are either professionally oriented, such as a MD or DDS, or research oriented, such as doctorate of philosophy or education.”

At first blush, this sounds like a significant amount of additional income but realistically consider that $25000 is an average, not the norm. Looked at in the way most of us manage our finances, i.e., monthly, the difference after taxes may well be negligible.  My long haul degree incurred expenses – lots of them; tuition, university fees, texts, duplicating and printing expenses, and more. Simply because it’s on-line does NOT mean it’s free. 

U.S. News may claim that advanced degrees have higher earning potential but in academic parlance, any degree beyond a bachelor’s is regarded as “advanced.”  Then too, there’s confusion about two terms - advanced as opposed to professional. Many educational fields remain quite attainable with a master’s degree rendering the Ph.D. superfluous. Again, I’ll bring up the term “realistic.” Further, suggesting an on-line Ph.D. oversimplifies the reasons for which we might pursue one in the first place and entirely overlooks the motivation and commitment critical to completing one.

Issue III:

"One of the advantages of online PhD programs is that they are extremely flexible and often allow you to study around your own schedule. However, one of the major disadvantages of online programs is that they are still relatively new. As a result, many institutions are not yet accredited by governmental accreditation bodies. When talking to school administrators of a prospective program, ask them about their accreditation and if there are plans for accreditation in the future.”

Learning is a complex process but accreditation would not be my first concern when trying to decide about whether to pursue a Ph.D. Surely the idea of a program’s plans for future accreditation have little bearing upon actually attaining accreditation.

Tip #2 – Ask About Access to Professors and Instructors

Anyone who’s participated in graduate level course work would have to question how seriously a student might be taken if their primary concern is: “how much time will they have to interact with the professors and instructors.”  If the primary criteria are convenience and flexibility, on the basis of 2 courses per semester, I’d wonder how many years an online Ph.D. requires. Further, a few courses taken this way may seem fine but is anyone really prepared to spend 6, 8, or 10 years in this way? The average number of years required to complete coursework and other degree requirements such as comprehensive exams, dissertation proposals, defenses, research for the dissertation, committee meetings to say nothing of the actual writing, dissertation defense and final edits currently averages 8.

Tips #3 and #4 – Time Constraints, flexibility and having a “sit-down” with the family termed, “Ask Your Family for Support”

Time constraints and PhD work have never been anything close to pals but beyond that, anyone who’s has one will confirm: earning a PhD is definitely not for the faint of heart, the time constrained or the overly committed. It’s a giant bite of a shockingly large apple.

Even though I was able to buy extra help in the form of after school child minders, household cleaning, and grocery deliveries, spending all day most Saturdays and Sundays at the library required more co-operation from my family than is good for maintaining one’s mental health! Depending upon children and partners for additional help at home reads way too much like a recipe for frustration and disappointment. Rare is the women who has such understanding and compliant families.

“You can also help your kids understand when you are in “study mode” by helping them make a sign that you can hang on your door to let them know you are unavailable.”

Surely this point is a fantasy! Earning a graduate degree is taxing and consequently increases stress both upon families and the student mom.  There are inflexible deadlines to meet but also time needed to research projects, occasionally meeting (whether online or face- to- face)  with classmates concerning group projects. For the distant student, this often entails travel to meet with project members or arranging for video conferences all members can attend.

I’m sorry to say but expectations we have of our children should be suited to their abilities to understand concepts, in this case “study mode”.  We can hang as many signs as will possibly fit on our doors but that won’t alter the daily reality of life with children, especially young ones. “Unavailable” is comprehended by our young ones when we really are unavailable – as in away from home at the library, in a class and not visible to the eye.

Tip #5 – Considering computer accessibility, and another expectation for family support

Since computer access is critical to the on-line learning process, the idea of setting up a schedule for shared time under-mines the very foundation of the argument of convenience and flexibility. Once we set up a schedule and again, require family support and understanding in order to adhere to our goals, we may as well just throw up our hands and say, “gee, I’ll take a course or two while my kids are young but I’d better put off the hard job for a couple years so we don’t all loose our minds.”

Perhaps the idea of earning an online degree is a fantasy at this point in time?

Marlene Samuels is an independent research sociologist and writer. She earned her Ph.D. and M.A. degrees from University of Chicago in Social Science. In addition, Marlene teaches research methodology workshops to non-fiction writers. Currently she’s completing a short story collection entitled BROKEN CHAINS, MISSING LINKS and co-hosts Read more about Marlene on her writer’s blog,

2013 update: Marlene has since written, When Digital Isn't Real: Fact Finding Offline for Serious Writers. The link will take you to my review of her book, which I found to be a great resource for writers, poets included. Marlene reminds us about an eclectic and fun group of print sources many of us have come to overlook in favor of the cursory Google or Wikipedia search. I also wrote a bit more about my experience with her book  at the end of this 2013 post, about the AROHO Summer Retreat,  Emerging from the Cocoon, Sisters Real and Imagined.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Last Week to Sign Up for Poetry of Motherhood

by Peter Pryputniewicz
2013 Update: I'm adding my updated link to the January 2014 Poetry of Motherhood online workshop; please join us!

I’m very excited to be teaching an on-line poetry class: we will write poems as well as read poems by various mother writers (including poems published at The Fertile Source).

Help me spread the word…I still have spots available for this class, slated to start Monday, February 27 (and offered at an introductory rate of $100 for a month-long workshop on-line.

To the Cradle and Beyond: Excavating and Writing the Poetry of Motherhood
“My upstairs neighbor, mother of three, lives in a chronic extremity of demand that I witness from below as a kind of human storm. I do not think she would want to read poems that posit the singular solitary investigations of the privileged 'I' of lyric poetry."--Ann Lauterbach, The Night Sky: Writings on the Poetics of Experience

What kind of poems would that mother of three living “in a chronic extremity of demand” write? Wether you identify as the solitary mother writer (children fledged) listening from below, or the mother at the heart of the maelstrom of childrearing, join this on-line poetry circle for a chance to mine poetry of the past as well as contemporary poems (including those we’ve published at The Fertile Source) for structural and thematic inspiration for writing our own poems reflecting our experiences of motherhood. The confessional poets along with the honeycomb of the internet position us uniquely not only to communicate globally, but to write fearlessly about the realities of the complexities of the journey to, through, and beyond motherhood. Join us in this excavation and celebration of the layers we occupy simultaneously as mother writers.

This on-line course is open to all mother writers and all levels of writing experience. Weekly reading of poems paired with assignments for generating new poetry. Participant driven topics for poem generation encouraged; specific exercises offered for those who wish to use them. Guidelines for creating a safe and respectful comment community will be provided on enrollment.

“If, through caring for my children, I lost writing time, I gained by the expansion of vision and insight and compassion my experiences with them gave me…The writing I was able to do in those years is suffused with the energy my children radiated.” Pattiann Rogers, "Degree and Circumstance" (which appeared in Where We Stand: Women Poets on Literary Tradition, Edited by Sharon Bryan)

“The subject [of motherhood] has been hijacked, candy-coated and polluted by such powerhouses as Victorian culture and the post-war Fifties in America. Luckily, artists and feminists set out to rescue us from the sickly-sweet ideal that had shrink-wrapped the experience and denied the complexity of the role.” Nancy White, Bringing to Birth: Poetry of Motherhood, Fall 2009 Sow’s Ear (read full review here).

Related post: So You Say You’re a Poetry Editor (on connecting with mothers and the poetry of motherhood)

On my She Writes blog, 2013:
Marketing and The Poetry of Motherhood: Sustaining Your Joy Factor

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Story of a Teaching Cross-Roads and AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer Interview with Tracey Cravens Gras

I remember precisely where I was when I got the news that I’d been accepted to work with women writers at A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Summer 2011 Retreat: in my cubicle at the community college where I’d just returned to teaching after ten years at home raising my children. I thought I’d earned my black-belt in teaching due to the seven years of teaching I’d done in the Midwest BK (before kids), and the several years I did for the college in California where I now dolefully sat.

But it seemed during my ten year absence, the dynamics of classroom teaching had intensified in a way I was struggling to surmount: students texting beneath desk tops, clusters of talkers with little regard for my presence in front of them, students disappearing for days without notice only to surface and demand passing grades, other students signing in their missing desk mates on the roll sheet as casually as eating lemondrops.

I’d been called to my Dean’s office twice already, once for a complaint that my course was too easy and once for a complaint that my course was too hard, and on this particular day, I’d been challenged voraciously by a student who didn’t buy my definitions of similes and metaphors. Armed only with my MFA in poetry and my quiet disposition, I folded quietly and gratefully into my office to wait out my office hours (passing, as usual, without visitor) where…in my inbox…I found an email from A Room of Her Own awaited me…

…as merciful confirmation that maybe until I wised up to this next crop of students, maybe I belonged working with women writers. The confirmations kept rolling in, when, to my delight, I got the chance to engage immediately with the women running AROHO. It caught me off guard at first—these women got in there with a volley of emails and wrangled with me over the details of the work I wanted to bring to the table for my Mind Stretch…

Tracey Cravens Gras
Photo by Jamie Clifford, 2011 AROHO Retreat
Only, this time, I wasn’t in trouble….I was in love…with thinkers of like mind, ready to play. I realized later that the Mind Stretch presentation was a new format for them too, so in actuality, we were in effect collaborating on the enterprise.

One of those women, authoress of those rich emails, who immediately made me feel not only welcome, but inspired me to do my best as a writer, presenter, and a person, was Administrative Director of AROHO retreats, Tracey. All that warmth emanating from her emails fulfilled its promise when I finally stepped off the bus at Ghost Ranch, and there she was, smiling, handing out thumb drives (a godsend, as all my teaching materials had not made it to the ranch, but that’s a story I told on another day, here).

Without further ado, I’m honored to share this interview with Tracey here. She embodies the AROHO spirit, wether in person, or in virtual exchange.

AROHO Speaks: Writer to Writer, Interview with Tracey Cravens Gras

In your AROHO Summer 2011 Retreat Bio, you mention savoring “the boundless creative opportunities and inspiration that working for AROHO offers:  dabbling in graphic and web design, problem-solving, collaborating, and most recently, working to make the 2011 Retreat unparalleled and uniquely AROHO.” I know it is safe to say, Tracey, that all of us attending the retreat were in awe of your role as Administrative Director. Can you talk to us about what was unique to this retreat in comparison to others? What you enjoyed most bringing to the table (besides boundless energy and a smile regardless of the dilemma at hand)? Most challenging aspect and its reward, if there was one?

I answered this first question last, because I’m a procrastinator at heart, not to mention deficient in attentiveness and a smidge rebellious.  Since the 2011 Retreat was only the second one I’ve been personally involved with, I don’t feel qualified to distinguish it from all the others that came before.  I can say, however, that I feel strongly that AROHO is a living, breathing organization which thrives on the energy of the women it supports.  Making the Retreat more reflective of and shaped by the community felt like the right direction for such a collective of talented and creative women. 

The most challenging aspect of the 2011 Retreat was without a doubt its biggest reward—inviting participants to more fully invest their passions and expertise into the week’s program was at once terrifying and powerful.  The women—yourself included—who dove in head-first made it all worthwhile.  The creative projects and collaborations that have grown out of the week could never have been planned, only encouraged.  It is fascinating to watch and gives me a great deal of pride to know that I helped create favorable conditions for such transformations to take place. Read  more here.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tips for Mothers Considering Pursuing an Online PhD

This week I'm happy to feature a guest post by Brittany Lyons (a blogger for Online PhD). Her initial query had to do with virtual poetry clubs, an idea I'd love to have her present for us in the future.

 I asked her if she had any other topics that might interest Feral Mom, Feral Writer's readers, and she came up with this article about the value of mothers pursuing online PhDs. We discussed running an interview with one such mother, but Brittany deferred to me there.

So I'm putting out a call right now to all of you online PhD moms. I'd love to run a companion post about the struggle in the trenches--I'm imagining the juggle: the frantic sprint to the computer once all the kids nod off, while the cupcakes bake, the cows yet to milk at dawn, etc. Just how did you pull it off?! (If you did…drop me an email). Update: Here's the companion post, in which Marlene Samuels answers Brittany's points one at a time with some rebuttals worth considering: Counterpoint to Tips for Mothers Considering an Online PhD. Hope you will read both posts!

Welcome, Brittany.

Tips for Mothers Considering Pursuing an Online PhD

If you are considering pursuing a doctorate degree, an online PhD program can be an excellent choice. There are many advantages and disadvantages of online degrees, but for a busy mother, earning your degree online can give you the flexibility you need to balance both family and academic goals.

 According to U.S. News and Reports, individuals with an advanced degree earn approximately $25,000 more per year than individuals with only an undergraduate degree. In the United States, doctorate-level degrees are either professionally oriented, such as a MD or DDS, or research oriented, such as doctorate of philosophy or education.

Tip #1 – Research Accreditation

One of the advantages of online PhD programs is that they are extremely flexible and often allow you to study around your own schedule. However, one of the major disadvantages of online programs is that they are still relatively new. As a result, many institutions are not yet accredited by governmental accreditation bodies.

Thus, if you anticipate your degree helping you to land a position a field that is government-related, you may run into problems. For instance, if you aspire to work as a hospital administrator, you may find it difficult to meet your career goals if you attend a school that is not accredited by a recognized accreditation body, since very often health care programs are associated with government agencies and require degrees from programs regionally accredited. When talking to school administrators of a prospective program, ask them about their accreditation and if there are plans for accreditation in the future.

Tip #2 – Ask About Access to Professors and Instructors

One of the common criticisms of online degree programs is their lack of classroom interaction. When considering an online PhD, ask how much time you will have to interact with the professors and instructors. Classes may be conducted online via video conferencing and you may also have access to professors through conferencing or telephone calls.

You should also ask prospective schools if professors and instructors have rigid hours of availability or if there is flexibility to consult with instructors during off-hours. Often, mothers need some flexibility in talking to professors, instructors and fellow students. For example you may find that the time you have available is during odd hours or that you need to work around your children's school schedule. Additionally, you may want to find out when you can access course work and class instruction webinars.

Tip #3 – Consider Time Constraints

One definite advantage of an online PhD program is the flexibility you may have in deciding when to study and work. However, you still need to find time to read course materials and research for papers and, ultimately, your doctorate dissertation. As a result, you may need to ask your children to contribute more to maintaining the house or ask your partner to take on more childcare tasks in order to accommodate your need for study time. Sit down with your family and outline what your needs are to complete your school work and ask for their ideas about how to help you.

Tip #4 – Ask Your Family for Support

Earning a graduate degree is not an easy task. Even students who attend a traditional graduate school programs, often find it can be stressful on the family and the student. Not only will you be working under deadlines, but you will also need to devote time to research projects and may need to occasionally meet with fellow students on class projects. For the distance student, this may entail traveling occasionally to talk to project members or arranging video conferences that all members can attend.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a set schedule for your family, so they know when your time is absolutely devoted to school. It can be even more helpful if you have a place in your home set aside for you to study. This may be an office where you also have your computer or a space where it is quiet and you will not be interrupted. If you have young children, you may consider using child care for several hours a week for devoted study time. You can also help your kids understand when you are in “study mode” by helping them make a sign that you can hang on your door to let them know you are unavailable.

Tip #5 – Consider Computer Accessibility

One thing you will definitely need to participate in an online degree program is access to high speed Internet. While dial-up Internet may be acceptable for basic word processing and other simple tasks, for a doctorate program you will need the ability to download research documents, often including video materials. You must also be able to participate in video conferencing. Generally, you cannot accomplish these things with dial-up Internet access.

To avoid competing with your kids for the computer, you may need to set up a schedule for shared computer time. Often, children, especially older kids, will want to use a family computer for downloading music or playing games. You may find that you need to set up specific times for when you have devoted computer time, particularly for video conference classes of consultations.

Earning an online degree can be an excellent way to continue your education. If you are considering a doctorate degree from an online program, carefully research before committing to a program. Also make sure that you have the support of your family and all the equipment and computer accessibility necessary to make your academic quest successful.

Brittany Lyons aspires a life in teaching, but decided to take some time off from perusing her online doctorate to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog.