Just before we took a hiatus for the holiday season Margrit noted that it is something of an unofficial Hook & Eye
imperative tradition to create lists. And she’s right, of course, to rethink the ways in which those lists become tools not for tracking goals and accomplishments, but rather for self-flagellation later in the year. When the high of being well-rested, fed by time with loved one (or just time away from the quotidian routine) has been worn down by a demanding term that drains that energy despite our best laid plans, well, we tend to focus on what we didn’t accomplish. Indeed, part of what we do here at the blog in our own individual ways, is to be public with our struggles as well as our successes.
It makes sense, really, that we are so list-oriented here. Several of us have noted year in and year out that in the education system we are afforded not one moment for setting intentions, but two. Whether you’re a tenure-track professor or permanent college faculty, a graduate student, a post-doc, a contract worker, a sessional, an alt-ac worker, or working in the library or university press (& the list goes on) September is the “New Year,” January is for resetting intentions, and May is for lofty goals in both research and refuelling.
Except, of course, those different engagements with the education system I just listed are not the same, are they?
As you may remember, the end of the regular term last spring marked a substantial transition for me. For the first time in six years I went from full employment (either as a sessional teaching a 4/4/2 load, or as a contract employee on a salary) to virtual unemployment. It was, as I have alluded here, a blow both emotionally and financially. There’s much to say about how the Canadian political and social systems are messed up, certainly, but lucky for me I qualified for Employment Insurance. Though, for the purposes of this blog we need to consistently remember that very few precariously employed sessionals, recent graduates, and postdocs rarely qualify for EI. Anyhow, what I am getting at is this: I have lived, trained, and worked in the post-secondary education system for thirteen years now. Put differently, the impulse to reset intentions in January runs high. But it is different this year. I find myself thinking about how to positively set intentions (ok, write lists. I love a list.) without hanging on to the injustices, disappointments, devastations, and distractions that keep me from really moving forward?
Let me give you an example by looking at what I did with my time in the fall. In August my partner and I moved back to Halifax where he took up a two-year contract. I team taught a really cool course that I designed with my co-teacher a few years ago. Neat, but it also only took up a small bit of my time. What else did I do? Well, a lot as it turns out. CWILA launched its third annual Count which was 80% larger than ever before. As Chair of the Board it was my responsibility to work with the Board, the Count Director, and all the incredible volunteers to make this data public. I worked with essayists, a translator, and teams of editors. And when the narratives of abuses of mentorship in the Canadian literary community began to surface I wrote an essay on mentorship. And then the dam broke. #GamerGate didn’t so much as happen as it continued to occur and became more and more public. Anita Sarkeesian was threatened again and campus police in Utah pleaded inability to do anything about it because gun licenses trump women’s safety. Ghomeshi tried to spin Canadian’s reception of his abuses through his preemptive and manipulative Facebook post. Then Lucy DeCoutere showed us what bravery looks like. Then more women followed. And then, just before the winter break, very close to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, news of the Dalhousie Dentistry “Gentlemen’s Club” broke. What does any of this have to do with me? Well, like many of you this onslaught was triggering. It consumed my thoughts. It was–and is–distracting and distressing. As Chair of CWILA it also meant that I had people asking what we as an organization were going to do. And so, we consulted, asked, and are now putting the final touches on a crowd-sourced project we’re calling Love, Anonymous. The project required a privacy officer–someone to receive, edit, and make anonymous all the submissions that narrativized experiences of gender-based violence and discrimination. That person was me. So for November and December I spent many many hours reading people’s stories of abuse, writing to them, and developing trust.
I also did some freelance work for another university, co-organized a conference, presented at another conference, and applied for a few jobs. Actually, I obsessed over the need to find a job more than any other thing I did (except work with the anonymous submissions). I fretted. I paced. I gnashed teeth and tore garments. I spent more time on worrying about needing a job, not having a job, where-will-I-ever-find-a-job-style-wailing than I did writing. And friends, writing is what I had wanted to do this fall.
So here is my intention for 2015: I am going to, in the immortal words of Taylor Swift, work to shake off the all-consuming ennui of finding a full-time job in the academy. No, I’m not ceasing to look. I’m just going to try to let that fretfulness go. I want to write. I want to find things besides teaching that nourish me and fulfill me, because I don’t have much teaching at all. I want to focus on things other than what I don’t have.
And so, to start this new year, I give you a catchy soundtrack for your Monday. Here’s to you all, readers, and especially to those of you who, like me, have bits of 2014 to shake off.