Disclosure: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

I’m working in Disability Studies in my current grad program, and one of the loudest themes to emerge from 21st century disabled communities is the importance of VISIBILITY. Disability visibility–narratives of the lived experiences of disabled people–is crucial in combatting the stigma, misconceptions, and marginalization of people with disabilities, mental illness, and chronic illness, for a lot of reasons that I won’t go into here, because I’m writing about particular misconceptions about a specific mental illness.

I want to right these misconceptions not because I love being right (which I do), but because misconceptions lead to misdiagnosis, lack of diagnosis, and in some cases, worsening of symptoms, incarceration, institutionalization, and suicide. Visibility is not just beneficial, it’s essential for the surviving and thriving of disabled people. As I read and learn, the more I have begun to realize that I myself am not living visibly as a person with a disabling mental illness. I haven’t told most people in my life, because of my own internalized ableism–I’m afraid of the resulting stigma, that I won’t be believed, that I’ll be treated differently, a whole bunch of stuff. 

Anyway, I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I will write about my personal experiences with it elsewhere, as it’s a long and interesting story that’s not super relevant here. I was diagnosed in my thirties, but I have had it since childhood. Everyone that knows me well knows that I’ve struggled with debilitating anxiety since I was a child. I have had a lot of really difficult years. When my first psychiatrist diagnosed me, she was surprised I’d made it till my thirties without institutionalization or worse. I was strong, I was lucky, but mostly, I was privileged enough to stay well that long without any professional support. She also warned me that I needed treatment, and I didn’t take that seriously until my forties. 

These days, I see my whole life through the lens of OCD: I have individual and group therapy, I do daily Exposure and Response Prevention, I write and read about anxiety and mental illness, and I belong to many online OCD groups. I also take medication and have an extensive network of emotional support. Now that I have these supports, my life makes so much more sense, my brain makes more sense, and that is a tremendous blessing, especially for someone like me who is always trying to make sense of things. 

While OCD is legally and medically a psychiatric disability, for which I am able to claim a variety of accommodations, I am uncomfortable referring to myself as disabled, and part of this is internalized ableism again, but it’s also because of my own immense privilege: I am white, pretty, mobile, verbal, and I have been financially stable for the last ten years or so. I have insurance, a car, a loving supportive partner, and colleagues who support me in all the ways I show up: as a smart academic, an enthusiastic teacher, a devoted writer, and as a person with mental illness. I am also really good at masking, which means, for me, acting like everyone around me so that I’ll be, for the most part, accepted. Most people with OCD, and other mental illnesses and disabilities, do not have these privileges and it’s difficult for me to claim and acknowledge my disability when it’s so much less impactful on my life than theirs. 

But that’s just why it’s important to me to be visible now. My privileges make it safer for me to disclose my lived experience, and any increase in visibility benefits the disabled community in general. Part of my ease in sharing this with everyone now is due to the folks around me who are so proudly, visibly disabled humans who do not apologize, diminish, hide, or excuse their experiences.

Right now, my anxieties tell me that many of you are saying, “OCD? That’s not a disability! Aren’t you just really organized and like things symmetrical?” Or maybe you’re thinking, “her OCD can’t be that bad. She’s not a hoarder, she doesn’t pick her hair or skin (trichotillomania), she doesn’t have to count all her steps or do any of those things Jack Nicholson did in As Good As It Gets.” The reason I think you may be thinking those things is because…people have said these things to me, over and over when I’ve disclosed my OCD. The most common response is “ha ha me too,” thinking I mean that I like things to be “a certain way.” (If you don’t believe me, go to Google image search and type in “OCD.” What comes up? Type it into Facebook and see what you find. Bring it up in conversation with literally anyone and ask them what they think OCD is.)

So here I want to clarify what OCD is, from my own experience and research, and hopefully to correct some misconceptions that many of you must have. OCD is preposterously misunderstood in popular media and socially. Unless you do a lot of research or have a loved one who has OCD and is vocal about it, most of the world has no idea what it is…actually, no, that’s not right: most of the world has an incorrect idea of what it is. All mental illnesses are portrayed poorly in popular media, but OCD has the unlucky distinction of being the one most frequently portrayed as being a joke, a quirk, a personality trait, rather than as what it is: a disabling psychiatric illness.

Like every mental illness, OCD manifests differently in every person who has it. I’ve met many other folks whose lives and symptoms were drastically different from mine, but there are some similarities. The primary thing that we share (unhappily) is intrusive thoughts. All humans have unwelcome thoughts that pop into our brains throughout the day, but for us, we can’t let go of them. We latch onto them, fixate on them, and many of us are intensely worried that we will act on them. They can be something like “what if I ran over somebody with my car on that last block but didn’t notice,” “what if I accidentally used a racist word when talking to my friend,” or, for me, it can be “what if my cat has cancer and this is his last day on earth” or “what if this delicious food I’m enjoying is riddled with salmonella and I’m going to spend the rest of this week on the bathroom floor?” 

Source. Image description: list of “Common Obsessions in OCD” that can be found at the linked source.

Although everyone has intrusive thoughts, when folks with OCD have them, we experience a very strong anxiety. This is not garden-variety anxiety, this is suffocating, terrifying fear–our bodies and minds go into fight-or-flight mode. Just typing that sentence about salmonella, my heart began to race, my breathing increased, and I started feeling physically ill. My jaw clenched, and my whole brain cramped up trying to expel that intrusive thought. Fight or flight means that your body is responding to the fear (of the intrusive thought) the way it would to, say, seeing a bear in the woods or finding a black widow spider on your leg. People with OCD experience those thoughts not as thoughts or fears, but as something real. It’s hard to explain, but I can say that when I have these thoughts, my body responds to them as if they were reality. Like, if you try to tell me I’m wrong, I won’t believe you.

I’ve had days…honestly, weeks, where I was in a continued heightened state of fear due to a thought I had and the resulting terror that it might come true. For me, it’s usually that something bad will happen to a loved one, but intrusive thoughts vary by the individual. They are usually the thing most antithetical to our values, the thing most horrific to imagine. For a loving parent, they may fear killing or hurting their child; a religious individual might fear committing a sin; a devoted spouse might fear cheating on their partner. Like I said, there is something about OCD that convinces you that that horrific thing has happened, is happening, or will happen. We’re not delusional–everyone with OCD knows that their fears are irrational. But our bodies don’t, because of a process I’ll try to describe below.

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Image description: “The Vicious Cycle of OCD.” A circle with arrows moving clockwise, going from “obsessive thought,” to “anxiety,” to “compulsive behavior,” to “temporary relief” and back to “obsessive thought”

That first part–the intrusive thought and the resulting fear and fixation–is the Obsession. Next, the Compulsions kick in. This is the part of OCD that’s better-known. A person with OCD has an intrusive thought and is afraid and disturbed by it–then they get this weird idea that if they do something they can prevent the bad thing from happening. You know how someone says “I never get sick!” and you get a pit in your stomach until you reach out and quickly knock on wood? And then, after you knock, you feel kind of relieved, like you took care of the problem? That’s exactly what it’s like. At some point in our development, we tried to find a way to cope with our extreme terror, and we found compulsions–we perform some random, ritualized act, believing that it will neutralize the fearful event. The relief we get from performing these compulsions gives us a sense of control over the situation and over the thing we fear. You’ve seen folks do compulsions in the movies on TV–touching things a certain number of times, repeatedly clearing their throat, avoiding cracks in the sidewalk, scrubbing their houses clean. 

So the problem (well, one of the problems) with this process is that when we perform the compulsion, we get a bit of relief, a positive feeling of pleasure and control. After the exhausting and debilitating fear, this relief is addicting, so we want to do it more. This cycle continues, and then, eventually, when we experience a random fear or intrusive thought (which, again, is very normal for everyone), our first reaction becomes the desire to perform the compulsion. This then makes the fears even less tolerable, the compulsions more of a relief, and we get stuck in this cycle that it’s hard to extricate yourself from. And OCD doesn’t even stop there–it starts to tell you that you didn’t do the compulsion quite right–maybe your mind wasn’t perfectly clear when you did it, maybe you were standing on the wrong foot. Better try doing it again. And again. So we’re driven to do more.

Source. Image description: list of “Common Compulsions in OCD” that can be found at the linked source.

It’s important to clarify that the urge to perform a compulsion has a lot of pressure behind it: we’re doing it to prevent the fear from coming true. So when we’re, say, touching a light switch nine times, we might be doing it because we are trying to prevent our father from dying. Our brain tells us that we can prevent this devastating thing from happening by just touching the light switch. So if we don’t touch it, it’s like choosing to kill him. I highlight this in order to explain that it is very, very difficult for us to “just stop,” and also to emphasize the emotional weight and stress around these obsessions/compulsions. This is the part of OCD that is almost never depicted in popular media. Why did Monk have to touch all those lightbulbs? Why did Emma from Glee have to wash all her food? Why did Jack Nicholson’s character have to skip all the sidewalk cracks? Those elements of their stories are missing from these narratives of OCD.

It’s important to me that you hear our side of this. When my OCD was at its worst, I spent literal hours walking in and out of the same doorframe in my apartment, because if I didn’t do it just right, a loved one would die. I spent days like that, consumed with different fears, many times throughout my life: I couldn’t go to work, I couldn’t leave the house, I couldn’t shower. I was utterly exhausted from my body and mind being on high alert for such an extended period of time. I remember friends or family would call, and I would try to articulate what my life was like…how could I possibly describe. Those days were endless. It’s tiring holding the universe together on your own.

Now, imagine going into work after a night like that. Imagine you get brave and trusting and decide to reach out to a coworker you feel safe with and disclose your experience. You tell them you have OCD. They reply, “ha ha me too! I am sooooo organized, you should see my planner!”

Because we only talk about and see in media the compulsions, and we don’t see and experience the terror and anxiety of the obsessions, it makes sense that folks think of OCD as a quirk, as a funny or silly disorder. But it is not–it is a painful, exhausting, destructive, and disabling mental illness.

Another element of OCD that is often overlooked is that many OCD sufferers have compulsions that are completely invisible–this is mostly how OCD manifests in me. For us, our compulsions are internal and mental. We try to force our brain to think one way or another, or to think a thought perfectly. For example: I’m driving, and someone does something jerky. I get angry and think “I hope they get into a car accident.” This is a horrific intrusive thought for me–my brother and his wife died in a car accident and I’d never wish that grief on anyone, anyone, ever. I get so upset by that intrusive thought that my brain begins to race. I begin trying to “un-do” that thought in my mind. I try to, in my mind, re-visit the moment before that thought and think something else instead. Maybe: “I hope that person has a nice day.” Or I might try to clearly visualize that person being safe and happy, or I might repeat a positive phrase like an affirmation. So at any given moment, inside my mind, I’m experiencing terrifying intrusive thoughts and then immediately engaging in some sort of ritualized mental compulsion. 

Folks with invisible compulsions like mine often don’t seek out diagnosis or treatment, because what we experience doesn’t “look like” the OCD we see on tv or movies, and so we don’t realize that what’s happening inside our brains is not typical. I suffered with my symptoms for 30 very tiring years because I didn’t meet the stereotype of the clean freak with the quirky compulsions–I’m a lifelong, relentless slob, and I didn’t have any external compulsions (the doorframe thing came later!). In my case, my misconception of what OCD was prevented me from seeking and accessing the help I needed. 

And it’s not just regular folks like me who have misconceptions about OCD: many or most medical and mental health professionals are entirely uninformed about it (ask me how I know!) and do not recognize OCD when it manifests. Many more of these professionals have no idea that standard therapeutic methods for anxiety may actually make OCD worse, and often does. OCD is treatable, but the treatment is very specific and different than for other psychiatric illnesses. This means that there are a lots of us out there who are either lacking a diagnosis due to misconceptions about OCD, and those of us who have a diagnosis are not getting appropriate treatment, and may be, in the meantime, absolutely destroying our bodies with anxiety, alienating friends and lovers, losing jobs, self-medicating with addicting substances–I could go on.

But wait, it gets worse: People of color are just as likely to experience OCD as white people, but they are far less likely to receive diagnosis or treatment for the disorder. This is directly due to the combined effects of racism and the lack of visibility of what OCD actually looks like. People of color who share their symptoms with their doctors are more likely to be misdiagnosed with psychosis and/or to be perceived as violent and dangerous. If you don’t understand why, imagine this: two women, one white, one Black, confess to their doctors that they are worried they might kill their baby. Which will be reassured and sent to therapy? Which will have CPS/police sent to her home?

“Research shows that African Americans are consistently over diagnosed with psychotic disorders and more likely to be hospitalized, even after controlling for severity of symptoms and income…Given the bias toward a psychotic diagnosis for this group, it is possible that African Americans with the most severe OCD, especially those with unusual obsessions or compulsions, may be misdiagnosed as psychotic”

International OCD Foundation

Speaking so loudly about my own experience of a disabling mental illness is a bit of a risk, especially for a super shy and private person like me, but I trust you can see now why it’s important for me to do so. I’ve always been frustrated by humanity, and how much of our actual lived experiences we keep secret. I hope that by sharing my own diagnosis (well, really, just one of them–but that’s for another blog post!) I can encourage others to do so, and over time, I hope, we won’t be so in the dark about mental illness and disability. Visibility is crucial:

increased visibility of the actual lived experience of OCD will save lives. It will benefit those who have been suffering for years, trapped inside their own minds by a disorder that few recognize or understand. 

The years I went untreated took a lot out of me. I suffered a lot more than I needed to. I’m in a much better place now thanks to treatment, and I feel a hope I haven’t felt for a long time–that maybe I can still enjoy my life, make friends, and create beautiful things as much as I want to. As I grieve the time I lost, I also feel committed to making sure that other folks won’t have to. So here I am, being visibly mentally ill. Deal with it!

For more information on OCD, a good source is the International OCD Foundation.

Updates

I’ve been busy with grad school, so I have a few updates:

I’ve been hard at work co-coordinating a conference here at UConn, Racism in the Margins, to be held Friday February 19 & 26, 2021, along with Kathleen Tonry, Gabe Morrison, and Kyle Barron. I had the great pleasure of interviewing UConn Writing Center tutors for our video, and it was a profound and humbling experience.

I’ll be participating on a panel at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts (my favorite conference!!!) in March, 2021, “Dark Forests of the Imagination: Fairy Tales and Ecological Thinking,” with Theodora Goss, Brittany Warman, and Sara Cleto.

I participated in the Project Narrative Summer Institute 2020, “Narrative, Medicine, and Disability,” with Jim Phelan and Amy Shuman. This was such an amazing experience, I recommend it to anyone interested in Narrative Theory.

Working from Home Advice from a Very Disorganized and Lazy Person

Several of my students have asked for advice about how to stay on task while working from home, how to cope with the pressure of school during quarantine, how to complete college coursework when most of us are far away from campus and its resources, our peers, and our professors. So I’ve made a list of personal advice. But before I get into it, I want to remind you of one thing:

Go easy on yourself. This is the most important piece of advice here. It’s very hard to do, but crucial. This COVID-19 situation is not normal. Don’t expect yourself to operate at 100% efficiency right now. Some things are not going to get done, and that’s OK. The most important thing—seriously—is your physical and mental health, and that of your loved ones.

amazing balance blur boulder
Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

Believe it—because it’s true. Of course, you may be saying to yourself, “that’s great Ms. Ready, but I still have shit to do—I have profs demanding papers and exams and zoom meetings and I have to clean my house and go to the store for my mom and babysit my little brother and walk the dog.”

Because there is a lot we still have to accomplish here is my list of advice on working from home and staying on task.

Creating a New Normal at Home

  1. Make a home office. One of the reasons it’s hard to work from home is because our

    person using macbook pro on table
    Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

    home space is our chill space. When we’re at home, our brains are programmed to be on weekend mode. So create a home office. This may look very different from your workspace at school, but I encourage you to get creative with it and work with what you have. Find a folding table and turn a corner of your room or the kitchen or basement into an office. Put all your books and cords and computer and everything you need. Put a pretty picture on the wall to look at and a potted plant. If you’re living with family, let everyone know that this is your workspace that you need to focus and complete your schoolwork like the badass you are. When you sit down at this workspace, your brain will recognize, “ah, it’s time to work.”

2. Minimize distractions. This is tough, because I know a lot of you are home with a large family, including kids and pets. Try to create your workspace in the quietest area of the home (even if it’s the basement or back porch) and try to identify the hours during the day when you have the most alone time. This may mean getting up early, staying up late, or it could mean working in short snatches when the kids are watching a movie. This will also involve having gentle conversations with your family to GTFO of your space.

3. Get dressed.

woman near clothes and window
Photo by Nugroho Wahyu on Pexels.com

Treat your home office like an actual office. Wake up, eat, take a shower, get dressed. Yes—get dressed. Put on clean clothes and fix your hair. Then sit down at your workspace and get started with your day. This is going back to tricking our brains into thinking “it’s time to work.” I promise you, it sounds unnecessary, but it is one of the easiest ways to get yourself to focus on work at home. It’s also pretty good for your mental health.

 

4. Make a daily task list. Never underestimate the power of a list. Sit down and make a list of what you need to accomplish today. Now pay attention, because this is important: Do not put everything you need to accomplish in life on the list. Don’t include items that need to be done next week, or could be done tomorrow, or really don’t need to be done at all. This requires being honest with yourself and with the situation around you. What do I absolutely need to accomplish today? This is important, because if you put too many things on the list, you will inevitably fail at accomplishing them, and then tomorrow it will be even harder to get to work. Let yourself make several drafts until you reduce the list to just the things that have to be done today. Keep this list right next to your computer or on the wall in front of you.

5. Make a weekly/monthly task list. Once you’ve been working from home for a while,

photo of planner and writing materials
Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

you can begin to create a weekly list of what needs to be done, and a monthly list. This will help you prevent assignments from piling up. But you have to follow the same rule as the daily list—don’t put a bunch of stuff on there that you want to do or hope to do or think you should do. Just what you have to do. Hang the list on the wall where you can see it and then have the immense pleasure of crossing things off the list. Tip: don’t try to do this right away if you’re behind and have a million things to do. Save this step for after you’ve accomplished the daily task list a few times.

6. Stay in touch with friends from school. On campus, you have classmates, friends, roommates—you are surrounded by thousands of other people doing the exact same thing you are doing. Being away from that environment makes it hard to remember how to focus, especially when you’re living with people with very different lives from yours. It helps to have a friend from school (or another school) to check in with. Even just talking to this friend about your struggles with schoolwork can make a huge difference in your motivation, so please call/text/facetime.

7. Find a Check-in Buddy. See if one of your friends from school wants to be a check-in buddy. One of my classmates and I have a video chat once a week to discuss our work. Then we hang up and sit and work for three-four hours in our own home offices. If we have questions while working, we can text each other, and we can joke and commiserate. Then at the end of the time we text about what we accomplished. This is a guaranteed three hours stretch of work, and I always get a lot accomplished because I don’t want to let them down! 😊

8. Take breaks. One of the reasons we fail when we work from home is because we

bowl of vegetable salad and fruits
Photo by Trang Doan on Pexels.com

actually take on too much. Because our time is unstructured, we make ourselves work too long with no break and then we crash and can’t do anything the next day. But humans can’t work without breaks, so just like you would if you were working in an office, when you’re hungry, stop for an hour and have lunch. Physically leave your workspace and take a break. Eat something, walk around the block (if you are allowed to), or watch a 20 minute episode of TV. Give yourself a set time to completely disconnect from your school work and focus on something else. You will return to your work and your workspace refreshed and thinking more clearly.

9. Take weekends. Same as above. We can’t work every day. Breaks not only help us relax, but when you return to work after a weekend, you’ll be able to focus better. Give yourself days off, hopefully two days in a row. On those days you are not allowed to think about school. Use this time to cultivate your island on Animal Crossing.

10. Eat normal meals and get some exercise. I am not an expert at this, but this is a really good way to help yourself feel “normal.”

 Dealing with Professors

11. Reach out to your professors. If you are struggling with something in one of your

woman typing writing programming
Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

classes, please email the prof. I can’t guarantee that anything will change, but there is a chance that it will. I thought an assignment I gave my students was easy peasy—but three or four people emailed me that they were struggling with it, so I ended up changing it. This would have never happened if nobody emailed me. Just be polite and professional. In emails to profs, it helps if you explain a specific problem or ask a specific question, and demonstrate what you have done so far to solve the problem, and what exactly you need from them.

12. Ask for extensions. If you need more time to complete some work, ask for it. This is an easy way for a prof to help you with an assignment. It requires literally no work on their part. Just ask. I know it feels embarrassing to ask (I feel that way too), but the very worst thing they can do is say no. If they do say yes, imagine how much more amazing your life will be.

13. Decide which tasks to throw overboard.

shallow focus photo of gray steel trash bin
Photo by Matthis Volquardsen on Pexels.com

If your profs can’t give you extensions to complete your work, and you know you can’t complete it, it is very tempting to just give up on everything. Trust me, I’ve been there. But if you find yourself in this situation, the best thing to do is take a hard look at your task list and just delete the least important stuff. This will involve some hard choices. Consider the value of the assignments (percentage of final grade), your current grade in the class, and how much of your time/energy the assignments will consume. You can’t do everything, and an important skill for a college student is educated prioritizing. If your prof is open to questions, this would be an excellent question to ask them, and they will likely be able to give you a clear answer (or maybe reconsider giving you that extension!).

You are all superheroes for accomplishing schoolwork in the middle of a global crisis. Please know that you are AMAZING, and that I am here for you if you need me.

It’s Easy AF to Read More Books by People of Color

It’s Easy AF to Read More Books by People of Color

For the last few years, I’ve set myself a Goodreads challenge. I set the number of books higher each year, pushing myself to do more of my favorite thing—reading. Last year’s felt pretty easy, and at the end of the year, I sat down and did the math to see how many of the (34) books I’d read were by women (24), how many by men (9), and how many by people of color (4!!!). I was stunned by the numbers. I’ve always favored books by women, and I’m OK with that, but I’d never consciously chosen to read books mostly by white people, had I?

My 2018 book challenge was that half of the books I read would be by authors of color. It was hard at first. Because there aren’t a lot of great books in my favorite genres by POC? Nope. Because there are so many great books by white people? Not even.

First, I kept buying books on sale on Amazon. MOST BY WHITE PEOPLE. Second, I commute 12 hours per week, and I check out audiobooks from my library. MOST BY WHITE PEOPLE. Third, the book reviews I was asked or volunteered to do were all for books BY WHITE PEOPLE.

There was no dearth of books I wanted to read by POC; at any point during the year, I had a TBR list a mile long of books by POC writers. But I had been just sitting back and reading the books that crossed my path for free or for cheap. I was letting my reading choices be determined by the books Amazon chooses to promote, those the library chooses to stock on audiobook, and those the publications I review for want to promote.

It felt to me like I had been choosing my books, but I wasn’t. I had been sitting back and letting a racist world choose my reading list, and so my reading list was white.

You can’t expect that all the books you need and want to read will be promoted by corporate America or acknowledged by local libraries. You have to put a very small amount of effort into getting them into your hands (or your ears). Here are some ways I was able to do that this year:

  1. When I read lists like “Octavia’s Daughters: The Amazing Women of Black Sci-Fi,” I don’t just read it and hope I’ll remember the titles and authors later on. I look the books up on Amazon and put them in my cart, even if I can’t buy them right then.
  2. When I hear of a book by a POC I want to read, I follow the author on social media, put the book on my TBR list on Goodreads, and put it on hold at my library, if it’s available. If it’s not, I request it from the library. All these steps make it more likely these books will be promoted to a wider audience.
  3. Once I find a writer of color that I love, I seek out all their other books. E.g., everything by Octavia Butler is amazing.
  4. I use the Libby app through my local library. They have the books grouped into genres and they have groups like, “African-American Interest” and “Multicultural Reading.” I have feelings about the titles of those categories, but I go to them first now when I’m looking for a new book.
  5. When I have a few extra dollars to spend on a full-price e-book or used book or, on a very big payday, a full-price real book, I choose to give those dollars to a writer of color. This includes when I buy books as gifts. Spread the love!

So, that’s it. Easy AF.

The results of my year of trying to read books by POC? I read many books this year that I would not have chosen otherwise. THEY ROCKED MY WORLD. No joke. Here they are:

The Changeling, Victor LaValle. I stay away from horror or scary things in general, but this was recommended by a friend, was available on audiobook read by the author, and had folktale themes. It is terrifying, gruesome, and amazing. You will never see it coming.

Hunger, Roxane Gay. I don’t typically read anything but fiction. This book, this writer, has changed my life forever. Devastating, honest, gentle, heartbreaking, empowering. Goddess bless Dr. Gay.

I am Malala, Malala Yousafzai. I have long admired Malala, but this is a kids’ audiobook, so it wasn’t on my radar. I am so glad I found it. I wept throughout. Her shocking story is captivating. Her ambition and perseverance in spite of terrible conditions…she is now my role model.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears, Meg Medina. Speaking of tears. This is such a sweet story of a beautiful family taking care of each other and sticking together through a difficult time. Highly recommended middle-grade novel.

When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon. I’m not into Romance, or happy stories in general (SORRY). But this was adorable, and I really enjoyed reading about young badass tech women.

The Black God’s Drums, P. Djèlí Clark. This book is totally weird. Alternate timeline New Orleans. Social justice warrior nuns. Goddesses incarnate. I dearly hope it turns into a series.

I also read The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin, the Tensorate series by J.Y. Yang, Fledgling by Octavia Butler, and Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, among others. I loved them all A LOT. Check out my Goodreads reviews. These were not just good books, they were amazing books, and they made my 2018.

I hope your 2019 is full of excellent reading!

Writing Assignment for Composition Students

I’ve been working as the Lead Designer for a new, peer-reviewed publication through George Mason University. It’s called the English 302 OER Collection, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with my colleagues on developing this during 2018.

Our purpose is to create an online compendium of resources for faculty who teach English 302, George Mason’s required third-year writing and research course. I’ve been teaching 302 for two and a half years, and I was happy to contribute a Writing Assignment prompt to the inaugural issue, a Literature Review Assignment.

Check it out, and please check out the other excellent submissions in the first issue! We hope to have the second issue out in January 2019.

Hire me to perfect your academic writing!

I added a page to this site describing my editing services. I’m trying to pick up speed with my side hustle, freelance editing, now during the summer when my teaching paychecks are few and far between.

I love editing–it’s such a pleasure for me to read and perfect other folks’ writing. Over the last few years, I’ve read a couple dozen dissertations and theses, I’ve edited English in translation, I’ve helped folks with citations and references, and I’ve made a lot of weird sentences less weird.

I’ve read papers on transitioning from the military, inspiring ninth graders, GPS apps, ISIS, microalgae, and craft beers. It’s fun!

Anyway, hire me!

ITL

I had the opportunity last week to participate in a conference here at Mason: Innovations in Teaching and Learning. With co-presenter Julianna Miner, we presented to a group of peers on a topic we are both passionate about: helping our students identify and appreciate evidence-based arguments and texts. In other words: avoiding Fake News. Our presentation was titled: “Is it true? Helping Students Assess Information Credibility.”

I became interested in this topic, like so many people, during the debacle of 2016 news. I brought in a lesson plan for my students on Fake News, and to my surprise, it worked perfectly with the curriculum of Advanced Composition.

In our talk at ITL, we discussed the results of a recent study from Stanford, and how we used that to inform our instruction. I focused on giving students a lesson plan based on rhetorical analysis of online texts–a crucial skill we teach in Advanced Comp.

I’m sharing our presentation below. I hope you make use of it, and the data we reference! Our goal was to give our peers some useful tools to put into practice right away in their classrooms.

ReadyMiner2017FakeNewsPresentation

New Essay, “Baba Yaga in the Classroom”

So to Speak is a wonderful journal at George Mason University that publishes feminist writing and art. For their blog, I wanted to write a short essay about my experiences of bringing Feminism into my classroom. In the process, I dug into my own life, and also into folklore and Fairy Tale, where I have found so much inspiration and beauty. This essay means a lot to me, and I hope you’ll read and share.

Baba Yaga in the Classroom, by Psyche Z. Ready