55. Embodying The Empress with Erica Livingston
In today’s Tarot for the Wild Soul episode, we’re meeting the embodiment of The Empress in Doula, breathwork facilitator, and herbalist, and co-founder of Birdsong Brooklyn, Erica Livingston. “The way that I define doula now is anyone who supports and provides service for any person crossing a...
Today I listened to Lindsay Mack‘s amazing first episode of the new version of her podcast, in which she discusses birth, death, and thresholds with doula/mom/actor/comedian Erica Livingston of Birdsong Brooklyn. It was so phenomenally healing. I might try to listen again and take notes so I can share the moments that really stood out. I haven’t fully processed my birth trauma, even though my kid is 26 months old. I so appreciate being given permission to see myself as postpartum forever, because that’s the reality of parenthood, isn’t it? Thank you so much Lindsay and especially Erica for this wondrous bit of medicine.

Toward a personal brand

I find myself admiring people who seem together. They are well-coiffed. Their clothes are carefully styled. They welcome you into their homes and effortlessly manage to make it feel like everything is totally fine and will continue to be so. They are pleasant. They are calm.

I recently gave myself permission to accept that I will never be one of these people.

Smooth and collected will never be part of my personal brand.

Then I gave myself permission to think about what is, naturally, part of my personal brand, and go all-in on that. Here’s what I came up with:

  • scholarly
  • whimsical
  • geeky
  • magical
  • enthusiastic
  • bada** who gets sh*t done
  • big and epic but also sparkly
  • warm
  • loving

And you know what? I really like all that stuff.

“I forgot to create a personal brand” card by Emily McDowell. You can buy it! There’s also a mug and a magnet.

Dissertating in the Open: Putting Together a Committee WITH TEMPLATES!

Y’all, I’m scholarlily-enamored of my committee. (Scholarlily is a new adverb. I give it to you.) Everyone on it is so cool and down-to-earth and does interesting work.

Want to know how to get an awesome committee like mine? Well, I can’t tell you, but I can tell you how to request that someone serve on your committee. After meeting to discuss my prospectus and where we thought my comps should go, my advisor and I planned for me to request that certain people serve on my committee, with her sort of taking over committee organization/management after they agreed to serve.

In my department, a dissertation committee consists of five people and at least one of them must be external to the department. We identified four people to be on my committee; the advisor is always the chair of my committee. We chose two professors from within the department, and two from outside the department. Here’s my prospectus in case you want to review it again. And here’s my committee:

Sandra Hughes-Hassell: My advisor. She’s on the committee of course because she’s my advisor, but also because of her interest in youth services.

Casey Rawson: A friend, colleague, and classmate from my MSLS days. She’s a professor of research methods, so she is my research methods expert. Youth services is also an area of research interest for her. In addition to her areas of research expertise, she has personal interests in fandom and crafting, both of which make my topic of interest to her.

Brian Sturm: A professor who taught me in my MSLS days. He studies immersion, and boy is cosplay about being immersed, right? Also helpful to have on the committee because of his expertise in youth services.

Heather Moorefield-Lang: My first external committee member. She’s got expertise in qualitative and has done a lot of research on makerspaces. Because I see making as a key element in cosplay, I wanted her on my committee. She also used to be a theater teacher and I am a lapsed theater person, so I expected there might be some good personality fit there. (I’m pretty sure I was right.) I didn’t know her, but I’d interacted with her some on Twitter and Sandra had met her at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians conference.

Crystle Martin: My second external committee member. If you’re basing your whole study on providing confirming evidence for/extending someone else’s study, it’s nice to have that person on your committee. She’s also a Connected Learning expert, and that’s a framework I definitely want to bring into my dissertation work, as it’s kind of my whole reason for getting a PhD. I also had expected a good personality fit here, as we share interests in fandom and gaming. (She once spoke on a panel called “What Buffy the Vampire Slayer Has to Teach Us about Games, Education, and Self-directed Learning,” soooo…) I had met her once about three and a half years ago, when she came to campus for a visit and I was working in the School of Education.

So Sandra and I settled on these four people to ask to serve, but then it was up to me to actually contact them. I looked around on the internet for examples of how to invite people to be on your dissertation committee and found a little advice but no clear templates. So, keeping in mind the advice from the blog post The Basics of Professional Communication, Part I, I set about constructing my own, which I will share with you in just a moment.

But first, a note: please remember that you are requesting a service, not conferring an honor. Serving on committees is part of professional service for faculty members. But also, if they accept, they are doing you a favor. So try to keep that in mind in your verbiage.

Now, three templates for asking someone to be on your committee! But be sure to read after the templates for one more note.

1. Someone you already know well (in my case, Brian and Casey)

Dear [Recipient Name]:

I hope this semester is treating you well. [Include some more conversational detail if you like.]

I am in the process of putting together my dissertation committee, and your expertise in [recipient’s area] would be very helpful. Would you be willing to be on my dissertation committee? I’ve written a brief draft prospectus for my dissertation research that you can review here: [link to your prospectus]

[Information about who will follow up – you or your advisor; scheduling a first meeting; any additional information you might provide later such as a bibliography]

If you have any questions, feel free to email me. Thank you for considering this request.

[Your name/email signature]

2. Someone you’ve met but don’t know well

Dear [Name]:

My name is [your name], and I am a [your year] doctoral student at [your institution and department] working with [your advisor]. For my dissertation, I am planning to research [your topic/research question]. [A one-sentence reminder of when and how you met.]

I am in the process of putting together my dissertation committee, and your expertise in [recipient’s area] would be very helpful. Would you be willing to be on my dissertation committee? I’ve written a brief draft prospectus for my dissertation research that you can review here: [link to your prospectus]

[Information about who will follow up – you or your advisor; scheduling a first meeting; any additional information you might provide later such as a bibliography]

If you have any questions, feel free to email me. Thank you for considering this request.

[Your name/email signature]

3. Someone you’ve never met

Dear [Name]:

My name is [your name], and I am a [your year] doctoral student at [your institution and department] working with [your advisor]. For my dissertation, I am planning to research [your topic/research question].

I am in the process of putting together my dissertation committee, and your expertise in [recipient’s area] would be very helpful. Would you be willing to be on my dissertation committee? I’ve written a brief draft prospectus for my dissertation research that you can review here: [link to your prospectus]

[Information about who will follow up – you or your advisor; scheduling a first meeting; any additional information you might provide later such as a bibliography]

If you have any questions, feel free to email me. Thank you for considering this request.

[Your name/email signature]

Some notes:

When selecting what to call the recipient in the greeting, here are my general guidelines:

  1. If it’s someone I know well, I use the name that I know they prefer. In my department, some professors prefer students use their first name, others prefer their title and last name, and others might prefer a title but last initial, so that their expertise is recognized but the relationship is still a little informal. Respect what this person wants to be called.
  2. If it’s someone I have only met once or don’t know at all, I use the title and last name. Once they’re on the committee and you’re actually having meetings, you may end up calling them by first name as I have in the blog post above. But always begin from the most formal position possible.

All of the people I requested to be on my committee accepted, and we had our first meeting last week, which is why next time on Dissertating in the Open, I’ll write about Your First Meeting with Your Committee!

Thanks to Jegged.com for the Final Fantasy VII Party Select Screen Image.

2018 Year-in-Review

Hi Internet friends. For the past several years, I’ve gotten some version of Leonie Dawson’s My Shining Life workbook. It is big, beautiful, full, and you can get it in PDF if you don’t want to get a physical version. So this year, I got mine out from the end of last year, and started reviewing it.

I looked at all the hopes and dreams I poured in there last December.

And I was devastated that I had accomplished so few of them.

Am I still glad I did her workbook? 100%, and I recommend it wholeheartedly to just about anybody.

But I wanted to take some time to write about how my year has gone, since it didn’t go remotely like I had planned.

I don’t have the book next to me right now, but I know my goals were things like getting my house in order so I could sell it, and passing my comps and proposal defense and actually beginning data collection for my dissertation. None of these things happened, and looking at that book, I felt so bad about myself.

Then I started to think about how I’ve spent the year. Because it was easy to look at that and think, “What even have I DONE this year? I HAVE ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING AND I AM A MESS AND I AM THE WORST.”

And I needed to not think that.

So here’s how I spent the year.

In January, my toddler and I started coming to Nido, which is an amazing combo Montessori school/coworking space. At the time of our tour, there was a flexible napping space, and we thought M. would be able to nap when his body was ready. (Usually around 3 pm.) I had a ton of stuff to get prepared for the first day, and we’d been out of town, so I ran around that morning buying stuff at Target and getting ready, and M. fell asleep in the car on the way to Nido, and I was super stressed, and then we came inside and the teacher was all “So everybody naps at 1 pm,” because they’d had to change the space to accommodate increasing enrollment and now there was no nap room. And of course M. cried, which everyone told me would go on for a couple of weeks but stop eventually.

For the next 7 months, basically, I exhausted myself entertaining M. all morning long, then we came to Nido, where he wanted to stay awake and work when all the other kids were asleep, and half the time he fell asleep in the car on the way there and so we only came in after he woke up, and I was getting hardly any work done, and it took me from January to May to write 20 pages of lit review – which is how much I usually can write in about three days.

It was hard, especially because EVERYONE at Nido was lovely and really liked us and wanted it to work out. Eventually, the teachers suggested switching us to mornings. (Nido is a 1/2-day program.) The only reason we hadn’t come in mornings in the first place was that I didn’t want M. to lose his morning time for W., but as we considered it, we realized this was an excellent solution. And in August we made the switch, and I have been more productive since then, and I get to work during my best and most energetic hours instead of the hours when I drag. M. gets to work hard and play hard and is very happy in his classroom. What a happy ending, right?

But for the first half+ of the year, figuring that out ate up most of my energy.

But also? One of my dearest friends moved away at the end of January, and it hit me hard.

BUT ALSO! I visited Los Angeles just a couple of weeks later and reconnected with my Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan friends, and it was delightful.

M. and I traveled to Knoxville with W., which was lovely, and visited my grandfather’s grave in Sevierville.

We rearranged the rooms in our house so that M. has a playroom now, and while we still aren’t satisfied and want to sell ever, we’re using the space much better these days.

M. got his first, and second, and third haircuts.

My sibs, my bro-in-law, M. and I drove down to Florida for my paternal grandmother’s memorial service, but there was another devastating death in the family just a couple of days before the service, and everything was emotionally so hard. On the way home, we took a pretty wide detour to Atlanta to visit with my moved-friend for a couple of hours.

IMMEDIATELY after that, my dad had surgery.

I went to the American Library Association conference in New Orleans and gothed it up so hard – well, as hard as you can when you’re making it a point to be back in your hotel room and in bed before Bourbon Street gets really wild.

We had a LOT of problems with the house, and they still aren’t all fixed, but a lot of them are, so there’s been some progress there.

And OH YEAH, also, MY MOM had surgery. So yeah. BOTH my parents had surgery within four months of each other.

W. and I saw Murder by Death and Clue: The Movie for our anniversary and got each other the same card.

W., M., and I went to Cherry Grove Beach for 10 days and we saw a mermaid show and it was lovely.

I played some D&D. W. and I went to the Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds concert. We did multiple toddler Halloween events. W. gifted me the Moonchild Tarot, for which I had been waiting for about a year. I went to Everyday Magic during their Liminal Space event.

I got pneumonia.

M. and I accompanied W. to Charleston, which was beautiful, but made my pneumonia worse.

I wrote a dissertation prospectus and recruited a dissertation committee.

We hosted a Thanksgiving meal and attended a Thanksgiving meal with new family members. I saw Wreck It Ralph 2 and I cried.

And there’s more in the weeks ahead: movies, holiday parties, D&D, family Christmas celebrations, escape rooms, still working on comps.

Each year, I pick a one-word theme (one of the things I got from Leonie). And I picked LOVE for this year.

And looking back on the year, I see it.

It’s been a year of showing up in love for my kid. (I hope every year will be!)

It’s been a year of showing up in love for my family.

It’s been a year of being bludgeoned with health-related reminders that I need to show up in love for myself. (I didn’t mention all of them here.)

I’ll let you know when I pick the word for next year.


Dissertating in the Open: Designing a Comprehensive Literature Review

I think every doctoral program is different in what they expect from students for qualifying comprehensive examinations, but in my program, there are two components: a literature review of about 50-60 single-spaced pages that offers an overview of the student’s research interests and addresses theoretical, methodological, and topical literature related to the expected dissertation, and a brief prospectus for the dissertation.

I wrote the prospectus first. Honestly, I think everybody should. Then my advisor and I met and discussed what should be in the comprehensive literature review. We wanted to have five areas to propose to my committee, with the understanding that these might change after our first meeting with my committee. Based on the prospectus, we settled on the following five areas:

Information literacy. As my central research question is about information literacy practices, I need to have a thorough definition of information literacy as a concept and an understanding of the historical development of that concept.

Cosplay. Since the cosplay affinity space is the locus of my research, this was an obvious choice.

Theory. It’s expected that all comps packages in my department will have a theory section. I chose to focus on theories Martin (2012) used in her dissertation: earlier models of information literacy, Sonnenwald’s (2005) framework of human information behavior, James Paul Gee’s (2004) concept of affinity spaces, Levy’s (1997) concept of collective intelligence, and Jenkins’s (2009) concept of participatory culture. There are other theories that may come into play, but I haven’t identified them yet. Theories I’ve researched in the past include possible selves, situated learning and communities of practice, and cultural-historical activity theory (especially horizontal learning). None of these are necessarily going to show up in my comps, but each of them has the potential to be useful for my dissertation work, so depending on how thorough I end up being with the theories mentioned earlier, they may end up in there.

Methods and Data Analysis. This is another section that is expected by the department. My proposed methods are primarily qualitative, involving interviews and qualitative coding, so this section will focus on those. It does have one quantitative element, however: analytic description, “an analysis
method to illustrate transforming qualitative data into numbers and coupling that with qualitative description” (Martin, 2012, p. 78), so I included mixed methods in here as well.

Connected Learning. Finally, although it isn’t mentioned explicitly in my prospectus, my advisor and I decided to include Connected Learning in my comps package. Connected learning in libraries is my central research interest, and cosplay definitely has all of the characteristics of connected learning, so this is a good fit for my fifth area.

I hope this has been helpful as you think about your own qualifying exams and which areas you should be reviewing to prepare for your dissertation.

Next on Dissertating in the Open: Contacting Potential Committee Members!


Martin, C. A. (2012). Information literacy in interest-driven learning communities: Navigating the sea of information of an online affinity space. The University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved from search.proquest.com/docview/1030437582?pq-origsite=summon




Yesterday I received my first order from Whisper Sisters, purveyors of fine perfume oils. I found out about it from Gothic Charm School. I ordered a scent called Goth Club 89, which is described as

Goth Club ’89 – if you were there, you know the smell. Heavy resins, candle smoke, nicotine, clove, incense, absinthe, with a hint of intoxicating florals and vintage dark patchouli to balance everything out.

The Lady of the Manners said it delivers on exactly what it promises, so I thought I’d try it.

(Sidebar: This was a late night impulse buy. Occasionally I do those. They’re always under $20 and always silly. Others have included a Krang t-shirt and movies including Hot Rod, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, and all of the Librarian movies.)

First, the Whisper Sisters packaging is beautiful: a little sheer black fabric bag with a business card, tiny plastic skeleton and spider and bat toys, and the perfume bottle plus a little sample vial. When I put the scent on, I wasn’t sure about it. It was a bit strong and medicinal.

But once it settled in and my body chemistry modified it, I loved it.

Specifically, I felt as this was how I should have been smelling my whole life.

After yesterday’s musings on adulting, I found myself looking for various resources that indicate what some components of adulting are. I found my way to the syllabus for Adulting: Coming of Age in 21st Century America at Georgia Tech, which assigned some videos from the YouTube channel How to Adult. As I started to skim the video titles, I realized that there are, in fact, many things I am quite adult enough to handle. I thought I’d make a list, just to help me remember how very grown up I am on the days when I eat cake for breakfast and my child is the only person who I can manage to dress appropriately for the occasion and weather.

I can:

  • do my taxes
  • do laundry
  • furnish a kitchen
  • cook
  • write a resume
  • succeed in a job interview
  • open a bank account
  • bake
  • declutter & organize
  • quit a job
  • write a cover letter
  • open a retirement account
  • write thank you notes (though of course I don’t as often as baby boomers and their parents would like)
  • buy a house
  • get a new car insurance policy
  • start a new job
  • make coffee (three different ways!)
  • meal plan
  • party plan
  • host a party
  • manage a pregnancy
  • care for a child (including feeding, changing, bathing, clothing, entertaining)
  • choose a doctor
  • enroll in health insurance
  • use a library
  • send mail
  • take out a loan
  • repay a loan
  • use public transportation
  • use a slow cooker
  • unclog a toilet (including using a toilet snake/auger!)

And this is just a small sampling, based on the How to Adult video channel! I can also:

  • take my own measurements
  • purchase clothes that fit and make me feel confident
  • get a mortgage
  • connect utilities
  • pay bills
  • buy a car
  • make tea (in a bag or loose leaf!)
  • assert myself in interactions with a doctor
  • replace the items from a stolen wallet
  • drive
  • put gas in a car
  • buy a plane ticket
  • navigate an airport
  • use a pressure cooker
  • use a microwave
  • use a toaster oven
  • use an oven
  • handwash dishes
  • load and run a dishwasher

And of course there are many more things I can do!

Probably we each need to cut ourselves a break sometimes and recognize how awesome we are and all the stuff we can do.

I'm Turning 30. Do I Need Adulting Lessons? by an author (CityLab)
There's a whole cottage industry devoted to teaching Millennials basic life skills. Are young adults that hapless, or is being a grown-up really harder now?

There’s a whole cottage industry devoted to teaching Millennials basic life skills. Are young adults that hapless, or is being a grown-up really harder now?

Pocket suggests things for me to read, and a few weeks ago, it suggested I read this piece about adulting. As I lay in bed, my toddler sleeping peacefully beside me, I thought, “I really need adulting help.” Which in one sense is ridiculous, because I have been doing some adulting basics, like holding a steady job, or paying rent or utilities, for almost 18 years. My adult self is, in fact, an adult.

But then I look at my immensely dirty car, or think about the extreme level of disrepair my home has fallen into over the past six years of home ownership, or remember that W. is the one who does the laundry and the dishes and the cleaning and the yardwork and I think…

Yeah. I could use some help.

I had a revelation a couple weeks ago while driving and noticing that my windshield wipers need to be replaced. I’m really good at projects. In one sense, it’s completely correct that my personal brand could be KIMBERLY: SHE GETS THE JOB DONE. If the job has a clear objective and a defined endpoint. I can manage human and material resources to make magic happen.

If, on the other hand, the job is a repetitive task directed at maintenance that will need to be done over and over again (like laundry or dishes or toothbrushing), then I’ll have to work harder to create a system to make sure it happens.

I’m trying to figure out what those systems look like.

Maybe acknowledging that all of life is a process of incrementally improving and coming up with ways to hack your brain is the real adulting.



Dissertating in the Open: Identifying a Research Question & Writing a Prospectus

First, huge thanks to Dr. Laura Gogia for the descriptive phrase “Dissertating in the Open.”

Early on in my PhD program, I decided that I wanted to be as transparent about my dissertation process as is ethically possible. Since I’m focused on studying Connected Learning, and openly-networked products are a key part of that framework, I wanted to share my own process. This blog post is the first step in that direction.

When I came into this program, several of my cohort-mates already had clear ideas not just about their area of research interest, but about their specific dissertation projects. Others took a hard turn and completely shifted their research interests. I’ve followed a middle route; while I wasn’t zeroed in enough to turn every assignment into a chapter in my dissertation (or even my literature review), everything I did was somehow focused on interest-driven learning. But I was never clear on how it all would come together in a culminating research project.

Over the past three and a half years, I’ve probably floated almost 10 different dissertation topics or themes past my very understanding advisor, but none of them quite coalesced into a question. I should have known that the question would come out of the literature. My best research always comes from someone else’s “Possibilities for future research” section.

A few weeks ago, I was reading Dr. Crystle Martin‘s (2012) dissertation. She investigated the information literacy practices of players in the World of Warcraft affinity space and, based on previous prescriptive models of information literacy and her own results, generated a new, descriptive model of information literacy for digital youth.

And then in her conclusion, she said:

“The more affinity spaces which are studied, the more stable the model will become, until eventually it will be a powerful predictive model that can approximate outcomes when parameters are changed” (p. 108).

I physically actually got chills. But I wasn’t sure how I would tie this into my own work.

Then I went to the Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy concert and saw the cosplayers.

Then I re-read Dr. Martin’s dissertation.

Then I realized cosplay is an affinity space.

Then I sat down and over the course of a few hours banged out a dissertation prospectus to send to my advisor. It’s just a first draft. But I wanted to share it for those of you who are inexperienced in writing them. I’m lucky that my professor Dr. Barbara Wildemuth really walked my cohort through this process. Comments are open, so feel free to annotate it up and ask questions.

Next time, on Dissertating in the Open: building a comps package based on your prospectus!