In around 1990, I had a dream, not the kind that Martin Luther King, Jr. had, but the kind you have when you are sound asleep. In the dream, I was at work, at Brigham Young University where I taught writing as part-time faculty. I was climbing the stairs in the old Jessie Knight Building Annex, my arms full of papers to grade. At the bottom of the stairs were the classrooms where I and the other part-timers taught writing classes. Our offices were down there, too. My office was literally a former closet, an airless, narrow space shared with four other teachers, with two desks crammed along the wall and barely space to walk past them.
In the dream, I was walking up the stairs toward the third floor, where the Real Faculty Offices were. In real life, up there, on the third floor were roomy offices with bookcases and actual windows. Also on the third floor, in real life, was the English Department Office, where all the decisions that affected me were made—when and what and whether I would teach. My contract was always for only a semester at a time, and there were no real guarantees that it would be continued for the next semester.
Perhaps even more difficult, again in real life, on the third floor I felt invisible. Full-time faculty would pass me in the halls without a greeting or a nod. If they recognized me at all, they knew I was one of the part-timers and did not feel a need to get acquainted. Who could blame them? After all, I may not even be around next semester. Certainly, they knew that as a part-timer I would have no input on any departmental committees or decisions. Why bother forming even a working relationship?
In my classroom, of course, I felt like a real teacher. I planned my syllabus, chose my texts, created lesson plans, and designed writing assignments. I cared deeply about my students’ success in the course, and kept trying new ways to improve their learning. I did not see my work as temporary or ancillary. I loved my work and I wanted to learn more about it. And when I found something that helped my students, I wanted to share it with others. But I did not see a path to doing this. After all, I was only part-time. More than that, I had no PhD, that all-important academic credential.
So, in real life, I was worried about my position as a teacher, about my career, about my future.
Now, let’s go back to the dream where I found myself scaling the stairs from the basement to the third floor, my arms filled with papers and books. I climbed a short flight of stairs, turned on the landing, and climbed another short flight to the second floor, and then another short flight. I turned on the landing and…I froze.
There were no stairs. That last flight of stairs to the third floor were missing. Nothing led from the landing upward—just thin air through which I could see all the way down the staircase to the basement. I looked up—above the empty space was the third-floor lobby, looking just as it always did, with the display case showcasing faculty books, the directory board with office numbers of the faculty, and teachers walking to and fro, completely unaware of the strange problem with the staircase.
I didn’t know what to do. I stood there and considered. I couldn’t stay on the landing forever. I could just turn around and head back to the basement, to my closet office and continue as usual. But I didn’t want to.
Then I heard the voice. It was clear, unambiguous, and definitely from outside myself. It said, “Just put your foot out into the air. Climb the stairs as though they were there.”
And that is what I did. I stepped out with my right foot, a little way up, and, though still invisible, the surface held. I put my weight on that invisible step, and then moved my left foot up a little way up. It held too. Step by invisible step, I climbed the staircase that should have been there until I found myself standing solidly on the third floor.
When I woke up, I knew this was a true dream. I thought, how do I climb the invisible stairs? How can I become a contributing, full-time member of my discipline and my department?
What if I started acting like I already was?
I started by doing scholarly research in my field, learning the conversation of my discipline by reading scholarly journals. Then I thought of personal research projects I could conduct on teaching, which I completed. I proposed sharing those projects at national conferences, and I was accepted. I asked for and received funding for travel to the national conferences, where I shared ideas and experiences with scholars from all over the country and the world. I found I had things to say in these conversations, and I gained confidence.
Back in my department, I volunteered to serve on committees and to help with designing courses. I presented at departmental conferences. I co-authored with a faculty member.
Then, when a 3-year full-time appointment became available for non-PhDs, I applied. And I didn’t get it.
No problem. The next year, I applied again.
Wait a minute. That’s a lie. Not the part where I applied again, but the part where I said, “No problem.”
It was definitely a problem when I didn’t get the position. I was devastated. I knew—I thought I knew–I was the most qualified. I couldn’t imagine why I wasn’t chosen. I felt betrayed by the hiring committee–colleagues whom I had felt were my friends, who I had assumed would appreciate my hard work and clearly want to choose me. I’m pretty sure I went home and pulled the covers over my head. I wanted to just give up.
The lie I want to correct was the impression I may be tempted to give that the journey up the invisible stairs was easy. It wasn’t.
It wasn’t easy to try to figure out a professional discipline without classes or professors to help me along.
It wasn’t easy when my proposals to present papers at conferences were rejected. Nor when I sent articles to journals for publication and they weren’t accepted. I didn’t understand what was wrong. I felt like I didn’t know the rules, but I was trying to play the game anyway.
It was not easy to take over a tutoring program and make changes that were not totally popular with the tutors. It was not easy to deal with budget cuts and unhappy teachers and ineffective tutors. It was not easy to keep reading and learning and researching. It was not easy to create workshops that were initially poorly attended. It was hard work.
Just like every worthwhile thing anybody has ever accomplished. It’s hard to be a mom. It’s hard to be a good friend. It’s hard to go to school. It’s hard to become an accountant or a doctor or a mechanic. It’s hard to do stuff that matters and makes the world a better place.
But as in in all hard things, there are joys.
When I applied again for the three-year appointment, I was offered the job. Then, after three years of full-time responsibility, including serving as a section head, I was back to part-time. But people knew me, and when a position became available directing a university-wide tutoring program, I was offered that job. That job led to becoming the Writing Across the Curriculum Coordinator for the entire university, a full-time position. Along the way, I wrote a couple of books, one with national distribution, created a university-wide newsletter, and started a series of university training programs that continue to this day.
For me, in each difficulty, I found support and encouragement to get through. I had mentors to help me, generous colleagues. I had students and tutors who believed in me. I had a wonderful family: my husband and children helped me with my work, were patient when I couldn’t complete home responsibilities, and, especially, comforted me when I was discouraged. With all this help, I kept trying and learning, and there were many more times of joy than sorrow. Along the way, I found friendships and experiences that I would never trade.
So that is how my dream came true. I shouldn’t have been able to do it, but because I just pretended I could, I did.
Just like all of you, as you have climbed your own invisible staircases. Climbing that staircase is hard, but it is worth it. The invisible steps hold.
The moral of the story is this: If you want to do something, do it. Nothing need stop you. Not even thin air.
Beth Finch Hedengren taught English Composition at BYU for over forty years before retiring to enjoy grandmothering fulltime. She is thankful she was able to teach part-time while her children were little, which maintained her sanity while still allowing her to be home with the kids when they needed her. She is also thankful that, as the children became more independent, she was able to transition to full-time work in a career she loved. She is wife to the very patient, kind, and smart Paul Hedengren, mother to five fantastic adults, and grandmother to seven wonderful children.
A version of this essay originally appeared on Beth’s blog, Beth’s Line Upon Line.
Just reading the list of organizations Elizabeth Anne Wells Cannon participated in her 83 years of life is tiring. But when I think about the kind of enthusiasm and persistence that such active leadership required while she was also raising twelve children and serving in various church callings, I can’t help but think about the Energizer bunny.
Annie, as she was known, served as an editor—alongside her mother, Emmeline B. Wells—of the Woman’s Exponent for 19 years and was actively involved in the suffrage movement right up until women were granted the right to vote. She also served as a stake Relief Society president for 16 years; served as a member of the Relief Society General Board; became president of the Utah Daughters of Pioneers; was a charter member of the Utah Red Cross; was the first president of the Utah War Mothers organization; served as an elected representative in the Utah state legislature for multiple terms; and was picked by U.S. President Herbert Hoover to be Utah’s chairman of the European Relief Drive, of which she was the only female member.
In a Woman’s Exponent editorial for which Annie is listed as a contributor, the publication celebrated the right to vote that had been extended to women in Utah and two other states and urged women to use their new gift to its fullest potential.1 “Women have been given the franchise in this hour of need undoubtedly for a wise purpose. The spirit that wrought upon the great women of the nineteenth century, to urge the claim of equal suffrage was just as much from the Almighty, as that which inspired Washington or Columbus. . . . The women of Utah have been given the franchise at an opportune time, they should see to it that the opportunity is not thrown away.” A woman’s duty, the editorial continues, “is not only to cast her ballot but to use her power of speech whether it be silver or golden in the direction of ‘peace and goodwill,’ and the promotion of harmony instead of friction and a spirit of contention.” Moreover, “[t]he women of the Latter-day Saints who have passed through such trying ordeals, who have been taught such lessons of humility and self-sacrifice by the very force of circumstances, above all women in the world, should be able to act wisely in the present crisis of affairs in the new state. And if they are not recognized as the peers of men, should show by their fidelity and faith, their loyalty and love for the principles of justice and equality that shine so conspicuously in all times of great undertakings or of telling events, and eventually cannot fail of recognition.”
Annie’s life began and ended in Utah. She was born to pioneer parents in 1859 in Salt Lake City, and she attended and graduated from the University of Deseret in 1879. She married her husband, John Q. Cannon, who later became the editor-in-chief of the Deseret News and served for a time as a General Authority.
Annie loved literature and was actively involved in promoting the spread of both political and artistic material to Latter-day Saint Women. “The hardships of pioneer life are not generally very conducive to the cultivation of the finer qualities of the mind and soul,” she wrote in an article about early literary efforts in the Utah territory.2 “The making of new homes and conquering desert wastes naturally calls forth all one’s energy and the tired work-worn body would naturally require all the faculties of the mind to assist in providing life’s necessities.” Nonetheless, Annie wrote, “the pioneers brought with them across the plain a printing press,” and literary societies and newspapers began to fill the “dearth” of literary work available in the territory. Annie’s own efforts to give exposure to budding writers through her work as an editor of the Woman’s Exponent, the publication through which many Utah poets, lyricists, and authors began their careers.
Annie’s list of accomplishments is especially impressive considering the hardships she endured in her personal life. After her third child was born, her husband was excommunicated from the Church while serving as a general authority for having an affair with Annie’s sister, Louie. Church leaders asked the couple to divorce so John could marry Louie, who was pregnant. The couple did so, John and Louie were married, and Louie died tragically a short time later after a stillbirth. John eventually remarried Annie and was again baptized into the Church. They went on to have nine more children. Despite the loss of her beloved sister and the rumors she was subjected to and the public interest in her life, Annie refused to fall back in the shadows and instead moved forward in confidence in her leadership roles in both the church and in politics.
Annie seemed to draw her fortitude and work ethic from her pioneer parents. She frequently praised and honored the efforts the generation just previous to hers had made to start a new life. She wrote a poem that was set to music and sung at a celebration in 1905 marking the anniversary of the arrival of the first pioneers in the Salt Lake valley.3 While Annie penned it as a tribute to the pioneers, there is no doubt that Annie herself lived with similar strength and courage:
O’er prairies vast,
And deserts drear,
There came a valiant band,
Through mountain pass
And rivers clear
Unto the promised land,
Unto the promised land,
Oh praise. Oh praise his name,
Oh give, Oh give him fame
With courage bold,
With heart of gold,
His deeds we do revere,
Oh none so brave,
His life he gave,
The bold, the dauntless pioneer.
His hardship great,
And toll untold
Transformed the desert wide
Now gardens fair,
Homes rich and rare
Appear on every side,
Apparent on every side;
Oh praise. Oh praise his name,
Oh give, Oh give him fame
With courage bold,
With heart of gold,
His deeds we do revere,
Oh none so brave,
His life he gave,
The bold, the dauntless pioneer.
–Annie Wells Cannon
by Dianne Orcutt
Last week I was able to attend a thoughtful discussion with the editors and four of the discoursers from the newly released book At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-Day Saint Women. Hosted by the Women’s Outreach Committee of the LDS Public Affairs Department, the event brought together many women from the community to learn more about the history of the project, meet some of the women whose talks are featured in the book, and to discuss the book itself. It was a wonderful and uplifting event. Sisters Virginia H. Pearce, Gladys N. Sitati, Jutta B. Busche, and Elaine L. Jack spoke with us about their experiences preparing their talks, and also talked about other talks in the book that resonated with them. We enjoyed a robust discussion afterward and I think all were edified.
This book is important and my fear is that it will not reach the wider Church audience. I am afraid that it will be seen as a niche women’s product and disregarded by many. Too often women’s stories and women’s words are seen as applicable or of interest only to women. This is true both inside and outside of the Church. The talks collected in this book are powerful, and they are filled with spiritual meat. As Kate Holbrook, one of the editors noted, these women spoke with real authority. They spoke with the authority of their callings, of their life experiences, and with the authority of the Spirit. This book teaches women and men about important theological topics. Spending time with this book will also give the reader a greater appreciation for the fact that women are (and should be seen as) powerful and authoritative spiritual leaders. Can you imagine if we studied this volume as curriculum in Relief Society and Priesthood meetings?
One of my favorite moments was when a woman asked how can we encourage girls and young women to see a life full of possibilities, and not simply the one rigid script they may believe is the only way to be a righteous woman? Sister Virginia Pearce answered, “The best thing we can do for the next generation is to say: Rejoice in the ambiguity. It is your opportunity to make life be what God wants it to be.”
I am happy this important book has been published–hopefully it is the first of many like it–and that I was able to participate in this event with so many remarkable women.
I have tried a lot of different budgeting approaches over the years. From Quicken to Mint to a simple budget in Excel — I’ve set them up, gained some understanding, and quit. These budgets helped me break down my expenses, but they did little to change my behavior in the long run.
Last year, however, I finally found a budgeting approach that worked. When unpaid maternity leave collided with some rocky times for my husband’s company, I decided to get crystal clear on our budget to ease my anxiety. I tried a new-to-me budget tool called You Need a Budget (YNAB) that has revolutionized our financial life. Here are 5 of the many lessons I have learned in this year of budgeting:
Knowing exactly what you spend and where is critical if you want to change direction and reach big financial goals. (See this post for more on that topic.)
For a long time I joked that our approach to budgeting was “We don’t spend money! Problem solved.” And for many years we had been in a mode of aggressively tackling debt, saving a home down payment, and driving our very old cars. We were not big spenders, but I knew there were leaky areas of our budget I could improve upon.
Last summer my husband was temporarily freelancing and he needed to know the income we required to avoid debt. Categorizing our budget items helped me give him a realistic number. A grocery budget of $550 is much more reasonable for us than $400. It took me several months to accept that no matter how hard I tried we couldn’t stay within $400. We also worked to budget for the irregular expenses (car registration, Christmas, etc.)
Now I’m back to work and his company is in a much stronger financial position, so we have regular paychecks again which makes budgeting even easier. Every month we know exactly what our fixed expenses are and how much wiggle room we have to save up for a vacation or more quickly pay down my student loan. I have much less anxiety and more peace about the progress we are making on all of our goals.
There are still painful moments every month where we make bad budget decisions or life surprises us and we don’t quit have enough in a category to cover it. But we roll with the punches and move forward. And as we get better at budgeting we are having fewer painful moments.
Of course it’s a reality that any given dollar can only be spent on a single thing, but I never thought about it in quite that way before. Now after a long day at work when I’m considering picking up takeout I check my budget and see that I’m out of dining out dollars; I can either raid another category (like our Hawaii 10-year anniversary trip) or I can go home and make eggs for dinner since that’s all we have in the fridge. My dream of seeing Hawaii has helped me avoid many an impulse purchase at Target and forced me to throw together simple meals at the end of the month when the food budget is tight.
A great budget helps you keep long range goals in mind and push past impulse spending. The thing I love most about this approach to budgeting is there is no judgment about what your priorities are, just a focus on being true to yourself and making sure your money aligns with your priorities.
I used to budget around once a month. It was not a fun cycle. I’d type up a budget in excel and then at the end of the month I’d look and see where we went over and feel frustrated with us for not staying true to our goals.
Now I check in on my budget at least once a week on my laptop. And I enter transactions regularly through a mobile app. I check my category balances as needed before I make purchases. This may sound overwhelming, but once I set it up the time investment is minimal. I spend about one hour a month setting up categories, 30 minutes a week checking in, and a few minutes each day entering and categorizing transactions. We always know where we are at and I feel so much more in control.
I’ll acknowledge that I’m a type-A personality and I love spreadsheets. Still, budgeting has usually been stressful for me. See point three — the ambition-shame cycle was not fun.
Now it’s different – I love getting new income and giving those dollars jobs. I love seeing that we are on track to have our summer vacation fully funded and watching my student loan debt snowball knock out each loan. This month I am very happy that I get to buy throw pillows for my couch because my home décor category has been replenished. Every small victories is a celebration. And the guilt free spending is very fun. In the past I was so focused on eliminating debt that I felt guilty about any purchase on something else, no matter how small. Now we have many competing priorities and make intentional decisions about where our dollars go. So we can celebrate big victories (paying off my undergrad loan this month!) and enjoy small indulgences (Swig sugar cookie, don’t mind if I do.).
Taking unpaid maternity leave when my husband’s tech startup hit a rough patch could have been incredibly stressful. Developing an honest budget meant I did not rush back to work early – I took the full twelve weeks and we were able to make strategic choices to stay on track. And I really enjoyed that time with my baby.
Do you wonder if you can afford to…
A budget can help you find the information to make these decisions and possibly find extra wasted money to make them happen. I have found that having our financial house in order means I can more readily make decisions about our future with confidence. And that is a wonderful aspect of maintaining a good budget.
I really love budgeting. It has transformed my life – and I’m not even remotely perfect at it. The most important part of budgeting is to get started and find a method you can stick with. If you have questions about our approach to budgeting I’d love to answer them. You can find me in the AMW Facebook Forum.
I’m Allison Lew, a business development coordinator at Provo Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, the founder of Braid Workshop for Women Entrepreneurs, a board member for the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce Women’s Business Network, and an organizer for Girl Develop It Provo. I have a BA in comparative literature and an MPA in local government.
Additionally, as part of my work for the Provo Mayor’s Office, I am behind our first-ever Provo Girls Summit, a career exploration summit for girls ages 8-12! This one-day event at Provo Library will be March 8th 5-7pm and will feature women from a variety of professional backgrounds–writers, scientists, artists, and local business owners from all over the state. After a brief keynote presentation, girls will have time visit one-on-one with each of our guests at their professional booths. Provo girls can learn what it’s like to look at the world as a planetary scientist, what it takes to write and act in BYU TV’s Studio C, how to run a stop-motion photography business, plus so much more! The event is free and open to the public. RSVP here: bit.ly/ProvoGirlsSummit2017
What ignited the spark in you to start Braid Workshop?
As a part of my work for Provo City, I was attending a lot of entrepreneurship events, but wasn’t seeing a lot of women in attendance. Most entrepreneurship events usually are not planned with women in mind. My answer to this problem was to create a space where women can 1) Connect 2) Learn business growth skills and 3) Feel safe enough to ask questions, learn, and collaborate. We have seen a lot of growth over this past year since our Braid Workshops launched and are looking forward to another great year.
What has been your most satisfying moment?
I have absolutely loved seeing really amazing people in our Braid Workshop community connect. It can be tough to find a place where you belong as a woman entrepreneur. Since its start, Braid has become a space where women can find a sense of belonging and support in their entrepreneurial endeavors.
What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
A good night’s rest is so precious these days. Because I work with women who are the primary caregivers for their children, we often need to meet or chat after their kids’ bedtimes. My day starts early and usually ends a bit late.
Braid Workshops occur every 3rd Thursday and are free.
If I attempted to describe my family experience and roles over the last decade I end up swimming in alphabet soup: WAHM, SAHM, working mom. I’ve tried them all. I worked full time until my first child was a year old. Since then, I have worked part-time from home, part-time out of the home, a combination of both, and there have been periods where I wasn’t employed at all. (Certainly I was still working during that time, but without any regulated breaks or protections afforded many modern workers.) I have asked myself at what point was I enjoying “the ideal”? In which situation was I making the most righteous choice? At what point was I most in line with the guidance of the Church? In the end, all I can ensure anyone is that in every situation, at every time, I was simply doing my best to live up to the mandates of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” In this document we are told, “Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.” And I felt like I was doing just this even though the specifics of my family and work situations changed.
Mormon doctrine, especially as it relates to marriage and children, perpetuates a certain amount of social culture and pressure. Much good can come from the right amounts of pressure applied at the right time and right places. But when the balance of pressure gets distorted, we end up risking the destruction of what is often a diamond in the rough. I wonder if this is what happens to some young couples and young families who rush to live up to doctrinal, social and cultural pressures regarding marriage and procreation.
The question I keep having lately on a personal level is this: IF the family unit is so important and sacred, IF success at the level of the family unit is crucial to the strength of society, IF the success of family units is really the whole point of the Gospel and the Church, then WHY aren’t we counseled more to invest in preparing for solid, strong marriages and family units by instructing our young people to be educated and stable (personally and economically) prior to marrying and especially prior to taking on parenthood? Why do we keep making marriage and family sound like an obligatory duty that we must be obedient to for the sake of righteousness instead of what is really is? It is a serious commitment and responsibility. It is the kind of sacred commitment and responsibility, bordering on a privilege, which should require preparation and the laying of a strong foundation of maturing, learning and planning to create the highest chances of success. We teach these things, yet we encourage young people not to delay marriage and not to delay childbearing. Can we have it both ways? Or are we creating pressure on our young people to begin families prior to having foundations of education, economic preparation and even time for personal emotional preparation and maturation?
Does anyone encourage the starting of a business without careful planning and consideration of the capital requirements to do so? Why do we think a family should be started with any less careful consideration? A few years ago the Church rolled out a program to raise the bar for missionaries that wanted to apply for service. I suggest that it might be time to raise the bar in our rhetoric of what needs to be in place if we want to start a family unit. I’m not sure if there has even been a time in history where the odds were in favor of a couple succeeding at the business of family life. Even in the Garden of Eden, there was a failure of communication and coordination that resulted in the Fall. Eve was making an insightful and bold decision. But she made it alone, even though her divine personal mandate was to be a help meet (Genesis 2:18). Adam could have made the same choice, the same way, and for the same reasons and it still would have had the same problem and result. So if Adam and Eve, in a paradise, couldn’t launch their relationship and family without some significant bumps, then what should the rest of us expect?
Certainly the sacredness of the family, from its very beginning, demanded an approach of thoughtful preparation, communication and planning. Is it any different now? Shouldn’t every young person be encouraged to plan for how they are going to contribute to hedge against life’s risks and uncertainties as part of a family unit? The encouragement of these plans needs to embrace the reality that both partners need to be adequately prepared for, capable of, and willing to work in a variety of capacities inside and outside of the home.
In “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” we read, “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners” (emphasis added). Fathers need to be available to provide the necessities of life that fall in the category of affection and quality time as much as those necessities that fall within the category of financial resources. If fathers are constantly out of the home to earn the financial necessities of life then they can’t participate as an equal partner in nurturing their children. And when I think of nurturing children, the most basic level of nurturing requires provision of the necessities of life relating to shelter, food, affection and education. If future mothers aren’t careful and conscientious about their decisions regarding education, they may find that they aren’t armed with marketable skills and will not be equipped to participate as an equal partner in “provid[ing] the necessities of life and protect[ing] their families.” A lack of economic stability certainly complicates and reduces a mother’s ability to nurture children, and therefore, women should be concerned with how they will contribute as an equal partner in “provid[ing] the necessities of life and protect[ing] their families.”
As we seek to promote the building of families, I hope we will discuss how men and women can prepare to help one another as equal partners. Both men and women need to be encouraged to complete quality educations, gain work experience and understand career development. Both men and women need to acquire basic homemaking skills and have knowledge relating to human and family development. And prospective couples need to be cautioned to take time to plan how they are going to meet the demands of parenthood on an economic and emotional level before taking on what is the challenge and adventure of not just a lifetime, but an eternity. I hope we will think about and discuss why it is not good that either partner be alone to execute these responsibilities independently. I hope as this occurs, more of our diamonds in the rough, our young and hopeful families will be started with proper safety nets and attitudes in place to safeguard them from being destroyed by the myriad of pressures and challenges that are bound to come their way.
Emily Martineau started her college studies as an English major. Mid-way through college she volunteered in Ecuador with Orphanage Support Services Organization. The experience had a tremendous impact on her views regarding family and economics. From there she thought she’d go to BYU to finish her education and find a spouse but was strongly redirected to serve a mission. She was called to serve in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Following her mission for the Church, she completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance at Arizona State University. While completing that portion of her studies, she met her spouse and they are parents to four children. In the near future, Emily hopes to return to work in a role with a behavioral health non-profit or to pursue graduate studies for a behavioral health license.
In 2012, my husband and I welcomed twins into our little world. All throughout my relatively uneventful pregnancy, my boss and coworkers supported me 100%. When I had to stop commuting into the city (after moving further away so we could have more space for twins!), they changed my schedule and supplied hardware so I could work from home. My many, many doctors appointments were worked around — my coworkers made sure I didn’t need to reschedule appointments, even the last-minute ones. I felt valued and even better, protected, in my place of work. My job meant something to me. However, despite this security and support at work, the stress of finances crept in throughout my pregnancy. Two days after we got the positive pregnancy test at home, my husband (the “breadwinner,” an engineer) had his hours cut at work. Three months before the twins were born, and right before I started having minor-but-still-impactful complications, he was laid off. My salary was small — even before the kids were born, we could not have survived on my salary alone, and so he pulled from unemployment insurance. He ended up being out of a job for a total of ten months, and was a stay-at-home (job searching, interview-going) parent for seven of those months.
I set that scene for you because I went back to work at nine weeks after birth not solely because of our financial situation, but I wanted to go back and be in that supportive work environment, and I was leaving them in the very capable hands of their father, second to no one, who was better in my hormonal eyes than an outside caretaker. I could not take any unpaid leave – I had cobbled together short-term disability with sick and vacation leave to give myself paid leave. There was no rational reason for what I started to feel when I went back to work. I was just getting into a good breastfeeding routine before going back to work and being away was going to impact that; the twins were finally sleeping more so we could actually enjoy them more without being sleep deprived; and even though it was their father who would be taking care of them, he was still outnumbered. And I felt a lot of guilt in those first few weeks. My first evening home, the babes were crying and I sent my husband and his mother out so I could just hold them, rock them, and cry with them, alone. That memory is seared in my soul, and I cherish it now as a confident, way-less-guilt-ridden mother of now five-year-old twins. So here are some things that helped me overcome my guilt when I returned to work, and I hope they will help you.
You are not alone. You are never alone. If all of us working parents were honest, there are many times we would rather be with our kids than working. So reach out to other parents. Find local groups online, talk to other parents in the grocery or at the park, and connect to other parents at church and community activities. I had a network of mothers of multiples I could talk to when my kids were infants, and sometimes it was just a whine-fest. But it helped so much to have someone say “I know. It’s really hard sometimes.” When you are in a better place, be that person for someone else, too.
“It takes a village” isn’t just a maxim to be used to yourself when you are running out the door with your partner for a too-rare date night, leaving the kids with a sitter. It’s truly a way of life, and one I have embraced. I was forced to embrace it in pregnancy, when I had a regular OB, a maternal-fetal-medicine specialist, and many others involved in my pregnancy. This doesn’t just mean create a network of working caregivers — it means emotionally connecting to them, too. They are inherently part of your family because they are taking care of your kids. This is, I think, especially important when you are talking about kids younger than preschool age. You will feel more comfortable leaving your kids with people with whom you connect. In practical terms, this means: don’t rush (if possible) the search for a caregiver. When you have one, talk about things other than the kids, like personal interests, and really listen to them. Take those ten minutes at daycare drop off and pick up to connect with the teachers. Drop by unexpectedly sometimes, so you can see candid moments with their caregiver (oh my, they will warm your heart). When you talk with them, ask them if they need anything (for their classrooms or if you use a nanny, if they need anything to be comfortable in your home), and be sure to offer things you can reasonably give without overextending yourself. Use those community resources too!! I know if I am in a pinch, I have a community of church friends with whom both my kids and I are comfortable.
To me, this is the flip-side of the “learn to say no” coin, and an extension of “it takes a village.” When you need help, you need to ask for and accept it. Not only does this help you with what you’re struggling with, but it truly does foster the village you’re trying to build to allow people to serve you. I feel good when I know my friends can come to me for help. And I feel good knowing when I need help, I have people to ask. You will have more people committed to your village if you ask for and accept help. Symbiosis is needed to truly create a community.
Replace “I’m not there for my kids” with “My kids are being loved by [caregiver’s name] and I am excited to see my kids later.” Replace “I should be at home” with “I am using my talents and following my desires, and this is good.” If you’re generally unsatisfied with your job, try to find projects or pieces of it you like. (This is, admittedly, more difficult if you’re having issues with people instead of tasks, but keep at it!!). This will also help you prioritize certain aspects of your job path if you decide to look for different jobs in the future. And don’t be afraid to change jobs when you have young kids — it can end up being really great, especially since it’s hard to see what flexibility needs your family has until you’re living it.
Realize that your Heavenly Parents want you to succeed and feel fulfilled, and be empowered by that. Pray for your work and labor, and commune with your Heavenly Parents about your struggles. Notice in the temple that Eve works alongside Adam — that she harvests and builds with him. Listen to the words of our covenants, and notice that (with one exception) there aren’t separate covenants for men and women involving our work in Zion. As I have worried about various work-related issues, laboring has come into my priesthood blessings. I truly believe that as we open ourselves up spiritually to working, the guilt about leaving the home (a cultural prescript) can fade away.
I hope these suggestions help. Occasionally, I still feel guilt about working, but it’s usually in a specific instance — when my kids are sick (although my husband is very capable; there’s something visceral for me about wanting to be the sick caregiver — it’s irrational), if there’s a party at school and I wanted to help, or when work is not as fun (those moments it feels like a waste of my time if I’m being completely honest). But in those times I’m able to reach out to my village — I connect with other working parents — I reword my own thoughts — and I go to my Heavenly Parents in prayer. The guilt dissipates after all that.
Sarah Gusky Kemer has her Master’s of Letters in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature from Mary Baldwin College. She’s taken the Renaissance bit to heart, and throughout her short working life has taught yoga to children, done administrative work, taught Shakespeare to adults, and is currently a marketing coordinator. She’s a convert to the Church and lives with her husband and twin sons in the North Shore of Massachusetts.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name’s Emma Anne Black. I grew up on a small farm in Helper, Utah, and then moved to Pleasant Grove, Utah as a teenager. I’m the youngest of 3 kids: one brother, one sister. I love travel, adventure, cookie dough, and good puns. I’ve been married almost one year to the love of my life who I met when he was my waiter at Tucanos Brazilian Grill in Provo, Utah.
I always enjoyed making little movies as a kid but had no idea I would end up making a career out of it. After experimenting with several majors at Snow College, I decided to take a film class. It was there that I discovered my passion and realized a real career could be built from it. I applied to the BYU Media Arts program and graduated with my BA in Dec. 2011. It was in film school that I learned about the position of a script supervisor. It’s a very specialized role on set and BYU had limited information on it, so the summer before my last semester I spent a couple of months in Los Angeles training and shadowing with other script supervisors on and off set. For two years after graduation, I slowly worked my way up the ladder in the Utah film world and became one of the top script supervisors in the state. Then in January 2013, I made the move to Los Angeles in search for more consistent work and bigger projects. I’ve been here ever since working on movies, commercials, TV shows – you name it!
What does your job entail?
A script supervisor is essentially the director’s right hand and the editor’s representative on set. It’s my responsibility to make sure that what’s in the script gets shot, and that it gets shot in a way that can be smoothly cut into a film. To accomplish this, I take detailed notes for the editor about what’s being shot, how it’s being slated – on what camera cards, sound cards, camera lenses, filters, etc.- and which takes work or don’t work. I make sure we get all the shots we need to cover a scene and that all the shots can cut together in a way that doesn’t confuse the audience. This includes a lot of fancy film grammar having to do with eyelines, blocking, and camera placement. The most important part of my job, however, is continuity.
When a movie is filmed, it’s filmed completely out of scene order. Logistically, when scheduling, it’s far more efficient to choose a shooting order based on location and actor availability, day vs. night scenes, and daily workloads. So it’s my job to make sure that the actor we filmed walking out of an elevator three weeks ago has the same exact wardrobe, hair, makeup, props, and emotional attitude when they walk into the elevator today… in a completely different location. This includes even the smallest of details like: Was their top button unbuttoned? Does the light look like the same time of day? Was the actor holding his or her bag with the logo facing out or in? And in which hand?
Additionally, there are several shots that make up a scene. Usually we’ll shoot a wide or “master” shot of the entire scene, and then we’ll move the camera(s) in closer to shoot individual shots of each actor, group shots, over-the shoulder shots, close-ups of objects they’re using, and whatever other shots are needed for the specific scene. It’s also my job to match continuity from shot to shot within a scene. I help actors with their dialogue and blocking to make sure they repeat the same lines and actions in each shot. That way no matter where the editor wants to cut to another shot, everything will look the same. Was the woman crossing her left leg over her right or right over left? Which line did she stand up on? When did she take a sip of her drink? Which hand did she use? How much water was in the cup? Was her hair in front of her shoulders or behind? Were the chairs at the table in the same position? Were her sleeves pushed up? When the man across the room turned around to talk to her, did he turn left or right? What line did he walk over to her on?
To sum it up, if you are ever watching a movie and see someone’s arm up and then it’s suddenly down, or someone’s hat facing one way and then suddenly the other, or a similar mistake, that would be the script supervisor’s fault, or the editor decided to use a take where a mistake was made for some reason.
All these little details make script supervisor one of the hardest jobs on a film set.
Why did you want to work in script supervising?
I think I was intrigued by the level of difficulty. I was drawn to a job where I would know for certain that I am really making a difference and being utilized. I also loved that it is a position on set that works so closely with the director and also with every department. I get to dip my hands into a little bit of everything and be the safety net for everyone. It’s a job that really gets up close and personal with the creation of a project and even presents opportunities to contribute creatively as I discuss things with the director, the director of photography (DP), and the actors. When I learned about the position in film school, I also recognized how detail-oriented and organized a script supervisor has to be and felt like I had those skills to offer.
What kind of education/training is required? What skills/personal characteristics are important to have/develop?
You’ve got to have a lot of focus, attention to detail, and organizational skills. You have to know the script better than anyone else and it’s up to you to notice even the tiniest of problems. One daydream during shooting and you could miss a dozen important things.
Adaptability and social skills are important, too. Every director, every crew, and every set is a little different which makes my job a little bit different every time. I have to be able to figure out quickly how each set works and be the best kind of script supervisor for that specific set . For example, some directors prefer me to give notes to actors directly and others prefer me to talk to them first. Some directors want lines delivered word for word and others are okay with just the gist of the line. Some directors shoot fast, others slow; some are well prepared on how they want to shoot a scene, others aren’t; some don’t care that much about little continuity problems, others care a whole lot; etc. You’ve got to be able to adjust how you work easily.
As far as social skills go, it’s a job that works, as I said, with every department on set. It’s a fast paced environment and things can get really intense so you’ve got to be able to communicate clearly and quickly but also be able to keep a good relationship with everyone. You’re with these people until the end of the show and you rely on each other to succeed, so you’ve got to figure out how to work together and do your best to make it a good experience for everyone.
Education and training was pretty limited at BYU. They have a good film program but since a script supervisor is such a specialized role, there wasn’t a lot taught on it. That’s why I came out to LA to learn from other script supervisors in a private classroom setting as well as shadowing on different sets. The best place to learn is definitely on set. It’s also an ever-changing job. Especially with new technologies, every script supervisor finds the best way for them personally to accomplish what’s expected. Some use paper and pencil to take notes and others are digital with a tablet or laptop. I’m digital but even then there are so many ways to take your notes and organize your system. You don’t just learn, you learn and then find the best way of doing the job for you.
What kind of job opportunities are there in your field?
Technically it’s a freelance job. I’m not employed by one company. It’s all about word of mouth and networking and then whoever calls calls. As more and more producers, directors, and crew members got to know me or worked with me, they started using me for all of their projects or recommending me. I did join the The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 871 union in L.A. a few years ago, however, and they help me get my benefits, negotiate contracts, and make sure I don’t get taken advantage of.
A lot of script supervisors move up to director eventually. I’ve gained a lot of skills to be able to direct after working so closely with a variety of directors throughout my career, even having to step up and take on some of the director’s responsibilities in dire times, but I am so happy where I am. Less pressure – but maybe one day.
What types of jobs have you had within your profession?
To gain the connections I needed when I first graduated from BYU, I took whatever job I could in the film industry. I was an assistant to the Utah Film Commissioner at the Sundance Film Festival; an office assistant for a TV movie shooting in Salt Lake; a boom operator for a few short films; and then eventually, after telling everyone I worked with what I really wanted to do, I started getting some script supervisor job offers and that’s all I’ve done ever since.
I feel like already I’ve had so many amazing opportunities from working with Robert Duvall on Wild Horses (the western he wrote), helping TC Christensen capture the struggles of Mormon pioneers in Ephraim’s Rescue, hanging out with goofy superheroes in The Aquabats Super Show, to helping out on major films like Secret in Their Eyes, The Revenant, The Meddler, and hit TV shows like Lethal Weapon and Flaked, and so much more. I’m currently working on a Netflix Original Film. I can’t say too much about it but it’s going be a fun one!
Check out my IMDB to see everything I’ve worked on: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4261177/
What is the best part of your job?
It’s so much fun! I get to go places and meet people I never would have and create a story that goes out into the world! Even though it’s extremely hard, that feeling of accomplishing something so difficult is always worth it. I also love that feeling of putting something good into the world. In my own life I’ve had films affect me in amazing ways. The Spirit can be shared through film and that’s something I hope to do as often as I can.
I think my favorite part is all of the amazing people I meet. There’s such a variety of people in this industry with all kinds of different backgrounds and stories. When you film for 14 hour days for months at a time, a real camaraderie forms. You go through a lot together. There are so many people I’ve met that feel like family to me who I probably would have never hung out with in regular life had I not bonded with them on set. From each person I meet, there’s knowledge and perspective to gain. Because of how many different jobs I do, I meet hundreds of new faces every year, and with each new face comes a new, insightful conversation for both of us.
What is the worst part of your job?
HARD. WORK. Films and TV shows shoot for months at a time with an average 14-hour day, 5 days a week, and at all hours of the day, too. Sometimes you work all the through night. There are no such things as “time off” or “sick days”. Unless you’re basically on your deathbed, you show up especially when you play such a vital one-person role as script supervisor.
It takes a lot of perseverance. You basically have to check out of the world for a few months because all you have time for is working…and sleeping, but a lot of times you don’t even get enough time for that. You’re working in the elements a lot of times, too. Heat wave, blizzard, thunderstorm – you name it. A couple of my hardest jobs were the freezing cold of Ephraim’s Rescue and the crazy heat, humidity, and mosquitoes of a film I shot in Tennessee called Brave New Jersey.
What’s the work/family/life balance like?
This question relates to the worst part of the job because it’s extremely hard to balance everything with the schedule I just described. Sometimes I go weeks without seeing my husband awake, and I’ve missed so many fun opportunities with friends and family because I’ve been working, but I’ve learned to make sure I don’t let it get in the way of anything too important. When I first started this career it was so hard to say no to jobs. It felt like the most important thing in the world and I wanted as many contacts as I could get, but in the end, it’s just a movie, TV show, or commercial and those things never should trump family or the gospel. I try hard not to work shows back-to-back so that I can always have a break to catch up with loved ones. I also avoid scheduling jobs over planned vacations or important family events. Even if it means losing a little more sleep, I try never to skip my prayers and scripture study. It’s vital that I have the Spirit with me in such a challenging job and environment as this.
What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?
I think because not a lot of people have ever heard of it, they don’t think it’s anything super important. It’s also such a hard job to explain that people assume I write or edit scripts or edit scripts. They don’t realize that I’m on set every day helping the director and being the glue that holds everything together. It’s kind of fun being the woman behind the curtain though.
It’s also hard to understand my job if you don’t understand how films are made. When I explain what I do, the most common response I get from people is “Oh, I would be good at that! I notice those little continuity mistakes in movies all the time!” What they don’t realize is that you have to notice those little things days, weeks, or even months apart after shooting dozens of other things in between, and with the pressure of ruining a multi-million dollar movie on your shoulders if you don’t notice them. Even writing that down makes me feel crazy for doing this job,but I weirdly really do love it.
What opportunities have you had because of your education and profession?
The places I’ve traveled, the interesting people I’ve met. Because of how many new people I meet each year, I have so many good missionary experiences, too. People ask where I’m from or where I went to film school and as soon as I say I’m from Utah or attended BYU they start putting the pieces together and eventually start asking questions, or they just notice the differences between things I do and how I act compared to others. It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to be an example of a Latter-day Saint so much. There’s some pressure there, too, but hopefully I do okay.
I also have the opportunity to work with and even become close friends with a lot of celebrities and I’m extremely grateful for the perspective that brings to my life. Realizing that they’re just people (and honestly some of them are not the best of people) keeps me from getting distracted by any kind of idolization in the media, and any kind of “wealth brings happiness” beliefs as well. They all have their imperfections just like other people and their personalities are often very different from the characters for which we know them best.
What stereotypes or criticisms have you faced as an educated Mormon woman with her own career?
99% of the people I work with are not members of the Church so I mostly get a lot of uneducated questions and criticisms like: “How many wives do you share your husband with?” or “Aren’t you not supposed to be drinking soda?” or “Shouldn’t you be at home having a bunch of kids?” And some people have tried to talk me out of the church by bringing up anti-Mormon literature or whatnot and acting confused that “such an intelligent girl could follow a cult religion like that”. When I first started working in this industry, I tried to hide the fact that I was LDS just so I wouldn’t have to deal with all that, but the hard fact is that we stand out in the world as it is now. People almost always figure it out. Whether it’s when I order a Shirley Temple at the wrap party, when I pass on the offer of coffee going around to the crew at 3am on a night shoot, or when I trip over a light stand and say “fudge!”. hen comes the observing, and then the questions. Oh, have I had some crazy questions,but now I embrace it. I pray that I can know the right words to say to the questions asked or the comments made and hope that the Spirit will do most of the work. I guess I’m just used to being the weird Mormon girl at this point and laugh. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I accept people for who they are and hope that they will accept me for who I am. Usually it creates a fun and safe environment to talk about each other’s views of the world without any judgement.
One thing that I still struggle with a little bit though is the professional credibility loss that comes with being Mormon sometimes. Sometimes people tend to associate drinking, swearing, dirty movie knowledge, partying hard, etc. with a certain level of maturity. Because the world is more open to these things as people get to certain ages, me not doing any of those things can make them view me as less mature or inexperienced. I’ve felt it hinder the ability for people to take me as seriously in a professional role even though I’m well qualified for the position.
What spiritual guidance have you felt as you have pursued your education and developed your career?
This question is paramount.
The film industry is a hard place to be for a Latter-day Saint. So much of today’s television and film content is filled with vulgarity, immorality, violence, and pornography. Each time a job opportunity presents itself, I prayerfully consider whether or not it’s the sort of project or story that Heavenly Father would want me to take part in. If the answer is no, I turn down the offer. Sometimes this means turning down jobs with attractive pay rates or exciting locations. This is especially hard in a freelance job when you don’t know when your next job may be, but I have faith that by following God’s guidance, my life will be happier and He will help me to succeed.
I have no idea how I would navigate this career without the Spirit. Sometimes it’s so hard to judge a movie by script alone. There are so many gray areas and so many things you can’t predict about the overall experience. Even if I stuck to only working on G-rated movies, the crew may be rated R. It’s not just about the content. Sometimes it’s an obvious no from the script but I’ve also turned down a few clean scripts for no reason other than it didn’t feel right. Sometimes I have learned why from talking to people who worked on it, and other times I never find out. I’ve also accepted films with questionable language or scenes because I got a strong answer to a prayer. One time I felt strongly I should say yes to a film with a graphic skinny dipping scene, and the scene ended up being omitted from the script during production. Another time I said yes to a film with questionable language because of an answer to prayer and during production they decided to change the rating and not only did they take out most of the swear words, but it was my job to remind the actors not to say them (which felt great!). Even one of my very first films had some strong language that I didn’t like and I was going to turn it down until I felt strongly that I shouldn’t, nd on that film I had some of the most amazing missionary experiences of my life.
Overall I feel like I’ve been so blessed in being able to work on a lot of wholesome content and even some powerful spiritual films, but this gospel absolutely directs me through this crazy career.
Any other thoughts, advice, or stories you’d like to share with other women?
I’m a woman; I’m a Mormon; I’m the breadwinner of my family; AND I work one of the hardest jobs in the entertainment industry in one of the largest cities in the world. “We can do it” 🙂