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Unplugging: A Reading Week Retrospective

It is the first Monday back after reading week here on the East Coast, and this year something feels a bit different. This year — for the first time since I was an undergraduate student — I took a bit of a vacation. Moreover, not only did I get out of the country, out of my quotidian routines and stresses, and out of what has thus far proven to be an emotionally stressful and immensely busy winter term, I also got out of my technology habits. And the best part? I was travelling with my dear, dear girlfriend M. So on this grey Monday, the first Monday of the madness of March, and the Monday of International Women’s Week, let me offer some reflections on unplugging and getting away with my best friend.

Step 1: Realizing I too deserve a break.

The first difficulty for me is always giving myself permissions to step away from work. We know that academic work is a treadmill, that it is on-going, that the profession rewards relentless labour. Indeed, I have written about how difficult I find it to even admit my own exhaustion given that I am in a limited term contract position, on the job market, and feeling the constant need to Do All The Things Perfectly! With A Smile! Or At Least A Sassy And Witty Retort! Never mind that I know balance is necessary. Never mind that I will preach the importance of taking time for yourself, or at least finding fifteen minutes a day to do something special that is just for you (even if it is eating a pretty sandwich). Nope. I know all these things are necessary and yet I have the most difficult time allowing myself to do them. So when a colleague mentioned to me that she was planning to take a vacation for reading week my first reaction was to congratulate her and then cringe, thinking of all the grading I was going to have to accomplish whilst huddling in cold, grey Halifax.

But then a little voice said “you could do that. You could go away too, you know.” And so, I telephoned my bestie M., asked her if she would be willing to go with me, and lo, a few weeks later we had booked flights that would take us from Halifax to a beach in Cuba.

Step 2: Realizing that Cuba means no Internet. Realizing that the world goes on without needing the Internet.

When we decided to go to Cuba we did so for three simple reasons. 1) It was affordable 2) It was going to be hot 3) There are direct flights from Halifax. I immediately imagined reading for classes and research on the beach, doing all the yoga, and grading papers by the pool in the evening before dinner. I would spend time corresponding and researching when it was rainy. It was going to be great.

And then I realized that was foolish, because there is not easy or swift access to the Internet.

Now, though I am loath to admit it, I panicked. Just a bit. I mean, I feel I am super efficient because I am plugged in all the time. I have almost three hundred students this semester. I am coordinating a programme. I am on the job market (ie. am seeking job ads). I try to keep an active and informative online presence. HOW WOULD I SURVIVE WITHOUT THE INTERNET?!

Surely I would wither and die.

Or worse! Surely I would vanish. If I wasn’t emailing and posting and tweeting and corresponding, then surely I would fall out of orbit.

I was wrong. So wrong. While I certainly went through a period of email and — harder! — texting withdrawal, ultimately I settled into myself with a sense of contentment and presence that was eroding before I left. I posted a vacation message, bought some writing paper, and wrote several letters. All of my conversations were either epistolary or embodied. And friends, I read an immense amount. Heck, I even graded papers. Eighty!

Step 3: Spend time with your women friends.

Cuba was hot. I wrote many letters. I accomplished many things. However, the best past of the entire trip was stealing a week of quality time to spend with my pal M.

We had such a fine time simply enjoying one another’s company. We spent quiet time together. We took turns making space for the other to have alone time. We spent an inordinate amount of time cackling with glee — and mostly we were gleeful at the fact of hanging out! We had serious conversations. We had ridiculous conversations. Once, when I was feeling extraordinarily sad (it has been a challenging winter for me) I stepped out onto our porch to have a quite and — I thought — secret weep. Wrong. After about ten minutes of sniffling alone M. came onto the porch, held my hand, and commenced reading to me about the history of asparagus cultivation. Then she painted my nails gold, gave me a hug, and asked “good to go?” And I was.

The most important things I realized over this vacation were these: I am worth taking care of, and I shall do it more often. And, my friendships are absolutely precious. My work defines a large part of who I am, but at the end of the day it is the people in my life who are the most important. I am grateful to M., and I am grateful to all of you, and I am so grateful to say that I have the good fortune of having many many many inspiring and wonderful and brilliant women in my life.

Now: bring it on, Monday.

2 thoughts on “Unplugging: A Reading Week Retrospective

  1. Erin, this is such an important post. Only once in my almost 20-year long teaching career have I taken reading week off, and, like you, I had to leave the country in order to do it. I did nothing but relax and read novels. It was amazing. Of course, I also had a secure, tenured job to come back to, but it was still quite difficult to convince myself that the university would run just fine without me for a week, thank you very much.

    It is so important that we take care of ourselves. And take time out!


  2. Erin, this is a beautiful post! Thank you for the reminder: while I am usually good at taking care of myself, this year has been particularly overwhelming, and what has given, every single time, was my self-care. Beyond this very important message, I like how your examples mirror what you're saying: you go from not being quite ready to let go (marking, anyone?) to accepting the need to do it (nails!), and doing it. You *are* awesome, and there's an entire fanclub out there (in AB especially, but i'm sure in many other places) who wish you nothing but the best, and root for you constantly! Here's to our next embodied conversation and actual hug! xo


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