emotional labour · outreach · possibility

Showing Up: A Manifesta

Guest post by the fabulous Sydney Tran!

Last year, I was at a conference where many of us lamented the state of the world in presentations, roundtables, and those deeply honest late night conversations that feed your soul. It was a conference with lots of scholars who work in the humanities, and so we theorized about problems and solutions with overuse of words like “neoliberalism” and “utopia” and spoke a language so many other people wouldn’t understand. We did a lot of talking.

There was one session, though, that wasn’t about talking and more about doing. We were offered a workshop about how to handle sexual violence on campus, led by a Facilitator who works with survivors and those who have done harm within university communities. We covered the nuances of consent, how to handle disclosure of harm, and how to think through policies of sexual violence. No one said the word “neoliberal” or the word “utopia”, but also very few people showed up. And one year later, I’m still trying to work out why.

There’s no question that thinking and theorizing and talking are hard work. But what does it really mean to “show up”? When I was teaching and researching as a graduate student, I thought about my role as a curator of new ideas. The beauty of a university, for me, was the new knowledge students received and created in a classroom—knowledge about the state of a world that often blows their minds. The hope for so many of us, of course, is that a post-secondary education is not just informative, but transformative; we want to shift a social consciousness by sharing the gorgeous, complex, and mystifying structures of cultures. We want help students think through that darker underbelly of a society to in turn, make it better.

In my own undergraduate education, I took my first cultural studies class in the winter semester of my second year. At the end of the term, I sat in my professor’s office asking “So now that you’ve exploded my idea of the world, am I just supposed to go home for the summer like everything is fine?” He looked at me shrugging and said, “Sydney, I’m not your therapist.”  I continue to hear echoes of this all the time: faculty members reminding each other and other university staff that they aren’t trained to do care work. And they’re right, most faculty aren’t trained that way—but when offered a training session on how to care for a student in an acute situation (like disclosure of sexual violence), these are often the faculty members who don’t show up. And even when we do carve out a minute to attend, we are as distracted by devices as our students are—emails that can’t wait, projects that have deadlines—we “multi-task.” In other words, academics are choosing not to be trained with these skills, instead choosing to do something else (another conference session, a grant proposal, etc…). The critical act of “showing up” is not simply in being present though, it is making the choice to go in the first place.

Naturally it’s more complicated than I’m making it out to be. With competing demands on time and energy in academia, no one can do it all. But then I have to wonder whose responsibility it is to take care of students who are suffering, specifically students whose suffering is often connected to their studies or related to campus culture? University counselling services are buckling under the volume of students requesting support, disability services offices are chronically understaffed, and campus sexual violence centres are increasingly trying to function beyond their capacity. The faculty I see engaging in any type of student support are often those who are already over-committed to service work and are desperately exhausted. To be frank, I’m exhausted from watching the disproportionately high number of women and queer folks do the majority of the care work in the university—and still be asked to do more (but that’s for another blog post).

Instead of simply thinking about epidemics of anxiety and having looping conversations about trigger warnings, I wonder what we can start doing to create a stronger community of support for our students. As we see increasing numbers of students who enter university suffering with mental health, and others who experience the first onset of a mental health condition while enrolled, we might try showing up in a different way than we have in the past. We may consider that there could be value in learning what we don’t know, or gaining skills we haven’t already mastered, to create a stronger network for our students—and each other.

 

Sydney Tran is a learning and transition specialist, with a current focus on accessible, post-secondary education. She manages a variety of initiatives, projects, and programs for students and faculty.  She spent many of her own school days in the hallway rather than the classroom, after teachers removed her from their class because her talking was disruptive: Sydney is someone who likes to “talk to think.” Collaborative by nature, she finds herself on wonderful teams of people supporting individuals that require nuanced forms of care. In her few solitary moments, she continues to work toward a Ph.D. in English Literature studying feminism, theatre, and asking why the world is the way it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

academic work · balance · being undone · feminist health · kinaesthetic thinking · mindfulness · Uncategorized

Ready to sit

Usually, when we say we do ‘yoga,’ we mean asana, the physical limb of the larger practice, the yoga of happy baby and triangle and, if you’re feeling ambitious, bird of paradise. Less known is that the goal of this physical practice is to prepare the body for the rigors of meditation–asana, that is, is essentially the warmup routine for the main event, which is sitting down.

Yoga students often reverse this thinking, focusing more on the physical practice as an end in itself. Sometimes, we don’t really get to the sitting part at all, except in brief centring exercises, or the more passive release of savasana.

Academic life, by contrast, seems often to be nothing but sitting. But we’ve done no prep work for it. We probably should.

Many are the days that I am startled out of a slumped reverie by my Fitbit’s inactivity alarm. I often ignore this bip-bip, for hours: it’s the life of the mind, dammit, and cannot be counted by footfalls! When I eventually have to drag myself out of my chair, I usually experience some unpleasant sort of bodily creaking and discomfort. Sometimes an uncomfortable pressure on my bladder. Or I’m dizzy, or I discover one of my feet has fallen asleep. A headache makes itself known. I reflexively arch my back and lift my arms in a stretch. Every time I get up, I realize how borked up I am: is it even possible to produce good work in this state? And then I sit back down, feeling guilty for the interruption.

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Jasper, as always, setting a good example of embracing embodiment

You probably have similar habits, where your day is organized to get through the things that keep you out of your chair as fast as you can. Just as an example, the goal for me, working at home this morning, was to roll out of bed, get a cup of tea and breakfast, quickly tidy my morning mess and get into my chair as fast as possible, with the goal of remaining there all day.

But what if academic sitting is like meditation sitting: what if we thought of it as a kind of physical as well as mental trial, one that needed us to prepare in a more thoroughgoing way?

Quick question: what parts of you are uncomfortable right now? Neck at a funny angle? Weird deep sorta-cramp in one thigh? Ankle tucked under you funny? Contact lenses feeling a bit dried out and strainy? All of these little distortions and discomforts pile up, I think. They pick at the edges of our focus, our energy, our health. But I’ll bet you have no intention of getting up, taking a little walk around, doing some stretches: frivolous, inefficient, distracting. We let ourselves be reduced to brains on sticks, which seems efficient, but is a lie.

Feminist theory and feminist praxis have long interrogated the distinction of the life of the mind from the more material mundanities of embodied life. Standpoint epistemology or feminist materialism or intersectional theory remind us that ideas are attached to viewpoints that are constructed by our embodiments and our relations. But what if in a more immediate sense, the life of the mind–all that sitting!–is un-divorce-able from our embodied selves. Maybe it’s a new kind of feminist praxis not just to write about the materialities of ideas, to insist on textually embodying ourselves in our work, but also to allow ourselves the space to experience the life of the mind and its work itself as embodied. What if we allowed ourselves to get ready to sit–what if we considered the morning walk to the coffee shop, trudging through the slush and half-blinded by the diffuse daylight bouncing off all the snow, our rapid breathing, as an essential part of the work the life of the mind? We would start to insist on windows, maybe, or interrupt our own 3 hour seminars to get students to look out those windows at the farthest point they can see, while twinkling their fingers. We would stand up when we became aware–because we allow ourselves this awareness, as a gift rather than as a distraction–that our brains were fogging up and our ankles were getting crunchy, even if we just had 50 more words to write. Maybe.

This morning, I couldn’t seem to make myself sit. So I did a little yoga (and yeah, I mean asana)–sun breaths, forward folds, twisting sun breaths, a couple of balances to stretch out my quads, rolled my shoulders and my hips, standing pigeon. And I felt so strong! And so awake! Literally five minutes of gentle movements, standing on one small patch of carpet, in jeans and socks and a hoodie. I felt … alive. This post popped into my head. I looked out the window, felt my irises radiate in and out, took a breath. And started writing. I feel good.

Treat your bodies with care, friends. Sitting is hard. Embodiment and situatedness and affect aren’t just theories; feel it in your body, and take care. You deserve it.

academic work · research planning · saving my sanity · writing

An hour

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Last Friday I went to the reading room in Special Collections at the university library. When I arrived, I was the only person there save for the librarian. I requested my little trolley of books, wheeled it over to the table near the window, and began to set up my things.

This doesn’t sound like a big deal, and it isn’t. Not really. What is significant for me is this: I went to special collections to do research work when I had a little over an hour of time.

I unpacked my laptop and charger, my notebook and pencil, and my dsayplanner. I set the timer on my phone (on vibrate, I’m not a monster). I felt a bit like a parody of that scene from Fleabag when a customer comes in, charges a laptop, a phone, an e-reader, and some headphones, then asks for an extension cord and continues to unfurl gadgets while refusing to purchase anything…except that I was in the library.  This–unpacking and setting up to do my work–this was part of  my job.

I have been putting off a trip to special collection for the better part of a semester. It isn’t that the library is an onerous trip from my office. In fact, it is across the street. Nope, my problem is that I have fallen back into the dangerous (for me) calculus in which writing productivity = time + space10

…which is great, except I don’t really have time + space. Who does, really? As for me, my schedule is I think fairly normal for a full-time professor. I’m doing the usual full load of teaching (which I will forever and always remind myself is 50% less than what I did as a contract worker). I’m on the usual service load of committee work at the departmental and university levels (hello, Senate). I’m supervising three Phd students at various stages of their work, as well as two undergraduate honours students. I’m in the final editorial phase of a collaboratively edited project. And, the I get home I have humans and a dog to whom I want to give my full attention. As it turns out, that’s enough stuff to fill a day (and the day after and the day after that). In short, the expanse of time I think I need to work simply doesn’t exist. So, what to do?

What I did was simple: I went to the library. I didn’t go for long, I didn’t get a great deal done, but there in special collections for one hour and seven minutes on Friday last week I worked in quiet and with full attention. I worked with no email. I worked, and took notes, and sometimes I looked out of the window to process what I had read, and what I was trying to write. Moving my body out of my office into a different space focussed my attention and left me feeling in my project, rather than my usual feeling of hovering above it in a kind of frothy anxiety.

I usually feel as though I need–or want–an expanse of time to really get into a research and writing project. But I am reminded that time rarely exists these days. And so, I will take the hour, or the forty minutes, or the half an hour and I will build them into a method. And that? That feels good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

academic work · emotional labour

Invisibility and its contents

The other day, a colleague stepped into an elevator at the same time that I did. We established that we were headed to same floor and the same meeting. We exchanged some  pleasantries about the new year, the new term, the usual. As the elevator door was about to open, she turned, looked at me very carefully, and asked, “Who are you?

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I’ve been quietly dining out on this encounter. Even now, I’m savouring it contentedly. And I’ve been trying to figure out why. It’s a joke that makes me laugh even though I’m part of the punchline.

I’ve been a tenured professor at my university for over a decade now. In that time, I have served as the Undergraduate Programme Director for my department, then Chair, and now Associate Dean. This colleague has been a colleague in the graduate programme for my department. We’ve exchanged emails where I’ve asked her to serve on a thesis committee for one of my grad students. I’ve served on committees where I’ve read her syllabi.

I guess I thought I’ve prettyummm, present. 

I am so glad that she didn’t try to fake it. She could just as easily have pretended that she knew exactly who I was and she would have gotten through the whole meeting with no trouble. Indeed, it was one of those meetings where we went around the room and introduced ourselves right at the beginning.

There was something wonderful about being a little invisible.

Even though I am part of scholarly communities that have demanded more visibility for writers of colour, and more presence for thinkers who theorize and engage with differences, I am surprised to realize that my own invisibility at work can have its own contentedness.

It’s counter-intuitive in so many ways, but it made me feel weirdly delighted to have been unseen. It made me realize that I am at a point in my work where I am happy to be unknown in person and known by the work only when it matters. And this contentment, I know, only comes because I feel valued and seen and heard when it counts. I didn’t always feel this way — I’m pretty sure there was another time when an encounter like this would have hurt my feelings — and feeling so ok now makes me realize that this is its own career milestone. I didn’t realize that career advancement would come in the form of not being recognized or seen by a senior colleague. But I’ll take the wins when they come and I’m not looking back.

I am just another person running around campus, forgetting her lunch, going to meetings, and making small talk in an elevator.

So, back to work. Nothing to see here.

 

 

best laid plans · new year new plan · slow academy · Uncategorized

Reflections on Slowness

I find myself thinking about slowness a great deal these days. It might be the shift to a new semester–I do love to reflect and reset each term–and it might be that zero on the calendar moving us into a new decade. I suspect, though, that my reflections on slowness might have more to do with the way we imagined the term back in 2010 when we gave it to the blog.

Fast feminism? That feels intuitive to me: fast feminism signals the need for attention and action. But slow academe? Well, I’ll admit that even in 2010 it didn’t feel intuitive so much as it felt illusory.

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Slow academe, as the originators (me included!) of this blog imagined it, took up slowness as the slow food movement describes it: good, clean, fair. Good, here, is not virtue signalling so much as it means quality; clean, according to the slow food movement FAQ page, means sustainable production that is good for the environment. Fair, meanwhile, means accessible in terms of price for consumers and in terms of way for workers.

Ten years later these feel like pretty solid touchstones for me in this project of public-facing academic feminist scholarship. And yet, as I look back (hastily, because I am posting late after a weekend that, while pleasant, was also filled with trying to fit in skating lessons, socializing, cleaning the house, admin work that spilled into the weekend, and, oof, our kiddo being quite sick), I see I have always struggled to put my finger on what slow academe meant to me. I have no idea if it ever were possible to engage in the slowness that the (semi-controversial) advocated by The Slow Professor. It certainly hasn’t been for me, at least up to this point. I wonder, genuinely, if a slow academe is possible in smaller, more micro ways.

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I spent the first seven years of my association with the blog as a member of the precariate. I wrote about it so much that I worried I had lost who I was in my own research. Whether or not that was true, it makes sense to me why “slow academe” was illusory as both concept and material reality. I didn’t know how to slow down, and the conditions in which I worked rewarded me (sometimes) for doing as much as I could. When I shifted into my tenure track position (& by shifted I mean something I can’t quite articulate even still) I didn’t do much to slow down. Not at first. And when a blip caused me to pull back from social media as a means of networking, connecting, and (frankly, for me), frittering my time away I didn’t so much slow down as I did spiral. Who was I if I wasn’t plugged into what was happening in my field? In my discipline? I didn’t have a good answer. I felt lost.

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This summer, while I was out jogging–the one activity I can truly say I always do slowly–I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts. It is called Keep Calm and Cook On, and let me tell you, Julia Turshen’s interview style (not to mention her voice) feels like free therapy. In this particular episode she was talking with Jia Tolentino.  The conversation was about how Tolentino came to be interested in cooking. I learned that she took it up as a life-sustaining hobby while doing her training for and work in the Peace Corps. Cooking was a kind of slow pause in the affective intensity of her work. On this slow jog down the same road I jogged on all summer, I also listened to Tolentino talk about optimization. Sure, I knew the term already (how could I not? After all, I was striving to be an HQP!) but listening to these two people be smart, serious, and funny sent me to the closest bookstore to get Tolentino’s book.

Trick Mirror has had a great deal of press, and in my mind that’s warranted, but I won’t rehearse it here. Suffice to say, I’ve been thinking about her essay “Always Be Optimizing” for going on six months now. In this essay Tolentino outlines the ways in which people have been streamlined into little self-regulatory optimization machines. Sure, its not a new theory (hello, Foucault!), but Tolentino makes our current moment sharp and hilarious (I dare you to read the section on the rise of barre class without weeping with laughter) and searing. I see myself in these examples, even as I chafe (while pliéing? Kidding.).

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In the first class I taught this term, I invited the students to keep me on task. The task, for me, is to consider slowness and intentionality integral to my pedagogical praxis. Intentionality is always something I am working towards, trying to hold myself to, striving for. Slowness? Not so much, as it turns out. Now, this might be a difficult term to take this on–never have I been on more committees than I am now, never have I over-committed myself to writing projects in quite the way I have this term. But as we spent the first ten minutes of that first class thinking about where and how we read, something kind of magic happened, for me at least. I started to become aware of how even with reading I tend to race. How many pages? How quickly? The pleasure of the text gets lost (hi, Barthes…!) in the reach for optimization.

So, as I work always and forever towards balance this semester I will try to keep thinking about slowness and the ways in which it might, gently, interrupt the optimization imperative.

If you need a place to go for some inspiration, might I suggest colleague, pal, and friend to the blog Dr. Hannah McGregor‘s Secret Feminist Agenda? The January episode on cozy reflections vs. resolutions was, for me, inspiring.

administration · change management

Confessions of a feminist associate dean

I’ve been an associate dean for about six months — just about enough time for me to ‘fess up about a few things.

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  1. I didn’t really know what an associate dean is when I agreed to be one.

It is an understatement to say that I was completely unprepared when the dean  called me about six months ago and asked me to serve as an associate dean. I was still figuring how to be a department chair.

My first instinct was to try to learn how to do the job by reading the entire back catalogue of posts from the ass_deans twitter account in order to figure what NOT to do.

In case you’re wondering, you should not try to figure out how to do your new job through a satirical social media account that mocks the job.

Before I said to the dean, yes, sure, sign me up, happy to serve, I wish I had the read Sheila Cote-Meek’s super-smart, “Four Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering a Move Into Senior Administration.” And also, Patricia Ann Mabrouk’s terrific “The Indispensable Associate Dean.

Instead, I said, yes, sure, sign me up, happy to serve, and then, months later, I read these excellent pieces.

2. It’s weird to be “The Man”/ “The Administration”

Even when I was chair of my department, I was still part of my faculty union. Now, I’m definitely on the other side. I am ascribed power that I don’t usually think I have. My tendency has been to throw that power back (collegial governance means that I serve my colleagues not that I boss anyone around!). And I don’t actually have much power. But a big part of learning how to do the job has been for me to actually own up to the power that I have, and to use it in ways that line up with my values (hullo, fast feminism! hullo, equity, equity, equity!). More on this in the coming months.

3. I like the gig

I know, crazy right? What kool-aid have I been drinking? But I really, genuinely, actually like the work! I am surprised as you might be. It’s intense. I have to learn a lot and learn fast. It can be scary sometimes. And lonely (I keep track of how many meetings I am in where I am the only woman or the only person of colour; it happens more than I would have thought and I’ll be blogging about this too).

Still, it’s super-interesting to see how things happen at this level, to be at the table, and to be loudly and unrelentingly advocating for faster feminism and equity, equity, equity. I get to do a lot of different things (more support for international students, working with students who are refugee claimants, etc) and I can see the difference these things are making and that is really amazing.

4. I dream about the job every night that I’ve been doing it

This is embarrassing, kinda pathetic, and true. I’ve dreamt an associate dean dream every single night since July 1, 2019. So far, they are not anxiety dreams. They are more like sorting dreams. Does this go here? What about that? I am finding places for things. And, somehow, these dreams tell me that I am also finding a place for the things that I want —  my real dreams for the academic worlds that we are in.

That’s pretty awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

enter the confessional · new year new plan · Uncategorized

Baggage

It is common in the new year, of course, to take stock of what we have accumulated or built up or held onto in the year just past, peering into the drawers and crevices of our lives to examine what lurks there–this regret, that past-due jar of Oktoberfest mustard crusted shut, oh look an overdue library book–as we embark on our annual crafting of resolutions, deciding what we want to carry into the future with us.

Me, I’ve literally got some baggage to deal with.

In late November, unexpectedly, I found myself on a late-notice work trip to Montréal, the kind where you spend more time in vomitous, lurching, snarled-traffic taxis that have that cloying and taxi-specific stale-cigarette-and-aggressive-air-freshener-chemical-strawberry smell than you do in flight, the kind where the meeting you attend is complicated and important and brain-bending, the kind where you find yourself dragging your wheelie bag up the slush-and-salt encrusted roadway from the Métro to the Trudeau Foundation offices on Sherbrooke.

And then the wheels fell off. Literally.

Over the course of several blocks, and then across the full breadth of an airport terminal, one of the wheels on my bag just … disintegrated. Layers of rubberized plastic cracking, then catching, then peeling and flapping. I bump-bumped it along behind me, noisily askew and unpredictable, skiddering and halting and sliding and catching.

Same same, bag. Same same.

This 21″ Samsonite soft-sided bag is one of the enduring relationships in my professional life. I bought it in 1999, at Staples in Edmonton, because I needed a real suitcase, that I could bring on an airplane: I was starting to go to conferences. I was making an effort to grow up, and a rollaboard bag is grown up. I considered it an investment piece, because it cost me in the region of $150. “I will use this for a very long time,” I thought, as I shakily handed over the bulk of that month’s discretionary money. And I have.

Luggage means you are going places. This bag and I have gone places. And I find myself asking now: where am I going next?

I got my very first piece of luggage when I was four or five, a Christmas present to my sister and me from our paternal grandparents. Well, it was three pieces of luggage–a ‘carry on’ shoulder bag, small old-style suitcase with a carry handle, and larger suitcase, all tucked inside one another like nesting dolls. Orangey-tan faux leather for me, leisure-suit blue faux leather for my sister. We would be travelling as a family to visit my grandparents for the holiday, so the bags were immediately put to use. I felt so sophisticated. These suitcases travelled everywhere from Florida to summer camp to university with me, from 1977 until about 1997, actually.

Young teenager dressed for camping, standing outdoors, smiling and holding luggage
Me, going places in 1986.

In 1997, at the very end of my BA at York, I won a scholarship simply to travel to Europe (yes! isn’t it amazing?) in a classic backpackish style. But I had no backpack. I bought my own luggage for the first time: a black canvas MEC waterproof backpack–the kind where you can zip away the backpack part and hook on a shoulder strap to pretend like it’s a suitcase, but it isn’t. This trip was my first time on an airplane, my first major solo trip. I spent weeks practice-packing and practice carrying to get three weeks of clothes and necessities into this bag in such a way I could carry it around from train to train, hostel to hostel. I used this bag to travel to Edmonton later that summer, on a training trip for the Orlando Project, on which I had been offered a research assistantship to fund my MA at Guelph. My life changed a lot that summer. When I moved to Edmonton the following summer that was the bag that came on the plane, and that brought me home for holidays.

That Samsonite roller bag was the start of a new set of journeys for me, a bag for fast trips, a bag for rolling on smooth concourses rather than heaving into trunks or carrying over cobblestones, a bag that took up very little space and that I could live out of in a small corner in a shared hotel room or next to someone’s couch, a bag I could roll into a job interview and look appropriate. And those were the things I did, two or three times a year, for twenty years. I delighted in the ever-diminishing amortized cost of that bag, held tight to my sense of myself as that scrappy but forward-thinking grad student that was smart enough to buy it.

My life is changing again. That bag fell apart in the heaviest travel year I’ve ever had, at the end of a year in which I have been challenged to become the next version of the person I’m going to be. This past year, everything hit simultaneously: I came out of sabbatical to my first full teaching load in about five years, two new preps. I won a $100K SSHRC grant. I got a positive review on a book manuscript submission (that used to be my dissertation) that needs revision. I won a Trudeau Fellowship. I started a podcast, was nominated for two teaching awards, published my first piece in disability studies (and outed myself as autistic and ADHD in the very first sentence of it). I co-taught a grad course in a new area, went to a conference in a new field, and did a ton of media interviews (and appeared in a movie called Assholes: A Theory). In July, I hit my 15 year anniversary at the University of Waterloo. Fifteen years!

Mid-career hit with a mostly-positive thump. People invite me places. They assign my stuff to their grad classes. I find myself mentoring my own junior colleagues. I have a kind of clarity and sense of my own competence, which was unexpected and amazing. I have a travel and research budget that exceeds my capacity to quite comprehend. I am meeting diplomats and prominent academics who are somehow now my peers. Opportunities are multiplying.

But it’s still a thump. It feels kind of like Ms Pac Man, where I’ve munched a power disk, and while that makes it possible for me to rack up all the points and win, everything just got way louder and faster and I’m panicking about grabbing everything I can but still trying to methodically clear the level. It’s frenetic. It’s a mixed blessing. The wheels fell off my bag.

Things are changing.

Here’s where I went last year: Pittsburgh, twice, 4 days each, two different conferences; Vancouver, five days, Congress; Montreal, **three times**, each for two days related to Trudeau Foundation work; Mount Orford, Québec, for five days for Trudeau retreat; Yellowknife, for seven days, for the inaugural Trudeau Foundation Institute for Engaged Leadership.

Tomorrow, I’m flying to Washington for three days for Trudeau planning meeting. Six days after that back to Montréal overnight for an event. Washington again for a week in March, then Moncton for five days in May, Montréal for a week in October. Maybe more planning trips. This is without any conference travel, so who knows?

I bought a new bag for this new life. Even on Boxing Day it set me back more than $300, a 21″ rollaboard Travel Pro Platinum Elite Spinner, recommended for power travellers by Wirecutter. It’s this magical kind of suitcase with ten million weirdly useful pockets, including one for an external battery pack for my poor overworked devices, that somehow compresses time and space to make everything I pack 80% smaller than it seems to be before I put it in. It’s a kind of cranberry colour, sedate but a little distinct. I also: bought a tiny travel size hair straightener, tiny travel versions of my favorite toiletries, and I’ve dedicated a drawer in the guest room to Things That Travel With Me Every Time, like my little bag of first aid things, and extra chargers, and a case for my glasses. I’m ready to go at a moment’s notice, with less fuss. I feel 100% less stressed out about packing for all these trips now. Do I own two hair straighteners now? Yes. But I’m never going to be freaking out the morning of a trip waiting for my giant straightener to cool down before I try to shove it into a bag I wanted to have had ready at the front door 30 minutes earlier. This is who I am now.

I used to travel light, and cheap, and infrequently, and with a bit of panic and fuss at the outset. I’m not that person now. I still travel light, but I insist on the good parking and the good bag, and it makes sense to have doubles of things (and doubles of the things I like to use, the good stuff) because I spend so much time living out of my suitcase. It was hard for me to write out where I’ve gone this year and where I’m going because those paragraphs describe someone who is different from how I see myself, from how I want other to see me. I’m not sure how I feel about this new person yet: I have baggage, if you will, that I’m dragging bumpily behind me, wheels askew, not quite working but tinged with moral rectitude and thrift.

What am I going to wheel with you into 2020? Whatever it is, I hope the baggage rolls smoothly in the direction you set for yourself, whoever you may be or be becoming.

best laid plans · Uncategorized · work · writing

Book Projects Are Hard…and fun

I’m working on a new project and it is both exciting and terrifying!

While I have complete other writing projects before, including one creative non-fiction monograph, when I finish writing anything I tend to feel as though I will, surely, never write again. Something similar happens when I get page proofs back for articles. I read, sometimes I nod in agreement or surprise. Sometimes I am impressed with myself. Always–and I mean always–I wonder whether I wrote the thing in a fugue state. Who was that person who made this sentence? Who found that salient bit of research to support a close reading? Who was she and where has she gone?

Who was it that wrote “anyone who says they enjoy the writing process is a liar”? It isn’t that I dislike the writing process. Once I am writing I love it. It feels euphoric at best, or at the very least, it feels rhythmic, like the way I was taught to breathe while doing front crawl: stroke, stroke, stroke, breath. Repeat for an hour or so and emerge tired and accomplished. Stretch, shower, carry on with your day. I am a dilettante who is a little in love with routine and a little enamoured with a good challenge, so yes, I suppose liking writing makes sense. It is the project planning that has me in knots.

I remember preparing to writing my dissertation proposal. It was a bit of a nightmare. I had all these wonderful ideas–I practically could dream the whole project–but when I sat down to put pen to paper and plan it out? Nothing. Nada. Zilch save for the slow trickle of dread that starts at the back of my neck and creeps up into my mind and then yells you can’t do this!

It turns out that I could do it, of course. I wrote the dissertation, and sometimes had fun doing it. But gosh, I sure wish I had learned how to project plan a bit. There is, I think, a happy medium place between launching yourself into the writerly unknown and crafting a research project that needs to be a scholarly monograph when it is finished.

So, this new project I am working on is a chance to shift my writerly and research habits. I’m going to try and share with you what I learn, what I bump up against, and what is (I hope) also delightful. Here goes:

It turns out that while I have edited a few collections and written that creative non-fiction monograph I mentioned, writing a scholarly monograph feels a lot like writing a dissertation so far. I need to survey the field, figure out what I can add to it, and learn through writing and revising how to be generative in a field that has so much richness in it already.

However, unlike a dissertation, this book project has already had its first encounter with peer review. When I was approached to write the book proposal I learned that I would submit the proposal to peer review. What? Wow! Wonderful and intimidating (though intimidating only insofar as it is nerve-racking to have peers assess your work). I am so grateful for the anonymous commentary I received on the proposal. Three different people took the time to read it, comment on it, and make generous and useful suggestions. When I get stuck and worry about whether I should be writing this, I return to the peer review commentary and remind myself that no book is ever the last word. What I am aiming for, always, is contributing to on going discussion. The peer reviewers remind me of that, too.

I quite like what Donald Barthelme has to say: “the writer is that person who, embarking upon her task, does not know what to do.” Whereas in the past I would have read this and taken it as permission to flail around in a bit of a froth until I churned out several thousand words, I find myself approaching Barthelme’s observation a bit differently. Instead, I am working towards an end-goal inside a project plan with the knowledge that the project will shift as it needs to shift. Happily, the heart-pounding unknowing of writing is there, too.

Wish me luck! And please, feel free to share your long-project tactics and tips!

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Ten Years of Feminist Academic Blogging

Readers, we’re still here.

We’re still here, even though blogs are maybe a bit archaic. We’re still here even though we have only been managing about a post a month for the last year (or so…). We’re still here because every time we think eh, we should wrap this up, it has been a good run we realize we aren’t ready. Not yet.

Since we began in 2010 our writers have finished degrees, moved institutions, left academia, published books, made families, lost loved ones, made communities, shifted, changed, raged, reflected, been anxious, joyous, sad, confused, curious, and inspired.

Turns out 2020 might be here, but the academy still needs feminist thinking and intentionality. We still need feminism and intentionality. And we need you.

In our first post back in September of 2010 Heather Zwicker wrote:

Hook and Eye is both an intervention and an invitation. We write about the realities of being women working in the Canadian university system. We muse (and rave, and query, and wonder, and share, and occasionally rant) about everything from gender inequities and how tenure works to finding unfrumpy winter boots and managing life’s minutiae

A decade has passed and these concerns and curiosities remain. They have subdivided and diversified. There are new concerns, and there are endemic concerns that persist. And for this, our tenth year, we want to stay with the trouble, commit curiosity, and share and develop our knowledges.

We’ll be working in the coming year to revivify our posting schedule. We’d love to hear from those of you who who have done guest posts in the past, written regularly with us in different years, or have never written and are interested in pitching us something.

Ten years of thinking, sharing, questioning, refusing, and creating together matters. Let’s keep doing it.

 

 

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Remembering the Montreal Massacre: 30 Years After

This is a guest post written by Heidi Tiedemann Darroch. 

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For Sharon Rosenberg (1964-2010), whose thinking about how to remember is so missed

1989

The first rumours swirl at dinner in our baronial dining hall, a nod to the University of Toronto’s Oxbridgean aspirations. Stern portraits of college heads—all men, all white—gaze down. In the main college building, a famed gryphon adorns the bottom of a staircase railing, rubbed shiny by decades of student hands seeking good luck before exams. Today I rubbed it, extra hard. It is the most beautiful place I have ever lived, and I feel safer than I have ever felt. The door to my room locks. Only I have the key.      

Students have been shot, I hear in the cafeteria line. It makes no sense.        

And then, Women have been shot. 

We were eighteen, nineteen, twenty. We called ourselves girls, usually, not women, and we were so much like those who had just been murdered: ambitious, hardworking, eager to embark on adult life and professions. Montreal was  familiar, the big city two hours from home. I knew two of the women. One died. One survived her injuries.

Fourteen women died: thirteen students and a staff member.

We’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating: in a classroom, the man separated the men and women, ordered the male students and professor to leave. He shot women after telling them that they were a bunch of feminists. One tried to protest, saying they were not feminists, just women seeking an education. To him—angry, thwarted—every woman seeking an education in the Engineering faculty was his enemy, his rival for entitlements: to education, to safety, to belonging in the world.

We need to remember that he said “feminist.” That he named accomplished women he believed to be feminists in a hit list the police were reluctant to release.        

The fourteen women who died were Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edwards, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault and Annie Turcotte.

December 6, 1989 was the last day that I ever felt completely safe at school.

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1979

At eight, my reading obsession is boarding school novels—St. Clare’s, Mallory Towers, and the Chalet School, where the intrusion of Nazis and spy plot lines jostles uneasily against midnight feasts and sending a classmate to Coventry for tattling.

In one of these books I struggle with a puzzling phrase: “safe as houses.” My mother explains it means that the girl feels as safe as if she were at home.

My mother is wrong.

To be at home is not safe. My mother has never been safe at home, and she cannot keep us safe. She grew up with alcoholism, violence, sexual abuse, a sister stabbed with a kitchen knife by their own mother and then pushed down a flight of stairs. She left home at sixteen, married at nineteen, ended up in hospital from that marriage. She tells me her mother-in-law visited, and gave her money to get out.

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2019

I seize up, writing this reflection, for a week. This is not a story I am supposed to tell. This is not a story I am allowed to tell. It is, and it is not, my story to tell. Here is what you need to know: As a child, I felt safer at school. 

And I learn, belatedly, that “safe as houses” means something entirely different—a Victoria phrase, referring to purchasing houses as a safe financial investment. It was never about homes.

As a child,I am safer at school. I arrive early to help the teacher, stay late to clean chalkboards and then bang the erasers together, releasing clouds of glorious white dust. My teachers notice, protect me. My fifth grade teacher calls us all “petit trésor,” little treasure. 

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 1990 

It is January and time to return to classes. We have already stopped talking about the women who died.

My first new class is in a windowless auditorium. It’s a women’s studies course, but the exits are all the way at the back of the hall. It would be so easy for someone to come in the back, block us from fleeing, kill dozens of us at once.

I drop the course.

I choose new ones but stop attending. I drift through a winter, falling in love three times, not thinking about the women who died, too scared to go to class and too scared to tell anyone that my scholarship is in jeopardy. I get engaged and am on track to be married at nineteen, just like my mother. I end up in hospital, like—but not at all like—my mother. The assailant I am afraid of is myself. I don’t want to live in this world where going to school is not safe. Home is not safe. Walking down the street, going to a party, waiting in line at a movie, working after dark alone in a store–any next moment could be the one where a man decides I am a rival or enemy. He might be a stranger. He’s more likely to be a lover, a spouse, a father. 

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Sara N. Ahmed writes about fear’s stickiness, such that “objects of fear become substituted for each other over time” (“The Politics of Fear in the Making of Worlds” 389). These relationships of substitution are confusing, confused. Who is a friend, and who is a threat? I work the most frantically at placating the people I fear. Reading Ahmed’s “Resignation Is a Feminist Issue” shakes me. I leave a job where I am unsafe and then, isolated, email her, because collective disbelief and denial is hard to survive. Over the next year and half, I work through official complaints and processes, lawyers and allegations that I was too competent for my own good. Ahmed includes my experience in her work, quotes my words in a public context. I feel safer, because this is solidarity, because she believes me, which helps me believe myself.

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1999

I have learned to theorize my way through trauma. It works, most of the time. I write a paper for a conference and sit, calmly, reading it out loud because it is less scary than making eye contact with the handful of strangers in the room. I write about trauma, historical fiction, and false memory allegations. I do this for years, because the longer I stay in school the more therapy I can access for free. This is one way to end up with a PhD. 

And then I am too embarrassed to include the counselor who enabled my work in my acknowledgements, U of T’s first sexual assault counselor and educator. Thank you, Patti McGillicuddy.

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2019

For twenty years I have been teaching in colleges and universities. I feel safe. To be the teacher, my favourite make believe as a child, is to be the safest person in the room, the one with the most power and privilege. I love teaching.      

After I have been teaching for several years, there is a campus shooting—one of many in the U.S., so frequent they become wearying. This one is at a university and there are stories about a brave professor who died protecting her students.

I am not that brave. I burn with shame. I will plead and bargain with the shooter, I imagine, and my words will be inadequate. The image of how I will fail my students is so vivid that I have to remind myself, over and over, of how unlikely it is that my students will be endangered.

My students are in danger. In their residences, the weekend partying is a euphemism for rape culture. A student, eyes swollen, sat in my office on a Monday afternoon, explaining why her paper is  not finished. She went to a party, woke up 18 hours later, hurting and with no memories. I offer to walk her to the campus clinic. She just wants to go home. She drops the course and I don’t see her again. She doesn’t answer my email. I failed her. 

It is time for my eighteen-year-old to start university, and I am terrified. I spend a summer obsessing about danger and planning for disaster. Their dad buys them earthquake supplies, even though the city where they are moving is not in a seismically active area—we are. My child is moving to greater safety, and I should be grateful, but I am so scared.

Yes, I know it’s PTSD. But living in the world and feeling this unsafe is exhausting. Fortunately, there’s baking. And my child is less scared than I am, and this is progress.

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Fourteen benches sit in a circle outside the Vancouver bus station, in a neglected park. The Canada geese have taken over, and it’s a mess. Every time I visit, I take a picture, charting decay, then send angry email messages to the parks board asking for the memorial to be maintained.

Christine Bold, Ric Knowles, and Belinda Leach consider in their 2002 article how a memorial site might help sustain memory and resist the “active forgetting” of “hegemonic memorializing” (“Feminist Memorializing and Cultural Countermemory: The Case of Marianne’s Park” 130). They point out that race, ethnicity, and social status inform how much public support there is for commemoration. These 14 benches are only blocks from the Downtown Eastside where dozens of women vanished over several decades. Not disappearing: being disappeared. I think of Rebecca Belmore’s powerful, haunting “Vigil,” the way she stood in a parking lot shredding rose petals from their stems with her teeth. Raging, mourning.

On December 6 I will teach my last day of classes, saying goodbye to students and the communities we’ve built together this term. I will gather with colleagues to celebrate each other’s care and support. And I will look forward to helping create a world with more light and hope in the coming year, so that all of us–all of our children–can step into classrooms, and out into the world. Unafraid. 

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Heidi Tiedemann Darroch teaches English and Access courses at Camosun College as a term faculty member. She is the co-editor of this month’s special section of the Canadian Journal of Studies in Discourse and Writing on pedagogy and academic labour and she has recently published in several collections of Canadian literary criticism, including Ethics and Affects in the Fiction of Alice Munro (edited by Amelia DeFalco and Lorraine York) and the forthcoming Canadian Culinary Imaginations (edited by Shelley Boyd and Dorothy Barenscott. She also works on women’s cultural production, higher education activism, and writing studies.