Sunday, July 16, 2017

You Guys Ask Awesome Questions

Shortly before I went on my summer break, I invited you guys to ask me almost anything you wanted. I ended up getting an amazing assortment of questions, ranging from "What's your favorite ____?" to "What the fuck is with that weird picture on Instagram stories?" I've gathered everything from Instagram, private messages, emails, and blog comments, and now I think I've got our answers! Thanks again to everyone who participated.

Social Media and Blogging

What's up with that "two braids" hairstyle you wear to bed?

Okay, I had to show you guys this, because I usually go to bed with these two braids, and it's just so dippy looking. That said, I've been braiding my hair before bed for years because it prevents tangles. I let my hair air dry, brush it out, braid it, sleep, and wake up with easy-to-brush out locks. Because I started getting my hair cut in layers, though, it's impossible to get the shorter strands braided unless I separate them. Hence, one braid for the short layers, one braid for the long layers.

Did...did you cut the top off of that potato chip bag?

I always do this when I get toward the bottom of a bag of chips. I hate having to reach way down in to the bag to get a handful; it crinkles too much and it makes my hand super greasy. #firstworldproblems

What makes a review compelling for you? What are the things you want to know and find useful?

Before I answer, let me make it clear that I'm not trying to call out any particular person or shit on somebody else's blogging style. I know my overly-sharpened product photos and close-up shots of my nose hairs are not to everybody's taste, and that's totally fine. You do you! Like anybody else, I just have my personal preferences.

First, I am attracted to nice photos. They don't necessarily have to be SUPAH AMAZING HD; they just have to be thoughtful and interesting. Second, I like blog posts that are helpful. If you're reviewing a foundation, but the only photos in your review are a picture of the bottle and a super-far-away-from-your-skin model-type shot of you on a windowsill, I mean...that doesn't help me much. I need a before-and-after, or some swatches, or a close-up of the texture on your skin. I need to see how the product performs. Third, I need to see some attempt to find the good in a product you hate or the bad in a product you love. I think that's my job influencing me: I'm very big on teaching students that 99% of viewpoints will always have a logical counter-argument. Sure, some products just outright suck, but I find those are few and far between. And  yeah, you love that foundation or that lipstick, but who might dislike it? What could be some possible downsides?


It's not. It's very good skin, I will not deny it, and that's a mixture of genetics, being as careful with skincare and makeup products as I can be, and trying to have a decent diet. But my face is not perfect. Remember that most of my selfies on Instagram are showing my skin at its absolute best (if I'm makeup-less) or are me wearing makeup. I deal with chronic hives, my skin is regularly itchy or reactive, and I do break out. Nobody's skin is perfect. (Well, almost nobody. We all know that one unicorn who treats their body like shit and still looks like a porcelain doll.)

I've realized, though, that when people say this, they're often referring to the texture of my skin. It's relatively smooth and my pores are not visible. Two things contribute to this:

1. Exfoliation: I use 10% AHA once every two weeks and a gentle physical exfoliant once or twice a week.

2. My skin is dry as a bone. The pores are so tiny because nothing comes out of them. You win some, you lose some!

Work Stuff

What subject do you teach?

In broad terms: "English" and "Humanities." More specifically, I teach writing and rhetoric 95% of the time. I've taught literature once, which was really fun, and I've been scheduled to teach speech, though the classes have never filled up. I've also offered to teach classes like "Critical Thinking," which just seems like the most amazing opportunity to instruct a class subtitled "Miss Renee's Random Class of Cool Shit." But believe it or not, teaching composition is my favorite.

Do you plan on staying in academia and being a professor for life?

A post shared by Renee (@reneesanatomy) on

This answer will upset or depress some of you, so I apologize in advance. My only intention is to answer you honestly. A few people asked this and specifically mentioned that they want to be academics, too, and I want to say that I wish you the best of luck with your endeavors.

Yes, my goal was to be a professor. I love teaching young adults and helping them improve their writing; I love showing them how to conduct research properly, carefully consider their viewpoints, and engage in constructive dialogues with others. As corny as it sounds, I've always felt that teaching wasn't just my job, but my vocation--I was born to do it.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that higher education is becoming adjunctified, especially with regards to the arts and humanities. College costs are rising, but the number of full-time positions is declining. With a few exceptions, adjuncts are paid very little, have no job security, are almost powerless to enact change in their departments, and do not receive benefits. I don't receive any sick days, for example, despite the fact that I'm a professional, and I do not receive health insurance or the guarantee of work. Opportunities to advance and obtain a full-time position are rare, and as someone who stopped at her MA and focused more on teaching than research, I'm at the bottom of the pile when candidates are reviewed. As much as I love teaching, and as valuable as I think it is, I simply cannot continue living this way. Hence, I've been trying to find work in other fields.

What's the biggest misconception people have about professors?

Oh, God, I could pick a dozen, ranging from "Professors love to flunk students" (you earn your grade and I hate typing that 'F' in to my gradebook) to "Professors take forever to grade because they're lazy" (100 papers x 25 minutes per paper = 2500 minutes, or ~41.7 hours of grading). If I had to pick the biggest one, though, it's "Professors are all uber-elite snobs living luxe lives on fat paychecks."

I think people get this misconception from two things. One, many of the most visible academics are people existing in the top 50% of the field. The experts you see on CNN, the ones who are quoted in NPR articles, the guys recruited for Big Think videos? They're usually the rockstars, and they make good money. Two, people see six figure salaries listed on sites like Glassdoor. They don't realize that these numbers generally include almost all colleges, including schools like Harvard and Columbia that pay big bucks, and they often include all types of higher education faculty or exclude adjuncts. Adjuncts are separate on Glassdoor, for instance, and the data is really sparse.

It's also a little misleading: they list "hourly" wages, but in my experience, most adjunct positions are paid by the credit hour, not actual working hours. For instance: if adjuncts are paid $700 per credit hour, and you teach two 3 credit classes, you're making $4200 before taxes for the entire semester's work. You are not getting paid $700 per hour.

Favorite Things

You talked about Basquiat, and it seems you love art. Who are your favorite artists?

 Yayoi Kusama on the left, Leonora Carrington on the right.


I really do love art; going to the free galleries in Pittsburgh and eating Millie's Ice Cream is my idea of a hot date. But if I had to pick one living artist and one deceased artist, I'd go with Yayoi Kusama and Leonora Carrington. Kusama's pieces always feel so dream-like to me, and Carrington had that perfect mix of surrealism, fairytales, and creepy shit that I love.

PS: If you got to see Yayoi Kusama's "Infinity Mirrors" in person, I envy you.

Coffee or tea?

99% of the time, I am all about coffee. I drink a cup every morning, I make my own cold-brew in a mason jar cause Just Hipster Things, and I am honestly a little perturbed when I can't have my morning coffee for some reason. I'm very routine-oriented and coffee-addicted.

BUT! I stick to decaf green tea with loads of honey when I have any kind of cold, flu, or sinus infection, and I have recently become addicted to the Dunkin' Donuts iced berry hibiscus tea. I am forever pissed that Dunkin' Donuts doesn't have a product page for it on their website.

Favorite makeup item ever?

Ahahaha, I so want to cheat on this one and pick an entire category of makeup, like, "If I could only have one piece of makeup for the rest of my life, it'd be a great concealer!" But I know that's cheating.

Instead, I'm going to list the products I have depended on for years and would immediately repurchase if they spontaneously combusted or fell out of my bag or whatever. If you've been here for a while, you're going to recognize pretty much all of these, so I apologize in advance.

  • Shu Uemura Hard Formula Brow Pencil in Seal Brown. There is no pencil more perfect in all this world, seriously. It's pretty much impossible to overdo, so you can get a natural look with a few strokes or layer it for fuller brows. Also, this shit lasts forever because it's such a hard formula. I have decided that if it outlives me, I'll pass it down to my niece. (I'm not joking.)
  • MAC Face & Body Foundation. No matter how many other foundations I try, I always come back to Face & Body. I always get compliments on my skin, not my makeup, when I wear this one. The only thing that sucks? How fussy it is. I have to mix in the White shade to get a good color match, you really want to pat it in to your skin, it takes a few minutes to set, etc.
  • MAC Strobe Cream. It was tough for me to pick just one highlighter, believe me, but I think this is the one I'd miss the most. That's probably because I don't just use it as a cheek highlight: I also use it under my brows, under my foundation, mixed in to my foundation, on my shoulders for date night...honestly, there are probably 50 other ways I could use this stuff, so I'm going to stop.
Favorite book?

Once again, this is a dirty question. I can't pick just one, and I don't even think I'd say, "Oh, these are my favorites."  But I will say these books occupy a special place in my heart.

  • "Memoirs of a Geisha," by Arthur Golden. I know it's a big cringey, but I've read this book about a dozen times, and I've enjoyed it every time. The main character, Sayuri, lives a fascinating life, but the rivalry between Hatsumomo and Mameha is what makes the novel. Don't take this book as a 100% accurate account of how geisha live(d), though, and read some non-fiction for more context.
  • "House of Leaves," by Mark Z. Danielewski. I originally read this book because Danielewski is Poe's brother. Then I read it because it was an absolutely wonderful mixture of horror, humor, and romance. It's also full of wonky pages that pissed off my friend when I selected it for our "Modern Gothic Literature" independent study, which is a funny bonus.
  • "Madeleine is Sleeping," by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum. I first read this book when I was in highschool because the title intrigued me and I like almost anything that deals with the circus. It quickly became one of my favorite pieces of magical realism.
  • "In a Grove," by Ryonusuke Akutagawa. This is technically a short story, but whatevah, I do what I want. If I had to recommend just one short story to people, it'd be this masterpiece, which forces readers to consider what is truth, why humans lie, and why we believe some people more than others. As a funny sidenote, I assign this one to my students, and trying to figure out who committed the murder drives them nuts.
  • "We Should All Be Feminists," by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Again, this is technically an essay that's printed in a 50 page book with large font and big paragraph breaks. However, it's a truly wonderful essay. My favorite part is where she breaks down negative reactions to feminism, like "Women can get what they want by using their sexuality." The essay comes from this amazing Ted Talk.
Favorite song?

For the past few years, it's been a tie between Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street" and Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat." I swear, I'm actually an upbeat, generally positive person in real life. I just like depressing music.

Other Stuff

How does life outside of a big city affect your purchasing and usage habits?

I'm just now realizing that I may have misunderstood this question. I thought it meant, "How does not living in a city impact your makeup habits?", but now I realize it could be, "How does living close to a city impact your makeup habits?"

Just to clarify, I live in the suburbs, less than 30 miles away from Pittsburgh. Hence, the city is convenient enough for me to visit regularly, but not convenient enough for me to just pop in for an hour or two on a daily basis. Bus rides usually take less than an hour due to traffic and multiple stops, and I'm fine with that.

I think there are two main ways this has impacted me. For one, when I go to the city with friends, I often make beauty products part of the day. There are multiple freestanding Sephoras in Pittsburgh, for instance, which I don't have in my suburb. So when we go to the city to see a show, or visit another friend, or eat dinner, we like to take an hour just walking around Sephora and playing with products. If I really want a product and it's only available in the city, I can get it; I just have to plan a bit.

It's also made me more keen to shop online. I can be very socially awkward, and I like to brood over my purchases, which I think makes sales associates nervous, especially in a busy environment where they're watching dozens of customers at once. And of course, with very few large beauty retailers next to my hometown, there are a lot of products that are only available to me online. This includes my Verb hair mist and my Glossier products: Verb isn't sold in my Sephora in JCP, and unlike a few of my friends in NYC, I can't catch a Lyft to the Glossier showroom. (When I go to NYC, though, I definitely browse the many beauty offerings and make a purchase or two. Make glittery hay while the sun is shining on your boutique sunscreen, or whatever.)

In your experience, have the different areas you've lived in or visited had different makeup cultures?

Oh, absolutely. For instance, when I visited Hawaii, I was struck by the differences. You'd see a Caucasian woman who was tanned as much as possible and wearing warm, bronzey makeup, and right next to her would be an Asian woman holding a UV umbrella with some pale, dewy foundation and little else visible. It was weirdly cool.

The biggest difference for me, though, was when I moved to the upper midwest for a few years. Almost nobody wore visible makeup, and if they did, it was just eyeliner and mascara unless they were going out for a night. A few of my students wore more full-on stuff, like foundation and highlighter, but it was pretty rare. Meanwhile, my friend from California and I would walk around with bright red lipstick, multi-colored eyeshadow, glittery cheeks...we kind of stuck out. I'm not saying we were the only ones who wore a lot of obvious makeup on the regular, but at least where we were living, we were some of the few.

What's something you're looking forward to?

Well, eventually, I'm gonna marry this guy:

So that's pretty cool.

I'm also damn excited for my niece to start talking. She's in the babbling stage and I'm trying to teach her to say "Dump Trump," but it's more likely her first word will be "mum" or "dance." Eh, I'll take what I can get.


  1. You're right, these were some awesome questions! I work at a college, but not on the faculty side of things (I work in financial aid) so getting the perspective of an adjunct is really interesting to me. I had no idea about the issues regarding benefits or how pay is determined. We've definitely seen some restructuring around hiring on my campus, especially within the fine arts and humanities (which has caused some tension considering that we're a liberal arts college haha). I'm not sure where I'm going with this except to say that I appreciate your honest answer and I wish that this wasn't the direction that so many colleges were going in.

    1. As a business decision, I get it: it's cheaper to pay somebody a maximum of, say, $8,000 a semester before taxes while not paying for their healthcare. And if they don't cut it, you don't have to go through a bit firing process, you just don't send them a new contract. But when you step away from the business side of it and look at how it impacts the education students get and the lives adjuncts live, it kinda sucks.

      There are some people who adjunct on the side or in retirement, and that's fine for them. But if you're actually trying to make a career in academia, the sad truth is that adjunct positions or short-term contracts are often all that's available, and you can't live on them unless your partner pays most of the bills.

  2. This is such a fun post. I'll comment on one of the un-fun parts of it (typical!). I'm right there with you on the academic career thing. I've had enough one-years jobs; I just really want some stability. I realized today that there were just 3 tenure-track jobs in my area in all of North America this past year (take my discipline and divide it roughly into six equal areas, and 3 jobs in my sixth). I don't buy lottery tickets, so why would I play those odds!? By the way, 100 comp students?? I had 60 in a writing course one semester, and just that many was inhumane. I know 100 isn't unheard of, at all, but yikes. I hope you find something else fulfilling to do! I'm sure you will, but it's so stressful, I know.

    1. I think the most I've ever had in a semester was close to 80, since the classes are currently capped at 25-30 students per classroom (ugh) and adjuncts are only permitted to have 3 classes a semester. That said, I know some adjuncts at other schools are allowed 4 classes a semester, or they teach at more than one school. I also tend to be grading more than one thing at a time (usually an essay and a homework assignment), and it can be more than 25 minutes if it's a longer paper. But I think 100 students gives people an easy reference point.

  3. Warning: rant incoming.

    So, my cohort of ~12 grad students is currently entering its eighth year. One person has gotten a tenure-track job, and that was a very atypical case--an older guy who had published a lot before grad school. The second-most successful of us is me (in that I've had multiple interviews), and I STILL DON'T HAVE A JOB. About half of us have despaired of getting a tenure-track job and left academia entirely. And this is at one of the top English PhD programs in the country, at an Ivy League school. The profession is totally untenable. And the most infuriating part is that many successful academics refuse to acknowledge how bad it's gotten. The most clueless of them say "well, it was just as bad in 1979 and I got a job" (objectively, demonstrably false). Or they deliberately turn a blind eye to the crisis, either because it's too painful to see most younger scholars struggling, or because they've got theirs and screw everyone else. Our profession is in an existential crisis and the response of most people in power is "la la la, can't hear you, everything's fine!" Honestly? They should be fucking MARCHING IN THE STREETS to defend the rest of us, not locking themselves in their offices to write yet another article on Spenser.

    This will be my last year on the job market (I'm planning to defend in December even though I have no idea how I'll make money in the spring, hahaha kill me), and after that, I'm out. Frankly, even if I get a job, I'll have deep moral misgivings about entering a profession that treats most of its members so callously. So I feel you, and I hope you find something a lot more fulfilling and rewarding.

    1. "The profession is totally untenable. And the most infuriating part is that many successful academics refuse to acknowledge how bad it's gotten."

      Several of my tenured professors from undergrad and, to a lesser extent, graduate school, have been vocal about the need to support adjuncts. I'm glad for them. But you're right: there are many people who just don't care. Sometimes I hear stories about full time professors having meetings where they decide to screw adjuncts in various ways, like, "Well, we want to make sure they *behave* and do a good job, so we'll just give them one lump payment at the end of the semester." And that BOGGLES me. Are you so comfortable with your middle-class, bi-weekly salary, solid health insurance coverage, and personal office that you can't see how insane it is to make somebody work for 4 months with no pay until the end? I know I'm not the only adjunct who lives paycheck to paycheck. And we can't do anything without those full timers supporting us because, with a few exceptions, we aren't part of a union and our contracts are by semester. Kick up too much fuss? "Oh, we just didn't need her this semester."

      And you bring up a great point that I truly hate mentioning: the people from the best programs with the nicest pedigrees are the only ones with a fighting chance, and even they have it tough these days. One of my friends went to Ivy League schools, has published quite a bit, and is extremely intelligent, and while he's managed to get a full-time job, he's gone through a number of interviews with no payoff and cannot get on the tenure track. If he's having a rough time, what hope is there for someone like me, even at the community college level that I prefer to teach at?

      "Frankly, even if I get a job, I'll have deep moral misgivings about entering a profession that treats most of its members so callously. So I feel you, and I hope you find something a lot more fulfilling and rewarding."

      I'm with you, and I wish you the best.