As I got closer and closer to our baby’s due date this spring friends and colleagues offered gentle advice: take a break, they suggested. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Decide to take a break from the blogging, from CWILA. Don’t expect yourself to write or do much of anything else. Just be. Just learn how to be a family. And so, we did. My partner and I spent the summer months hanging out with baby E. Some days were hard, some days were not. Those first weeks were surreal—the longest days and the shortest weeks. And I spent a lot of time sitting learning how to feed our girl. I read a lot of novels. I watched Netflix. I stared into space.
I did not spend any time thinking critically.
Perhaps that’s not a surprise to you, but it was to me. I didn’t expect the kind of hormonal hum that genuinely affected how my brain worked. And you know what? For the most part, that wasn’t a big deal. I missed the critical thinking, but not that much. Not at first. But eventually, as we started to find our familial rhythm, as my body healed and our girl became more aware, more infant than newborn, as the fall crept closer I began to wonder what would move me back into active and deliberate critical thought. Anything? Nothing?
As it turned out a last-minute emergency sessional hire moved me back into that space more quickly than we’d expected. And now, after the first week of classes, after our household finished our collective first week of teaching + juggling bébé care, I am in an airplane on the way back from two and a half days of thinking critically at a conference.
We’d planned for this, my partner and I. When I submitted my paper proposal I was pregnant. We knew that if I was accepted we’d have to reassess what travelling would mean for us both as a new family with an infant and as precariously employed workers. But ultimately we decided it was worth the added challenges. After all, this would be the new normal.
And so, on Thursday I hopped on a plane and flew west. I said goodbye to my partner and our baby, and I got on the plane. I packed my breast pump, theory books, and laptop in my carry on.
I arrived in Winnipeg at one in the morning, fell into a cab, got to where I was staying, and slept fitfully. A few hours later I got myself to the conference at nine am ready to hear Lauren Berlant give her keynote address.
Oh yeah, did I mention that this was a conference on affect?
As I sat in the audience listening to Berlant theorize a poetics of dissociativeness I felt it in my body. Dissociativeness, she posited, is something we do every day. According to Berlant teaching is an experience of dissociative behaviour: we lecture while thinking about our next move and watching the student who is texting and the student who looks like she may be about to speak in the same moment that we feel our hearts race and wonder if our deodorant is holding up.
In that moment I really got it. I mean I understood what she was saying in a visceral way. I realized, as I sat in the washroom expressing milk so that I could continue to feed my girl when I got home, that my ‘break’ from critical thinking was actually a shift that has brought me to new relationship with critical thinking. What it means, now, for me to move through critical thinking in my gendered post-partum body is a genuinely different set of negotiations and affects than it was before. Never mind that my time has become even more confetti-like than ever. No, what I mean is that as a person whose work is on affect and poetics—structures and feelings and structures of feelings—my gendered body is even more unavoidable. It is, I daresay, necessary.
Sara Ahmed has written of feminist attachments that vulnerability and fragility are places from which feminist work happens:
In so many research projects: you end up enacting what you are accounting for. A fragile thread woven our of fragility. Easily broken.
Fragility: the quality of being easily breakable.
As I sat in the washroom trying to quietly pump and dump milk between panels and think about the papers I had just heard I began to realize that the division I try to keep between my “personal” and “professional”–a false dichotomy if ever the was one–that these new experiences of fragility offer crucial moments where critical thinking is happening.
Fragility is a place where crucial feminist work happens.
My body knew that before I left myself realize it. So here’s to thinking from whatever place of vulnerability and fragility we find ourselves in. And here’s to legitimizing our own site from which that thinking happens.