good things · mental health

Things that keep me warm

Today is the 15th consecutive day that this city I moved to in order to escape from the frozen tundra has been under an “extreme cold weather alert.” This month has been the coldest on record. Well, the joke may be on me, but at least I’m well equipped by my long residence in the northernmost North-American city with over 1 million inhabitants to deal with cold, and keep myself healthy and sane. So here’s a list of things that I do (or aim to, or think of doing, or flatter myself I’ll be doing when more time will be on hand):

– browse food blogs for cold-weather recipes
yoga (this is the most aspirational part of the list, really)
– use my SAD lamp regularly
– surf style websites and blogs to vicariously enjoy living in cities where street style is actually possible
read or listen to multiple books concurrently, according to mood
– read reviews of CanLit books, or of great books generally, so I can make lists like this one for the future
– watch Downton Abbey
– plan my spring wardrobe
– go for runs every Sunday (and promise myself religiously I will find at least another day in the week for a run)
– make lunch dates with friends
– knit (I’m almost done the sweater I started in September)

Knitting as procrastination

All the while, I also alternate at despairing of and completely ignoring the pile of marking that seems to spawn newly every hour. Whenever that happens, I just go and pick the easiest element on the list and have at it until guilt overcomes me. At that point, I decide to be responsible, and pick another line from the list for variation. I am a master procrastinator.

And you? What are your (extreme) cold-weather recipes for survival? Please share your food-/style-/cartoon-/[insert favourite procrastination method here] blogs or sources, so we can all refresh our bookmarks.

advice

Hack the field: Anthologies and Textbooks

This is a post about how to use anthologies and textbooks to jump into a new field, or make better sense of one you’re in.

I had my bi-weekly meeting with one of my PhD supervisees, Phil, yesterday. He had a question about reading for his area exams, to wit: read the anthologies first or last? and how?

My answer: textbooks and anthologies are incredibly useful orientation materials, that can get you from zero to expert awfully fast, and you should read them first. These materials are very useful when you are a grad student moving from taking courses to settling into field. They are also very useful when you are an instructor being assigned courses that are not in that one field you’re an expert in (which is to say, every instructor, ever). They are also very useful to more seasoned researchers, who are bracing out into new fields.

Here’s the analogy I worked on yesterday. My house is currently being renovated and we’re living in the house of sabbaticant friends. So it’s a moving metaphor.

Your scholarly understanding of a given field (say, in this case, new media studies) is a new house that you’re moving into. But you’re moving in sight unseen: you’re standing in the front hall, and while you can see some stairs, and maybe a closet, you kind of don’t know much else. The materials of the field–the prior research, the theories, the methods–are packed boxes sitting outside in a big truck whose size is obscured: it’s backed up right to the door and all you can see is the ramp to drag the boxes out from.

This is where you start from: a lot of unknowns, and a lot of mess. This is pretty overwhelming, but you chose to move here, so you’re at least motivated.

It gets worse. You start dragging boxes out of the car / van / truck and into the entryway. They’re not labelled, so you start opening them randomly: kitchen stuff, more kitchen stuff, yet more kitchen stuff, a box of underwear, and one box that has Christmas decorations and tax receipts from 1995. And a garbage back of ripped pants. You have to start guessing: are all the boxes going to have this same type / ratio of stuff? Where should I put it all? The kitchen stuff should go in the kitchen, but whose underwear is this, and where should it go? Are the Christmas decorations and tax receipts meant to stay together, or was this the Box of Leftover Stuff? Are those pants actually garbage? Or are they moving clothes?

This is where we all get when we start reading in a new field / prepping a course in a new area: we collect a bunch of resources but have trouble making sense of how they fit together and how they’re meant to be used. The boxes are monographs and scholarly articles: so many complete statements that we imagine somehow relate to each other but we’re not sure how. We just keep on reading in a straight line and hope we figure it out before entryway fills up with torn open boxes. This is completely overwhelming, and where many of us get stuck and open the case of beer (moving) or the case of red wine (studying / prepping). You just keep opening boxes with no sense of scale or purpose and you have nowhere to put them once they’re open.

Here’s the thing: anthologies and textbooks are like the blueprints to the house, or the packing list for the moving truck–they are maps and systems of organization that allow you to get a sense of the whole before you even really know much about the individual parts.

When you don’t know how to get where you’re going, you get a map. When you want to know if the queen-sized bed will fit in your new bedroom, you look at the real estate spec sheet. When you want to know about how science fiction studies works, get an anthology, or a textbook.

I’ve just pulled the Companion to Science Fiction (Steed, ed.) off my shelf. It’s from a big academic publisher (Blackwell) that puts out very well regarded field-spanning anthologies. So it’s trustworthy. It’s got five parts: one a survey of the field, one on topics and debates, one on genres and movements, one on international (non-US, it looks like) science fiction, one on key writers, one with interpretive essays dealing with key science fiction texts. Just browsing the table of contents, I can get a pretty good idea of how the field organizes itself. Better, the essays are written by a huge number of prominent scholars, so I’ll know who to look for in my further research. The eight page introduction chapter summarizes the book and the field at a breathtaking pace and at a high altitude.

The idea is that by browsing these summary or collection texts at the start of your research projects, you can begin the process of integration of new material a lot more smoothly: once I open three more kitchen boxes, I can expect that eventually I’ll find some boxes of clothes, and some books, and bathroom things–it’s probably not going to be all Christmas decorations and tax receipts. I might even learn that tax receipts can be thrown out after seven years and just discard those out of hand. I’ll know there’s three bedrooms in the house, and to be thus on the lookout for three mattresses as I unpack.

I’m really pushing all my students to glean what they can from the pretext, from my first years to my senior grad students: what can you learn from the TOC, from the author’s affiliations, from the issuing press, etc. All this information helps make the real content more graspable and more easily categorized and made useful.

So now I’m sharing that with you. This needs some refining, but I wanted to share it while it was still fresh.

mental health · productivity · reflection · silence · winter · you're awesome

Slowing Down

It’s mid-semester. We’re all a little tired, cold, and overworked. Today, as I race against yet another dissertation deadline and feverishly inscribe as many mid-semester tasks as possible into my dayplanner, I want to take a moment and remind us all to……:

SLOW DOWN. 
Here’s some Rothko for ya. Click on the image. It’ll help.

I used to be such a daydreamer, and those moments of thinking and reflecting and just sitting on the couch, staring into space, or going for long walks in the neighborhood, allowed my mind to wander and explore in a way that is becoming increasingly unavailable now that I’m constantly scrolling through my iPhone, oh that accursed piece of wondrous technology.

The Bored and Brilliant project begun by New Tech City has been asking listeners to think hard about our relationship to our devices, now that 58% of American adults own a smartphone. Our smartphones make us connected and entertained, NTC observes, but also dependent and addicted. (I write this as someone who has, on multiple occasions, worried that probably this person is really very angry with me–or, worse, annoyed or indifferent–because he/she has not responded to my text from three hours ago. AND I SAW THE BUBBLES.) At the risk of sounding like a crotchety luddite, I’d suggest that in this digital world, we are losing the capability of being idle; and “idle minds lead to reflective, creative thoughts,” according to this project and the research behind it. How often, during a spare moment, do you fill your mental space by grabbing your phone and scrolling through Facebook or Twitter? When was the last time you let your mind wander? When was the last time you got lost in a work of art, or just freewrote for a few minutes–about anything? Or just sat with your eyes closed, headphones in? (Spotify has some great mood playlists; I’m partial to “Deep Focus”).

I want to emphasize that I’m not advocating for slowing down primarily because it will, ultimately, increase your productivity when you speed up again. Such mentality feeds into a neoliberal need to produce, and to serve the all-consuming academic system to which we are hopelessly bound. You should slow down for you, because you are awesome and have cool, creative, independent thoughts that don’t always need to overlap with academia or the primary work you do. Because “academic” is not the sum-total of your identity. Because this is not about productivity, this is about self-care.

Related to the power of boredom is the “power of patience” (article of the same title here), and decelerating can constitute part of our classroom practices as well. Harvard art historian Jennifer L. Roberts believes that educators should “take a more active role in shaping the temporal experiences” of students, learning to guide practices of “deceleration, patience, and immersive attention.”* Exercises that require students to slow down, to meditate on the material at-hand and allow it to open up to them in its singularity, counter that which in the eyes of some critics has become a modern impulse toward distraction, shallow reflection, and superficial thinking. Roberts in particular requires her students to position themselves in a museum and gaze at a work of art for a veeery long period of time (though I have to say that three hours seems a little excessive…), reflecting on their experience afterwards. Colleagues of mine have had success with this exercise, and I look forward to trying it with my students in March. Do you have any other thoughts on how to guide the temporal experiences of our students, and encourage them to practice creative idleness?

So, feminist friends, let this be a reminder to you to slow down today, even just for 10 minutes. And the night-owl in me is going to practice what I’m preaching right this moment and head to bed.

*For this article, as well as the “slow looking” exercise that accompanies it, I am thoroughly indebted to Julie Orlemanski; thanks, Julie, for a particularly generative–and generous–Facebook post!

#alt-ac · #alt-ac 101 · #post-ac · careers · jobs

The #Alt-Ac Job Search 101: Figuring Out What Else to Do

In the spirit of Aimee’s academic how-to series, I’m consolidating past posts and generating new ones that will form a complementary how-to series on the #alt-ac job search and career. It should be noted that I’m not a career services professional, and you should seek those out at your institution, but my advice is informed both by my own experience and by the work I do with people in career services and coaching for graduate students.

Today, we’re starting from the beginning: once you decide not to go on the tenure-track (or not to finish the PhD, or to look for both academic and non-academic jobs), how do you figure out what the heck to do next?

The data on academics in non-academic careers is very clear: we don’t have a hard time getting into them. Despite the very limited amount of non-academic career support currently built into graduate studies, PhDs do very well at finding jobs outside of academia. With only 18.6% of us in full-time academic teaching jobs (and that includes contract work), the other 81.4% of us are finding our way into something else. And we’re doing it well–PhD holders have the lowest unemployment rate of any group of Canadians. But if you’ve been told, over and over, that you’re developing the skills to do precisely one thing–become a professor–and you stop thinking about other careers, it can be difficult, even intimidating, to start figuring out what other things you can and would like to do. Where do you start?

Whenever someone asks me this question, I refer them to So What Are You Going to Do With That?: Finding Careers Outside Academia, which is now in its third edition. (My university carries So What as an e-book, and many career centres also have copies to borrow.) Written by Susan Balsalla and Maggie Debelius, PhDs themselves who now work inside and outside academia, So What covers a host of the topics to which new PhD job seekers might need an introduction: translating skills gained in academia into terms that employers can understand and value, career counselling, interview etiquette, etc. All of So What is highly useful, but of particular value are the self-assessment exercises that ask you to figure out what it is you really like about academia–the skills you like exercising, the activities you like doing–and then help you see other industries and positions that would allow you to do the things you like doing more. In my case, I figured out that what I really liked was non-academic/theoretical writing, mentorship, research that had use-value, and work that was aimed at helping others rather than myself. Perhaps my favourite thing about So What is the way it helps PhDs realize that there are a number of careers that might suit their strengths and interests better than being a professor, and the way it helps them identify what those careers are. For me, it helped me see that I might like to be a grant writer, or a counsellor, or what I am now, which is a graduate professional skills coordinator and research administrator–which suits me and my strengths better than being a tenured professor likely would have.

Another resource I recommend for people doing the fundamental work of figuring out what they could do next is Strengthsfinder 2.0. (My university library also has this one as an ebook, and yours might too.) Although not aimed at an academic audience, Strengthsfinder offers a more robust sf diagnostic and analytic tools than So What that are aimed at helping you figure out what you’re good at doing and what jobs would let you do those things. The book is complemented by online testing that generates reports about talents and strengths you might want to explore in more depth, testing I found both accurate and helpful. One of the many challenging (and awesome) things about moving into an #altac career is the flexibility and openness of the non-tenure career path; the challenging part is keeping an eye on where you are and where you’re headed, and assessing if those two things still match up with what you want from a career. Occasionally redoing the tests from Strengthsfinder (and So What) is a useful way to see how my skill set has changed as I’ve learned and developed on the job, and to assess where I’m at in my career development.

The last thing I’d suggest for people trying to figure out what to do after they’re done is finding the unit at your university that keeps track of what PhDs are doing after they graduate. Some graduate programs–more and more of them–are tracking the post-degree placement of everyone who graduates from their program with a PhD, whether they’re going into a tenure-track job or not. Alumni or advancement offices also often keep track of what PhD alumni are doing, and can often provide you with that information, or put you in touch with people in your field. Many universities, through graduate programs, the Career Centre, or the Faculty of Graduate Studies, put on regular career panels featuring PhD alumni in non-academic jobs. However you find the information, see if you can figure out what people with your degree, in your field, are doing now. PhD transition stories, like those that Jennifer Polk collects in her blog From PhD to Life, are also a good resource. It can be difficult to find out what PhDs in non-academic jobs are doing, simply because universities have tended to track only t-t placement rates, although universities are realizing the necessity of collecting this kind of data and large-scale post-PhD tracking projects are getting underway. But it’s a lot easier to figure out what you might want to do, what you could do with your degree, if you know what others who were once in the same boat are doing.

Next up, we’ll talk about what to do once you’ve figured out a job or industry (or a few) that you might be interested in and that might suit you: the informational interview, also known as research.

enter the confessional

Insomniac

So here’s something you may not know about me: I suffer periodically from insomnia–and by that I mean that I suffer pretty dramatically, sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months. This is an affliction linked, in my case, to anxiety, and it’s pretty common among academics.

The miserable thing about being insomniac is that you are in fact bone tired–but you can’t sleep. You wake up at 3am and can’t get back to sleep, so you turn on the light, and try to read, but you’re so exhausted your eyes cross and you’re not retaining any information. So you turn off the light and curl up: but you can’t stop your mind from racing. So you turn on the light and try to read …

I took up yoga to deal with this. And meditation. I cut out caffeine after 1pm. I make before bed to-do lists to rid my mind of its calendaring demons. I restrict my academic writing and research to daylight hours so I don’t get too excited before bed. I dim the lights, I drink herbal tea, I take prescribed sleeping meds and off-label pharmaceuticals on an as-needed basis. Sometimes I self-medicate with Forty Creek Copper Barrel Reserve, 1 oz. Or a dry martini, right before bed.

But sleep often eludes me, still.

Insomnia is an invisible disability. I find it impossible to do creative or scholarly work when I’m sleep-deprived. I can grade (slowly, inefficiently) and I can go to meetings (groggily) and write emails (proofreading twice). Then I feel terrible about not working, which leads to more insomnia, and even more not working.

Insomnia is incredibly humbling. Neither brute force, nor will power, nor good intentions, nor even some pretty good drugs can make sleep happen–the links between mind and body are powerful and intense and won’t be denied. This is a good lesson to remember.

I suspect many of you suffer from insomnia as well. What do you do to manage? Right now I’m trying to be kind to my insomnia, to ask it what it is trying to tell me, what part of my life is not fitting well right now, and how I might be kinder to myself to resolve it. I’m trying to eat better and not drink too much, to get enough exercise, and ask my family to let me nap when I need it.

But it’s important to note that one of the reasons I have insomnia is because of this job, this life of the mind: sometimes my ideas scare me so much that I can’t let them go, for fear of losing them. Sometimes, the deadlines pile up and I worry I won’t meet them. Sometimes before talks I worry for weeks not about not being ready but about not being good enough. Since I’ve taken up my administrative role in my department I worry about the drip drip drip of forms to sign, things to check up on, meetings to remember to attend, deliverables I’ve forgotten I’ve promised, hard cases, tough decisions, all the emails. The work is not bounded by location or time; it is never done, and it could always be done better, or more or faster. My insomniac periods peaked when I was on the job market, the year I came up for tenure, and the year I began my administrative job. The academy always wants more, and we A+ students will always try to give more, even if we don’t have it, and feel like we’re failing.

And so it goes. Until I figure it out again, for now, how to fall asleep and stay asleep, if I pass you in the halls or on the internet and don’t say hi, it’s because I’m concentrating so hard on staying upright I probably just can’t see you.

Sweet dreams.

Uncategorized

Mid-winter, mid-semester

Today is one of those days. You know them, I’m sure. One of those days in which all the things that used to work clamour in your head to be tried out, “me! me! me!”, insisting on their past efficacy. One of those days in which you read your friends’ brilliant posts on standing strong, and rejoicing in winter attire, and the wafts of healthy comfort food, and think to yourself: that! But that requires action, and somehow the will has dissipated, failing to be revived even by the shining sun. One of those days in which theory, lists, possibilities, all remain abstract, even idealistic. Because life. Because mid-winter. Because mid-semester.

And you also know that these days have to be, needling at you, nagging ceaselessly to parade your failure to walk the talk. But you only feel frozen, incapable to act on the what you know with your brain, and your heart, and your muscles. Days like today require no advice, no lists, no self-improvement attempts. They want acknowledgement, acquiescence. These days have to be, because they’re part of being, of winter, of life. They need not be banished, but experienced. You breathe through them, you let them wash over you. You be.

#alt-ac · #post-ac · academic work · balance

Do What You Love, Part Deux

Y’all know that I’m totally not into the “do what you love” thing. Not when it means that people, as Erin so eloquently articulated on Monday (and in Rabble!), do what they love at the expense of their present and future wellbeing. At least in part, DWYL is what keeps people trapped in jobs they love in systems that exploit and wear them down. It breaks my heart to see people I love trapped in this cycle, knowing that the solution is either to give up the job that they’re so very very good at, or find a way to fix a system that is very very broken. It’s February, and I have the SADs, and Erin says it better than I ever can, so I’m going leave that all alone and talk about the other kind of “do what you love.” And that’s doing things that you love, hang the academy (and our workaholic culture generally) that says we should only think and work and do.

Screw that, frankly.

Y’know what I’m doing right now? I’m sitting on the couch with my love under an HBC blanket watching Chef. We ate dinner together at the dining room table, no work allowed. I had wine, on a Wednesday. On my way to and from work today (and at lunch for awhile too) I read M.F.K. Fisher’s With Bold Knife and Fork, book thirteen on the food writing comprehensive list I’ve set for myself this year. I should have done a PhD in food writing, but I’m making up for it now. On Friday night, I had belated bachelorette party that reminded me how much fun it is to just dance. On Sunday, I spent most of the day in the kitchen, alternating between the stove and some articles I was editing. I made Marcella Hazan’s tomato-butter sauce (the best recipe ever, no exaggeration), poached pears with cardamom and orange, a giant pear bundt cake for my co-workers, beluga lentils with garlic and bay, an orange root vegetable soup spiked with vermouth and zata’ar, coffee ice cream, and Food52’s genius oven fries (which really are genius). We’re eating really well this week–pears with greek yogurt and muesli for breakfast, soup with lentils for lunch, and veggie meatball sandwiches with tomato sauce and provolone for dinner–without having to think about it, because I did all that thinking on Sunday. I get up early and start work an hour late so that I can write before I head to the office, but I also spend 20 of those minutes meditating and 10 minutes drinking coffee and hanging out with Moose for his daily “chair time.”

Moose + his people + the living room carpet he thinks we bought just for him = happy cat. 
It’s telling, though, that I still feel the need to write what comes next, to justify doing the things that light me up: I write, every single day. I work hard at the office, and we get a lot done. My side research and publishing projects are all well in hand. I’m presenting at a conference every weekend but one in May. I love that stuff. But it’s important to note that I love it in ways that I didn’t, or couldn’t, when I was labouring under the delusion that to do anything other than meet the demands of the academy was a waste of time. I wanted an #altac job at least in part because I wanted more of this–more of the revelling in a fridge full of things I’d made myself, more of delicious prose about meals eaten sixty years ago, more time with my guys, more control over my life. Almost without realizing, I got it. 
I treasure the people, the very many of my friends, who are so committed to their teaching, to their students, that they’re willing to do whatever it takes–teaching at three schools, going without an office or medical benefits, being on EI over the summer, living apart from their partners–to do what they love. But I also marvel at the power of the academy, the draw of that culture and its privileging of a single kind of love and worth, that makes me feel like the outlier in making the choices I have about work and life. I don’t know where that gets us, but it’s something I think about a lot. 
What about you, dear readers? How do you make room for doing what you love? What choices, easy or hard, have you made to get to keep doing what you love, at work or out? 
animals · chaos · empowerment · enter the confessional

Facing the wind

It’s mid-semester and the accumulated unfinished business of weeks 1 through 6 have piled up as the same time that the end-crush of anticipated grading for semester’s end looms. As graduate officer, right now is possibly the worst time of year, work-wise: I’ve got more than a hundred applications to review, as well as four or five separate funding competitions to adjudicate with the committee. I just went away to Michigan to give a talk and attend an incredibly exiting one day seminar squarely lined up with exactly what I’m working on. Then I took my daughter to Florida (for three days) to see my parents. I have another talk, in Pennsylvania, in less than three weeks. There’s a dissertation on my desk from a committee I’m on, and two of my students have proposals in front of me.

The weather is cold, and dark, and damp and, along with all the piles of work, cues “hibernation.”

This is the time of year I tend to panic, freak out, and go into denial. But I’m going to try something different this year. Check out this Royal Tern, which I snapped in Everglades National Park last week:

I have an awesome hairdo.

The guide on the tour told us that Royal Terns always face into the wind. And as we looked around we could see them all on posts, pointing their beaks right into the headwind.

Look, this storm I’m in now is just kind of situation normal in this job. Panicking, hiding, and hibernating are not going to solve my piles-of-work problem. I’m going to try pointing my beak into the wind and just braving it.
For me, that looks like writing down a to-do item every time I have a panicked thought, or a deadline I forgot bubbles up to the surface. I carry my notebook with me EVERYWHERE and jotting stuff down as I think of it both concretizes and organizes the work I have to do. Everywhere:
To-do list and Margarita scale distorted for comic effect

I’m making lists of things I need to grade. Lists of assessment criteria for admissions. Lists of committee meeting dates and times. Lists of travel arrangements that need making. Facing into the headwind of a rapidly advancing semester.

How do you keep from collapsing at mid-semester? Is some kind of hibernation strategy useful to you? (I put my pyjamas on the minute I get home from work: that helps.) Or do you face the wind straight on?

balance · clothes · empowerment · saving my sanity

My Uniform

My wardrobe has shifted significantly over the last few years to align with changes in my work and personal life. 
The birth of my daughter, reduced flexibility in the time I spend at home and at work, increasing time in the classroom, and of course the never-ending to-do lists of conferencing, dissertation-writing, and researching–all these increasing responsibilities have meant I have much less time and flexibility in my mornings, less energy to spend purchasing new clothes, and more in need of flexible and streamlined routines. 
With less time to make decisions about what items to pair, and even less to purchase new wardrobe items, I’ve found myself wearing tried and true combinations of clothing, my own set way of dressing that is a safe go-to every day. Instead of gravitating towards new, unfamiliar or untested items, I found myself wearing and purchasing the same-old, same-old: my uniform.
By necessity, I’ve drastically simplified what I wear. 
By chance, I’ve found that I love it.
There’s something remarkably freeing about wearing and purchasing the same type of clothing. Instead of the time-suck of trial-and-error combinations, there’s the ease of the comfortable and familiar. Rather than money wasted on items bought and never worn, there are multiple similar items that I know I’ll love.
In teaching months, I often wear a black dress or black skirt, usually paired with a beige or black cardigan or blue collared shirt, with black tights (usually fleece-lined for our cold Edmonton winters) and cognac-brown or black boots. Sometimes I swap out the basic black dress for black and white stripes, or dark blue, or the skirt for black pants. A long gold necklace is my main accessory. If it’s warmer, I’ll exchange the boots for beige flats; if it’s colder, I’ll wear fur-lined sorels and a scarf. It’s the most comfortable, neutral, and flattering outfit I’ve personally come up with, and it works in a variety of situations. In the classroom, I look like an instructor. At a conference, I’m a presenter or attendee. At the coffee shop, I look like I’m a person who drinks coffee.
With wearing what I know has worked, I’ve also found I project more authority. Perhaps it’s the confidence of simply knowing that I’m wearing something that works well; perhaps it’s the fact that the items I dress in tend to be neutral basics, which evoke simple sophistication.
Primarily, though, duplicating my favourite closet staples and wearing a uniform has meant eliminating stress and anxiety. With less time spent on getting ready in the morning, I find I have more time and mind space to focus on other, more important things: my work; my family.
Have you streamlined any elements of your daily routines? In what ways has it made your life more simple and easy to manage?
academic reorganization · adjuncts · after the LTA · DIY · solidarity

Dear Contract Academic Faculty,

I see you.

No no, don’t worry, I’m precariously employed too, so my seeing you won’t change your employment.   I can’t do anything for you, though I would if I could. You don’t need to look like you’re working any harder than you already are just because I am looking in your direction. But know this: I see you. And you matter.

I see you, prepping for your classes every night until midnight (or later). I know you’re teaching more than regular faculty, because that’s how contracts work at your institution. I know you have six or more classes per year and that not a one of them is a repeat. And I know you’re working to make the lectures good, the material innovative and inspiring, and the discussions life-altering even though you’re struggling to get the reading done and the assignments graded.

I see you, teaching a class at this campus, and getting in your car or on public transit or in a carpool to make it across town/ across the city/ into the valley/ into another city/ to the next campus in time to teach the next group of students. And I see you try and smile when you do it.

I see you, trying to jam research into the corners of your life that aren’t filled with prep for class.

I see you, not producing research, because there’s no time, or no money, or the very real understanding that maybe, just maybe, there’s no point.

I see you, taking on the book reviews, the peer reviews, the jury duties. And yes, I get it. I do it too, because it feels good to be asked. Because it feels good to participate in the profession. Because it can go on the CV. Because it means someone else sees you too. And yes, I know that you likely kick yourself for saying yes at least some of the time, because isn’t that feeding the imbalanced system? But I see you, because you care about the material. Because community. Because CV.

I see you, carrying your students’s assignments in your bag because you have no office/ share an office/ would rather meet in the library than try to schedule time at your shared desk.

I see your students call you “Miss” or by your first name even though you’ve asked to be called by your professional title.

I see those teaching evaluations–the quiet devastation they can bring–either by being better than the department average, or worse.

I see you, writing reference letters for students applying to for study abroad programs, to be residence dons, to get into graduate programs, for colleagues going up for tenure and promotion, and I know: it might be hard to figure out where to print the letters, because I know you don’t have access to photocopiers, scanners, printers, or, heck, hard copy letter head. Not all the time. Likely not after hours when you can do this work.

I see you, meeting with students on your own time or in office hours to talk about their plans for graduate school. I see you waffle, because you still care, because you believe in the work you do even though you’re being shut out, made provisional, living precariously. I see you do it anyway, and do it well.

I see you say no. I know what it costs you, that small action of agency, that protection of your time. I know that “no” is meant to be a proactive word for you, and I know the second-third-and-fourth guessing that accompanies every decision to use it.

I see you, applying for your own position. And I see you not get it, sometimes.

I see you, applying for postdoctoral fellowships, for grants, and asking for adjunct status if that grant is successful. I see you working extra, because the grant means you can do the work you love, and because the grant would mean that maybe, just maybe, you’ve got some leverage (but not a living wage). I see you wobble, because a successful grant may not end up meaning shit.

I see you, competing against your peers, your friends, your acquaintances for the one or two jobs in your area. I see you, writing those letters of application cringing at the lack of research, or, conversely, wondering if this time your well-rounded application will make it to the top. Or, if it matters, because maybe there is another contract academic faculty member who is the inside candidate, and it doesn’t matter. I see your frustration, and I want to say: it’s ok. We all want to be the inside candidate, even though we know that doesn’t always work out either.

I see the unfairness in the labyrinthine system in which we labour–or try to labour.

I see that you’re tired. I see that you’re trying. I see you, working so hard to be able to work.

You have more agency than you think, though its hard to think when you’re so busy or heartsick.

I see that these thoughts break your heart, and I see you wonder if it shows, if other people notice that you do still carry that little spark of hope that things will change.

Things will change, though they may not look they way you thought they would. We need to leave. And we need to stay, but under different working conditions. We need to organize ourselves, despite the extra work that requires. We can do it. We’re resourceful. We care. We can draw on the will and support of tenured colleagues and on organizations such as ACCUTE and CAUT and we can do something, though it won’t happen quickly. And, we can choose not to, we can choose to leave. And that is not a failure either.

But for now, dear CAF, know this: I see you. I care about you. I can’t fix anything for you by myself, but know that you’re not alone.

Love,

Erin

Ps. Thanks to Lily for the love letter inspiration.