academic work · advice · collaboration · global academy · research

How to: Manage a Distance Research Collaboration

Since the beginning of my PhD, I’ve worked on a number of long-term, long-distance research projects with people in France, India, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, and the UK. I’ve gotten pretty good at scheduling meetings across time zones and finding ways to share documents and ideas with people on opposite sides of the planet. Given the increasingly interdisciplinary and international focus of academic research, I’m betting that at some point you’ll find yourself wanting to collaborate with someone who is just getting up when you’re going to bed, and those collaborations function rather differently than those with the folks in the office down the hall. So you don’t have to figure out from scratch how to successfully pursue research or other projects with people from away, here’s what I’ve learned that can make your life easier:

  1. Figure out what blocks of time in each of your time zones conveniently overlap, and use those blocks as your default meeting times. I know my lunch hour in Toronto is the end of the work day in London, and so my UK-based collaborator and I tend to schedule our meetings then. It saves us from having to figure out a time that suits both of us every time we need to meet. I also keep this bookmarked:
  2. Make use of free communication technology. Skype is your friend, as is Google chat. Email is useful, but I find that the best long-distance collaborations are nurtured with lots of less-formal conversation. If you can’t meet for coffee to talk shop, or pop into one another’s offices in the middle of the afternoon, try to replicate that experience online. I also advise using methods of communication that automatically capture a record of the conversation for you–Google chat does this, as does the SMS backup app I use to save all of my text messages to my email account, where they’re searchable. 
  3. Keep your documents somewhere central and easily accessible. I don’t know how I survived before the advent of Google Drive. I have a separate shared project folder for each of my current ongoing research collaborations, and everything lives there. We all appreciate being able to see who was the last to edit a file, precisely what edits those were, and exactly what collateral we have on hand at all times. I certainly appreciate not having my inbox clogged with huge attachments, and knowing that we’re all always working from the most up-to-date files. 
  4. Set deliverables and a follow-up plan at the end of every meeting. This is good practice for real-world meetings too, but it’s especially important in distance collaborations to make sure that everyone knows what needs to be done (and by when) at the end of every meeting, and when the next meeting will be (if one is necessary). If you know that your urgent 8:00 am email to your collaborator isn’t going to get read until she wakes up 10 hours later, it becomes extra important to ensure that expectations, deliverables, and timelines are clear when you already have her on the other end of the Skype call. 
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Long-distance collaborations already have physical distance built in, and that physical distance can turn into mental distance and misunderstandings all too easily. Add the potential issues with cross-cultural communication–and this can be differences in institutional culture, not just broader regional or national culture–and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. It’s incredibly important to make sure that you’re all understanding terms in the same way, that your research goals and plans are clearly and regularly articulated, and that channels of communication are open. 
  6. Make plans to occasionally meet in person, if at all possible. Despite working with collaborators as far away as India, I’ve managed to meet up with my research partners at least once during each project, most often at a conference we were all attending. It is incredibly helpful, and incredibly invigorating, to spend some time talking and working together, even if just for a few hours.
  7. Let someone be in charge. It’s particularly important, when working remotely, to be clear about who is responsible for what, and to have someone taking the lead on the project (or certain aspects of it). Ensure that responsibility is clearly assigned, and that divisions of labour are clearly understood, or else you’ll spend your time worrying about if you were supposed to do that thing, or waiting for your collaborator (for whom it’s the middle of the night) to confirm that he’s doing whatever it is. 

What about you, dear readers? Any tips and tricks for successfully negotating long-distance research collaborations?

balance · teaching · time crunch

How much is too much, and for whom?

My first year students are pretty happy. Well, as happy as they can be, having to hand in their final papers today, and having to prepare for a final exam on new media studies next Friday. They’re not panicking, at least, because they’ve been working steadily through the various stages of the essay for four weeks already–they had full drafts finished a week ago, and they’ve been editing and finalizing since. And I know they’re better prepared for the exam than they think they might be–we’ve had five substantial online quizzes across the full breadth of term, and in class I’ve had them write up their feedback on their own learning for most units, that I’ve collated and taken up in class. There’s someone from this class at my office hours every time I hold them. There was a six person lineup in the hall when I got there on Monday. I read everyone’s drafts.

They’ve be coached and coaxed and assessed and guided the whole term.

It’s almost killed me.

The cap on my course is 40 students. I finally learned all their names by Halloween (I’m really bad with names, I admit). We had a photographer who came to take photos to use in the University’s promotion and we were all so squashed into the classroom that he took everyone’s coats and bags and put them in a different room–he even took the overhead projector away.

The course is running the best it has ever run. After running this four times, I’ve finally got it right, for students: substantial attention to and development of their voice and skills and engagement as writers, and a strong grounding in new media studies content, both historical and theoretical.

What “getting it right” has meant for me is adding a bunch of assessments to support the course’s learning objectives. Getting it right means a ton more grading and feedback for me. And I think I’ve hit peak grading. For two years in a row, they complained that the textbook didn’t matter, and I tried to link the in-class work more heavily toward that material. I made speeches and lit more scented candles. It didn’t work. You know what did work? Adding six new assessments to focus their attention on material only death with in the textbook: five quizzes and a final. Add that to the six writing assignments, and it’s pushed me over the edge.

I’m so proud to say that pedagogically I think this course is rock solid: we use class time really productively, the students are engaged, all the work comes in on time, attendance is high, the writing is visibly improving, the thinking is getting more sophisticated. But I haven’t written a word on my book in months. And I’m behind on my email and admin work, and I’m getting up at 5:30 every day.

The best solution would be to lower the cap on the course–25 would be reasonable. A smaller cap would mean that the professor could still bring her A-game but cut the grading of each of the 12 assignments in the course in half, a substantial savings. But it’s too expensive to do that, maybe. And the course is a draw for majors, so reducing the number of students taking it might be a mistake. Running two smaller sections is even more expensive!

If we take instructor time seriously–the in this case tenured professor is also supposed to be writing a book–we would instead, perhaps, suggest something different. Cut the number of assignments in half, and the same savings in grading could be achieved. In this scenario, the pedagogy is compromised, and the professor may see her teaching scores decline, because of cuts to content.

I’m no noob. I know how to spend a mere 40 minutes prepping for an 80 minute class. And I grade FAST. I think I’ve found all the efficiencies in the process it is possible to find.

My discipline is English. I think it’s always got to be writing intensive, and doing that right is going to involve a lot of writing assignments and a lot of grading. I don’t think that can be skimped on. As I use these last two days before the final papers come in to catch up on the straggler grading I haven’t had time to do, and frantically put together the text of the final exam that I guess I’ll be grading all next weekend, I am just really struck by these structural constraints: the number of students conflicts with the kind of pedagogy which undermines balance in my work life. And how to fix it–FEWER STUDENTS IN EACH SECTION–seems like the one thing we’re not able to do.

Maybe someone will invent an app to solve all these problems. But I don’t think so.

fast feminism · politics · slow academy · social media · solidarity

Queer Feminism?

We on this blog don’t often discuss LGBTQ issues (perhaps because we all happen to present as straight), and today I’d like to think about some of the implications of conscientiously adopting a more “queer” feminism: one that is, perhaps, more explicitly open to alternative lifestyles, more open-ended, less harmonious, more agonistic. Feminists who remain silent on LGBTQ issues risk reinforcing a perceived divide between feminism and queer studies that limits our possibilities for collective change. The rift, however simplistically conceived, between “frumpy, sex-phobic feminists” and their “kinky, stylish queer cousins” (6) is an issue that Lynne Huffer addresses and in some ironic sense attempts to ‘resolve’ in her 2013 book Are Our Lips a Grave?: A Queer Feminist on the Ethics of Sex.  While she acknowledges that the opposition is clearly facile, it is the case that some amongst the queer community perceive feminists disparagingly as “convergentist,” attempting to “coalesce under one feminist umbrella an array of positions that complicate gender as a single category of analyses” (7); queer activists, on the other hand, tend toward “divergentism,” dedicated to rupture, to discontinuity, to the antisocial (even as I write this, these binary claims don’t ring entirely true). Huffer yearns for and endeavours to make possible through her book a feminism that is “only convergentist in a contestatory, rift-restoring sense,” a “ruptured convergence” that calls upon divergent positions to clash and clang together, to hang out together in shared spaces without necessarily coming to some sort of enforced consensus (8). Huffer wants women to tell stories that sit in uncomfortable relation to one another.

At least one of the things Huffer is enjoining us to remember, what queer feminism might bring to our feminisms and to our blog, is that although it is important to maintain common goals, this does not mean we always have to agree, always encourage each other, always enact the socialized impulse towards unconditional support and smiling and deference and happiness that is generally expected of us. I have to say I get a little sick at the nurturing impulse I witness (mostly between women) in academia–we have the tendency to tell each other things are okay, to hug, to support each other unconditionally, to celebrate with each other, and sometimes the whole goddamn lovefestness of it all gets to me. Maybe I’m just a hardened grumpycat New Yorker (impostering on a Canadian blog!). But I yearn for more disagreements, more stories that unsettle us and challenge us, more world-shaking opinions and perspectives that do not easily accord with our own received paradigms regarding what feminism is and can be.

Huffer locates this kind of “ruptured convergence” in close-reading and storytelling (72), which enable the emergence of specificity and disallow others from becoming versions of the same, mere reflections of ourselves: narrative performance becomes

an intersubjective model that, paradoxically, undoes the subject, [enlarging] the transformative potential of interpretation, where speaking subject, reader, and discursive traces themselves remain linked but porous, interdependent, and open to change. (72)

 Linked porosity. Collective undoing.  Huffer calls this an “ethics of bounded alterity” (72).

This week, after Rolling Stone published the horrifying UVA gang-rape story to which I am certainly not linking, Professor Bruce Holsinger (@bruceholsinger) began taking screenshots and tweeting some of the comments that appeared at the bottom of the article, raising more awareness of voices that might otherwise be overlooked. Although I’m not positive if this can be categorized as “queer feminism,” I think this is one possibility for the sort of activism we can practice.


// recent excellent example of speaking out and creating rifts in a possibly convergentist manner is Dorothy Kim’s post on sexual harrassment in the academy, which sprung from an extended conversation on the Facebook wall of well-known medievalist Alexandra Gillespie (University of Toronto). In her Facebook thread–which responds to the Ghomeshi case and is still public if you are interested in spending an hour feeling increasingly hopeless about the state of the academy–dozens of female academics described instances of harassment involving (more) senior male scholars, speaking to “a long and persistent history of sexual harassment in medieval studies spaces,” as Kim puts it. And of course there’s #beenrapedneverreported and all of Erin’s understandable questioning of the appropriateness of social media for issues of restorative justice.

a long, persistent history of sexual harassment in medieval studies spaces – See more at:,

Is this queer feminism? What does queer feminism look like? Really, I don’t know, and to be honest, this post has been extremely hard to write. I guess I’m mostly just opening up questions, as many of our blogs in this limited realm of the digital universe tend to do. Challenges to my [underdeveloped] reading of Huffer or thoughts on queer feminism are welcome in the comment section below. How do we open spaces for more diverse and intersectional voices, more uncomfortably convergent stories and perspectives? Let’s keep trying. For my next post, I will describe my recent experience with an LGBT Ally training course at Fordham, which will hopefully provide more possible answers to such questions.

change · emotional labour · job market · positive thoughts as I fill out applications

What’s "fit" got to do with it?

Every now and then I scroll through the archives of Hook & Eye to see what we were talking about last year, two years ago, and yes, as far back as four years ago. Much has changed, much has stayed the same. I have been writing about mentorship, precarity, and contract work since we started this blog in 2010, for example, and as I read through some of my own earlier posts I am struck by the ways in which my temerity has remained constant. There are still so many things that feel risky to talk about in a frank manner. My years on the job market (which number more than my years blogging publicly here) have not made me bolder. In some ways, I have become increasingly aware of the risks of speaking publicly about a bruised and broken system. And yet. And yet, it is a system that has, until this year, for the most part paid me a living wage. It is a system that has, until this year, in many ways validated my work–most often in the classroom. And so, as another fall semester winds down, and I find myself looking through the archives thinking about change, one of the things I notice are the little absences. The things that have slipped out of conversations without so much as a quiet shutting of the door.

An example: four years ago this month I wrote a post on the moving imperative. A friend has suggested I write about the implicit need to move for one’s degrees. This struck me as interesting and, frankly, at the time it seemed easy. I’d moved for all my degrees, and I had just moved across the country for a ten-month contract. If moving was imperative, then my track record was solid. So I wrote about it with interest, but with little understanding of the experience of someone who was either not free to move or, much more difficult for me to understand, unwilling to move for reasons of community, of family history, of filiation with the lands on which they were living.

I was, I think, living with a rather neoliberal mentality: highly mobile, no ties to place. Is that a good thing? It is for the job market, in the short term, I suppose. But in the long term I suspect hyper-mobility–as a mentality, at least–erodes connection to place. For examples of connection to place I think, for example, of the Land Protectors fighting to save Burnaby Mountain right now, of the anti-frackingblockades of last fall in Elsipogtog, of the EnPipeline project. Is moving for a job directly connected to unsustainability at the levels of environment and of community? It depends. But I offer this shift in my own thinking as an example of a topic we don’t much talk about in the search for stable work in higher education.

Let me shift gears again and point to another topic that seems to have quietly vanished from conversation. It is a genuine, deeply earnest, and somewhat uncomfortable question for me to ask: does the question of fit come into play anymore? More specifically, does the question of fit come into play for the candidate and not just for the committee?

Here is where this thinking stems from: I’ve been writing reference letters for potential graduate students in the last few weeks. I have also been writing reference letters for applicants to tenure-track positions. And, I have been writing my own applications to jobs. Also, it is fall. All of these things put me into a nostalgic mood and have me thinking back to the advice I got when I first entered the job market, as well as the advice I have given to people applying for school or work. When I was first applying for work my mentors put me through all my paces. Practice interviews? Check. Instruction on how to write a job letter? Check. Read the hiring institution’s website, collective agreement, departmental philosophy, and strategic mission statements? Check, check, check, check. I was taught how to dress (that’s changed somewhat), how to answer questions, and I have learned how to be myself in an interview too. But people also always used to tell me and my cohort that fit works both ways. Obviously, the hiring in department is looking for you to fit (and there are scores of good article like this one reminding you how to make yourself fit), but I haven’t heard any applicant talk about whether or not a department is the right one for them. Not for a long, long time. In fact, I think the only post we have ever had about fit was a post from the wonderful Lindy Ledohowski. She wrote about having the right departmental fit, but no agency in advocating for a spousal hire for her partner. Beyond Lindy’s post, I can’t find any talking about the candidate looking for, thinking about, or of being allowed to admit to caring about departmental fit.

I don’t think it is necessary to rehearse why “fit” has slipped out of conversations, at least where the applicant is concerned. The market is bad and it feels as though it is getting worse all the time. Departments are fighting to keep courses on the books as retirements aren’t replaced and more and more classes are covered by sessional and contract faculty–many of whom don’t qualify for benefits. We know this. And yet. Sometimes, as I try to think hopeful thoughts while filling out job applications, I do think about fit. I think about me, the applicant, a person with a life that extends (as one hopes it would) beyond the institution where I work. I think about people I know who have jobs and hate where they are. I think of people in those same places who don’t have jobs but stay in that pale because they have made lives. And I worry. I worry for myself, of course, but I also worry for the institutions we work in, the education systems we’re fighting to better, and the people it takes to make them better. Somehow, somewhere, I think “fit” needs to reenter the conversation.

Maybe this post could just as easily have been titled “what’s love got to do with it?”

But of course I feel compelled to end the post by saying this is hypothetical. This topic is like the other risky things that precarious workers can’t really talk about without wondering if its the thing that lost them the interview. If you’re a potential employer reading this post you can bet your boots I’ll be willing to consider moving just about anywhere for the opportunity to work in your institution.

appreciation · classrooms · teaching

Persuasive Writing

One of my colleagues, in a workshop for new graduate student teachers, suggested an in class exercise that I’d never heard of. Get your students to draw a picture of their ideal reader, he said, then get them to draw a speech bubble on that reader: ask them what the reader is saying to them about their writing.

Students have so much trouble imagining a real writer, particularly in an academic context where producing an essay often feels like a performance in showing the teacher you read the right number of books and journal articles, and hit the right word count, and used X number of transition words, and underlined your thesis statement. This exercise concretizes the idea of a real reader, and asks students, as well, to think about what they want that reader to come away with after.

I tried it with my first years. They’re writing a short research paper, a persuasive essay where they have to craft an argument for a particular interpretation of one aspect of our contemporary digital lives–I’ve got papers for and against online dating, social media, video game aesthetics, normative sexism and racism online, and more. So far they’ve written a proposal that briefly described their topic and articulated a provisional thesis they were interested in arguing. Then they produced annotated bibliographies of primary and secondary sources. Then they wrote a draft of the introductory paragraph of the paper. This week they’ll do a draft editing workshop on a first draft of the full paper. Next week they hand it in.

At the very first, though, when I handed out the Research Paper assignment, I had them do this exercise with the reader and the speech bubble.

The results astonished me. In among the hilariously poorly-drawn stick figure renditions of readers (most of them imagined me as the reader; only one imagined PacMan) and the comic descriptions of writing awards bestowed, most students imagined two kinds of feedback. First, a strong majority asked for substantive feedback on both mechanics and structure. Second, and this was surprising, nearly half of them imagined me saying something along the lines of this:

“I never thought of that before, but you’ve convinced me!”

My students were actually focused on persuading me. On generating new, surprising knowledge. Somehow they’ve actually got the idea that their writing matters, generally, and that it matters to me, particularly, and that they can use their words to meaningfully interact with culture, ideas, and interpretation.

I’m floored.

Right now I’m just so grateful to get this little sign that somehow, somewhere, this group of students has had some kind of little spark lit. I’m grateful my colleague taught me this exercise. Yesterday I graded 35 quizzes and 36 intro paragraphs and got to work on 20 SSHRC Departmental Appraisal Letters and assorted other ranking tasks. This was just the reminder I need that there is a purpose beyond just a rank or a grade or a credential. That my teaching, sometimes, matters and makes a difference. That my students can surprise me, that they’re trying and they care.

Have you had any nice surprises lately? Something to help us get through these last few weeks of term?

Honestly, my students this term are the BEST

balance · mental health

Staying Afloat: In Praise of Micro-Breaks

The relative quiet on Hook and Eye is a good measure for where we are in the term, no? Drowning in marking? Lecture prep never-ending? Class discussion reminds you of Sisyphus? Hey, we’re all in the same boat more or less, I assume. This week was not especially kind to me–but what week 10 in the term can ever be? First, my cat was sick over the weekend. I don’t mean to make comparisons, but, at least, when the kids are sick, they can tell you what hurts. Cats just go and hide, and stop eating, and you know something’s awry. Plus, when I was going to get him, trying to coax him out, and tempt him with what I know to be irresistible cuisine to him, he would just give me these wide-pupiled stares that just made me more desperate. I almost took him to the vet emergency on Sunday night, but settled instead to giving him water with a syringe to make sure he didn’t dehydrate. Then, during the night, he came in my bed, and I knew he was doing better. And that was before the week even started.

However, as crises are wont to do, this one, after passing, served as a good reminder that work is just work, even in huge quantities, and dwelling on that quantity, and its propensity to generate yet more work rather than to diminish, does nothing but increase anxiety, and take away any possibility to relax, and enjoy at least some breathing space. A turning point in my perspective, that one.

It was the switch that turned my fatigued brain around. Yes, it’s a lot of work (between the marking, and the marking, and did I already mention the marking?), but whining about it will make it neither more pleasant, nor more likely to dissipate spontaneously. Instead, I can take better care of said overworked brain by consciously directing my attention elsewhere. I take micro-breaks in-between grading one paper and the next, and procrastinate consciously, creatively, and, most importantly, guiltlessly. For example, I engage in:

– Day-dreaming: Instead of going reflexively to Twitter, email, etc., in-between one paper to be graded and another, I can lift my eyes up from the computer (I grade electronically), and think about all the wonderful things that will await me when I am more time-rich (in 4 weeks, but who’s counting?). Books, Gilmore Girls streaming on Netflix, 3 remaining episodes of Outlander.

– Planning for next term: I’ll be honest with you: I don’t hate grading (ssshhh, don’t tell anyone!). I enjoy engaging with students’ ideas, and I love the spark they give to my own creative process. One word, turn of phrase, or idea can sometimes provide that click that my own ideas need to settle into place.

– Thinking about what activities will fill my weekend. I never–well, almost never–work on the weekend, what with two kids needing and vocally demanding entertainment, and I find this habit to provide the best balance to keeping my brain afloat. What’s going on in the city that is cheap and kid-friendly? What restaurant or cuisine will we try? What’s the weather going to be like?

I know, I know: any of these activities can lead into longer breaks, and procrastination can flourish. So what? What is the worst thing that will happen if you take a break (or a nap, I won’t tell anyone!), even a longer one. It means your brain needs it. It means you might just be healthier in the longer term. It might mean you will be able to do more, and more efficiently, when you come back. So, go on, take that (micro-)break!

pedagogy · teaching

Curiosity, doggedness, open-mindedness: a new pedagogy

I sat in my office the entire day on Tuesday, for my undergrads to drop in whenever and pick up their graded assignments.

10 of the 40 came. And you know who came? The student who got 100%. And the three who got 95%, several more in the 80s, and the couple of 70s student who are trying really hard and slowly bringing their marks up. Most of them had a draft of the next assignment with them, and asked if they could show it to me. YES.

It is ever thus, in more or less every scenario.

Those who make a little extra effort, who are a little extra keen, who make an extra appointment, who send me links related to the readings, who follow me on Twitter, or show up at department events, they do better. This is true among non-students as well. I see it in every context I circulate in: research, service, yoga, running, team sports, kids activities.

I know that “Do What You Love” has its problems, and I agree with all the critiques of that line of thinking. But “Be Interested In What You’re Doing” is something of a different proposition, I think.

Curiosity, doggedness (or, “grit,” I guess is what the kids are calling it these days), and open-mindedness are qualities that seem, almost invariably, to bring success. Success needn’t be absolute; maybe it’s relative in a lot of cases, but the process always brings better results than not, and is more rewarding, to boot. Let’s move away from my students for the moment and consider an example from my own life.

As an athlete, I’m an excellent literature professor. My gifts of strength, endurance, balance,  and grace, are not naturally numerous. I can’t run fast, or throw far, or jump high. And yet I wound up as captain of my high school volleyball team in my senior year. I once won MVP of my team in a softball tournament. I’ve been hired by my studio to teach yoga. I ran 5k yesterday, slowly, but I’ve managed to do it at least once every week this term. I’m not actually very good at any of these activities, but what brings me whatever measure of success I’ve managed to cobble together has been curiosity, doggedness, and open-mindedness: I really want to be better and I’d like to know how I could do that; I keep trying and trying and trying and trying; I am open to constructive feedback on my performance and try to change my tactics accordingly.

Reading and writing about literature has always been, if I’m being frank, super easy for me. If I was going to teach my students the way that I best learn that material, I would dump a bunch of books on the table, and say “Go.” But the majority of my students do not learn like me. Their reasons for being in my class are various, their level of intrinsic interest and aptitude as variable as you can imagine. I want them to succeed, so I find that more and more, I’m teaching curiosity, doggedness, and open-mindedness as much as I am the explicit content of the course.

I find I’m making deliberate efforts at “selling it” all the time: I’m trying to hook them, to pique their curiosity, to light whatever spark of genuine interest can for them, help them nurture that little flame so that it might be self-sustaining. I’m also crafting assignments that required sustained effort over time–like this research paper that has five stages and five milestones over five weeks. And I employ what I call my “pedagogy of provocation,” where I deliberately try to push them to consider and explain and try out ideas or concepts they find difficult–in this vein, I also give substantive content-related feedback on all their assignments, which they often get to rethink and rewrite.

It’s a lot easier to teach the content. I can deliver that easily enough. The emotional work involved in actually teaching each class like a sales pitch for the work is substantial and the results uncertain. And it means I become invested in the outcome, which is problematic for a number of reasons. But when I see the spark light up in someone’s eyes, or that student who asked what needed to be different to get a 90 instead of an 80 have something click, or that other student who argued from anecdote and gut suddenly get discomfited when a contrary perspective begins to have an impact? Worth it. I hope they feel the way I do when I managed a run in the rain, or when I balance in a crow pose after falling over for two years. Like the act itself has become a reward, like something meaningful just happened.

change · collaboration

Art in the time of precarity

Last week, Camilla Gibb, celebrated Canadian writer, who authored Sweetness in the Belly, The Beauty of Humanity Movement, and The Petty Details of So-and-So’s Life, among other, wrote an op-ed about the lack of financial support for writers. In “The More You Writer, the Less You Make,” Gibb exposes the penury writers live in, even if they attain the elusive measure of success. Writers’ average incomes, Gibb points out citing the Writers’ Union, is $12,000 a year. Still, she says, when you’re fairly young and “do what you love,” it is still a privilege. She continues:
You don’t squander that privilege. You work your ass off. And hopefully you’re rewarded for that effort. It worked for me, as it did for many writers of my generation, perhaps the last for whom it was possible to live off their writing. In Britain, writers’ incomes have fallen by 30 per cent in the past eight years, collapsing to what one Guardian headline called “abject” levels. 
I shuddered at the familiarity of this proposition. How many current PhD students still say the same things to themselves, that in spite of the abysmal academic job market, it is totally worth working your derrière off through grad school while subsisting on ramen and insecurity, because your ideas are important, and they deserve to be followed through? That gratification–or living above the poverty line and eating nourishing food–will be delayed only momentarily. That surely, the magnificence of those ideas will carry one through to the deserved and coveted position?
Trust me, I do not mean to be sarcastic in saying the above. Gibb’s op-ed made me question, yet again, if we have the tools to tackle this systemic assault on arts and humanities. Training PhD students for alternative career paths, Alt-Ac and Post-Ac, would benefit everyone: the PhD graduates as well as their employers and society at large. However, are we putting a band-aid on this systemic issue that has come to devalue–literally–artistic work, while coveting creativity and innovationat every other step?

As Gibb mentions, instituting big prizes is awesome, but hardly a solution to fostering a vibrant literary culture that would actually enable most of its key participants–the writers–to subsist. See a pattern here? I could go on, but I fear a rant rearing its ugly head, and there’s no reason for any friend of H&E’s to be subjected to such. So, can I ask you, instead, what it is we can do collectively to advocate on behalf of the value of the arts, the humanities, and to get the word across that artists cannot live on the beauty they create alone? How can we create a sustainable system that does not entail the patronage of a nefariously-motivated or politically-driven Maecenas?
balance · grading · yoga

Holding your sense of humour

I just got my braces all readjusted yesterday. I had been on tray 28 of 32, but everything had to be recalibrated, and after an hour of my orthodontist yanking on my face and doing what felt like hammering, I restarted on my new tray 1 of … 34. That was bad news. And it hurts like hell.

My daughter’s teacher sent home a note indicating that Munchkin is “significantly behind in what concerns the homework assignments.” Oh great. That’s on me, because the homework needs to be explained and supervised and I’m the French speaker at home.

My husband fell down the porch stairs in the rain, while putting up Halloween decorations.

My class got shifted to another room for a special event, and when I put the poster on the door, I listed the wrong room number.

The indignities and injuries are piling up at the same time as the grading and the writing deadlines and SSHRC adjudication season for me. I’m grumpy. But this:

I went to yoga last night, and as we moved into a tricky and extended balance sequence, my teacher instructed us to hold our hands in this tented-fingers position. It was, she told us, so that we could hold our sense of humour, keep it close.
So there we were, on one leg, tipping forward and kicking back and rolling up into some awkward and unstable sort of floating half moon pose, trying to keep this soft tent of fingers together, gently cradling our sense of humour, delicately, in the midst of difficulty and effort and sometimes falling over.
It’s hard to keep your hands like this when you are getting a foot cramp on your standing leg and your thigh is burning and your balance is super off and you’re about to fall over. The tendency is to let the arms flail out for balance, or, conversely, to jam the hands together, in a hard clench. It takes real skill to go through the hard stuff and keep your fingertips softly touching, but if you can do it, your jaw unclenches. You relax a little. You remember to laugh when you fall.
At the point in the term, then end of Week 9 for me, with 40 new papers to grade every week, and a final to plan, and two more online quizzes to create, and managing the graduate program and adjudicating the SSHRC apps, and trying to not get any more notes home from grade three, well, it’s hard to not clench. It’s hard to hold onto my sense of humour, gently.
I’m trying colourful pens, mint tea, shared videos of adorable animals on Facebook, early bedtimes, and some self-compassion.
How are you managing to ‘keep your fingers tented’ at this tricky balance point in the term?