Angela Peoples holding sign (photo by Kevin Banatte)
Angela Peoples holding sign (photo by Kevin Banatte)
Time- and panic management are, for me, inextricably linked. If by “linked,” you mean “hopelessly knotted around my soul and the more I struggle the tighter I’m bound.” I think a lot about time, and my workload, and how many hours a week I’m willing to work (if by willing you mean “what my body and mental health will withstand before breaking down”), and about what you can get done in 30 minutes, and what it means to take time off. One of our most popular posts is guest blogger Julie Rak’s piece on crafting a five year plan.
I have another trick I developed in grad school, that I completely forgot about until someone came to me with a version of the same problem I’m currently suffering from, and for which I developed it.
Let’s say you have a five year plan. You know the big goals you want to hit, and you’ve mapped out what needs to happen along the way to move you toward that goal. You have the big picture, and a sense of direction. Great. Let’s say as well that you know that if you wait to work in 8 hour or week-long uninterrupted bursts, you’ll be waiting a looooooooong time before you ever even start anything: that is, you know the value of 30 minutes.
But what happens to me, lately, and periodically, is that I have so much on my to-do list, that when I sit down for that 30 minute blast of whatever, I … freak out and somehow wind up on Facebook for 40 minutes and then wind up not only not doing what I planned but also rushing to the next class or meeting without having eaten or gone to the bathroom or fixed my lipstick.
It goes like this. Me and my list sit down to do a task, maybe for what I know is a short chunk of time (30 minutes between meetings) or what is a more amorphous block (nothing scheduled, working from home in my track pants all day). I open up whatever I’m working on–assessing grad admissions files, say–and start.
Then: I take myself out of the moment and start to extrapolate. I’ll be reading a file, and start to ruminate so: “Ugh, my eyes hurt, and it’s been 5 minutes and I am still not sure if all the reference letters are here, and I should have looked at this yesterday or last week and there are 10 more to do today, but if I do it at this speed it will take three hours and I don’t have three hours because I have to do that grading and I’ll be tired of assessing things by then but maybe I should be writing now while my brain is fresh but I can’t write now because I’m worried about how many of these files I should read so I should just read them so I can stop worrying but OH! I’M TEACHING A YOGA CLASS TONIGHT so I should prep that, and god I’m a terrible person because now it’s been another five minutes and I’m no farther ahead on this and I think I’ll clear the mental decks by making a status update about almost forgetting yoga because that would be a funny way to reference mindfulness. Ooooh, a link about Twitter and the National Park Service? This is research …”
It’s exhausting (and unproductive) inside my head, some days.
Basically, the problem is that even when I sit down to work, I don’t work, because I’m panicking about work, about how I’ll never get finished, or some other larger looming disaster. I get spooked.
The solution is this: the two-hour blinders. Horse blinders, recall, are those weird little side-eye shades that horses wear in urban areas, that restrict their peripheral vision. The idea is that horses are less likely to get spooked by all the things that go on around them if they mostly can just see the road ahead of them, which is the most salient thing to the task at hand, which is moving down the road ahead of them. For an academic, blinders work differently: they restrict not the peripheral vision (SIDE EYE FOREVER) but the temporal horizon.
To wit: when I use the two-hour blinders technique, the world constricts down to the next two hours. The past ceases to exist, and the future ceases to exist. I make a deal with myself where I promise myself I can panic and freak out and make 40 year plans, or ruminate on what I didn’t get done yesterday but I have to do it later and not in the next two hours. Then I made a plan for those two hours, and I just buckle down and do it. If I’m reading that grad file and my mind starts to wander (“If all the files are this good I might admit too many people and then our cohort will be too big and then I’m going to need to schedule more classes but the curriculum is already set and what am I going to do?”) I remind myself that I’ve scheduled a time for panicking later. And then I made myself come back to the present.
It’s a kind of mindfulness practice, really.
I learned in grad school that fixing the past and knowing the future are alike impossible. That extrapolating from what’s happening right now (reading Judith Butler verrrrrrrry slowly) to what will happen in the future (I will not only never finish this book, I’ll never finish another book ever) is a fool’s game. And if we play it too often, we don’t do anything else. It becomes all consuming. Every time we sit down to work, we spend that time worrying about work, instead. That’s untenable. The two hour plan works by acknowledging that panic is likely to happen, but that it cannot be indulged right now. Especially when you start with this plan, you should really actually schedule the panicking time so that you are more willing and able to let it go when you are trying to do something else. Panic time, for me, looks like this: I schedule half an hour of the day to sit down with some paper and write down everything I’m worried about. Even just doing that is remarkably soothing: I can see that some of my fears are existential and unfixable and I can stop trying to solve them. I can see that some of my fears are really very minor and I can solve them in two minutes. The other stuff I can then spend a few minutes trying to figure out a plan of attack to address. Then I stop panicking.
My happiest and most productive days are the ones where I have a clear sense of purpose, a more or less complete schedule of how I’m going to allot my time, and where I get into a flow. The flow comes from the two-hour blinders because I release my worrying and just work.
Experience has shown that sticking to this plan means I can get a remarkable amount of work done. And the things I would have been spending all my work time worrying about just never come to pass. It might take you a few weeks to start to feel this result in your own work, but once you do, the blinders become easier and easier to put on. Try it! Let me know how it goes!
Can you believe it’s already the middle of January? As we race full speed ahead to the end of another academic year, lots of soon-to-be finished graduate students are thinking about what comes next. My latest article for Chronicle Vitae shares some strategies for identifying the skills you develop during graduate school and translating them into the language of job postings, which can help you identify the kinds of jobs you can and might want to do:
Employers might not be looking for experts on 19th-Century French literature or CRISPR-Cas9. But they are looking for people who can speak and write effectively, process and communicate high volumes of complex information, create project plans and see them through, work with (and for) a wide variety of people, identify gaps (in knowledge, processes, understanding) and propose how to fix them. Ph.D.s learn how to do all of those things, and much more.
Check out the full article over at Chronicle Vitae!
What does reading do? Or rather, what good does reading do?
As a scholar of literature I find my self thinking about this big (too big?) question a lot. I think about it on bad days when I wonder what on earth I have devoted my life to, this fighting windmills business trying to find work teaching literature. I think about it on my good days when the answers are so fundamental to moving through life with an ethic of care and what Rey Chow calls responsible engagement that I can hardly believe my good fortune. Teaching books! Reading books! And I think about this on the average day, when I drive the 200km to work and back listening to audio books, or writing lectures trying to think through how to convince a room full of students that yes, it is meaningful and relevant to think about Kate Chopin‘s The Awakening or James Baldwin‘s Giovanni’s Room or Lucas Crawford‘s Sideshow Carnival today, now, in their very own lives.
This week I will be thinking about reading even more as I steel myself for the inauguration of the next President of the United States. I will think about reading and how it is a revolutionary act to think and listen to the perspectives of people whose lives and experiences and oddities differ from my own. I will think about reading as resistance, as solidarity, and as an act of joyful insurrection and radical self-care.
On Friday January 20th I will also think about what it means to read with and in community as I take my place with sixty other humans to participate in a collaborative reading of Operations by Moez Surani. Operations–or more properly, ةيلمع Operación Opération Operation 行 动 Oперация–is a book-length poetic inventory of contemporary rhetoric of violence and aggression, as depicted through the evolution of the language used to name the many military operations conducted by UN Member Nations since the organization’s inception in 1945. Moez has invited sixty-one people around the world to each read a year from the book. Some people will be gathered in Toronto at Rick’s Cafe for the reading. The rest of us will read from wherever we are and tweet documentation of our reading. For me, this invitation is an act of hospitality, care, and solidarity: I will be able to participate in an action of protest and witness by reading. Through reading. Through the attentiveness that reading requires. And, while I know that reading will not be enough to resist the current and coming civic aggressions, I am glad to move through this week with reading as a mode of resistance and revolution in my heart.
In honour of Moez’s invitation and with a nod to the recent circulation of top-ten lists of the albums that most influenced high-school you, I close with another list. This one answers Paul Vermeersch‘s invitation to document the ten books that influenced high-school you. I offer these as document to my sixteen year old self, who was just learning about resistance, revolution, and being a feminist killjoy. I invite you to add your own list. And I send you warmth as we move forward in solidarity, and with attentiveness.
In no particular order:
1. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
2. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
3. Beloved by Toni Morrison
4. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
6. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
7. Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
8. The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
9. The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
10. Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Dandicat
I finished the 2016 work year on December 23, and on my way home I deleted the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Feedly, news, and email apps from my phone. I also put the browser icon somewhere really inconvenient and set up a Freedom App block that would last until the night before I returned from work on January 9. I started my holiday vowing to go completely social media and news free. I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference to my everyday life, but after weeks of feeling like I was drowning in stories of horrors and problems I couldn’t solve (or even make a dent in), a break sounded good. I knew that I was going to be spending a lot of time with family and friends, so it seemed like a good plan to take one when I knew that I was going to be pulled offline a lot anyway.
It turned out that my internet hiatus made way more of a difference to my life than I thought it would (you’re not surprised). I missed people a ton–Facebook is wonderful for that. And I missed the learning that happens on Twitter, the way it exposes me to ideas and viewpoints and lived experiences I can’t really get anywhere else. I didn’t do the work of sharing resources with PhDs looking to explore non-faculty careers that I usually do on Twitter, and that made me a bit sad. I didn’t read terrible things about Donald Trump, which did not make me sad at all.
My phone became mostly a book ingestion device, and I’d find my thumb flicking to the missing social media icons whenever I got uncomfortable or bored or sad. (It happened way more than I was okay with, and it weirded me out that this had become such a habit without my noticing). Without the internet to distract me, I read A LOT. I also did a shit ton of stuff that I wanted to do with my vacation, and I don’t think that I’d have been able to do all of that with the internet in my life. I was also less anxious, less angry, and less distracted.
Coming back from my internet hiatus, I’m trying to be more considered about how much I use it, and how I use it. I’ve reactivated an old Buffer account, and I’m spending a bit of time creating a queue of useful tweets so that Twitter is doing my resource sharing without me having to be on it. I’ve set up Freedom so that I have a short window every day to be on Facebook and Instagram. I already did a big RSS feed cull last year, but I’ve done another so that only the things I really want to read show up in my Feedly. And I’ve kept the news widgets deactivated on my phone, because I don’t need a 24/7 view of the terrible things happening in the world, a connectedness that I’m just figuring out keeps me from being active and activist in the ways I want to.
I’ve also created something like Sarah von Bargen’s gallery of goals. It hangs on the wall next to my desk, and reminds me of the things I really want to do with my time. Some are practical but dull (get my driver’s license), some are aspirational (swim three days a week), some are a stretch (finish a full draft of my novel this year). But I’m hoping that by having them there, I’ll be reminded regularly about what I’m giving up when I lose a couple of hours to mindless scrolling or, worse, to the brain fog and paralyzing anger I felt for much of the fall when I was trying to keep myself as informed as possible about what was happening in the world.
I’m still trying to figure out what a useful, considered, and balanced approach to social media and news looks like for me, so if you have any strategies, ideas, or tools that you’ve found helpful, I’d love to hear them.
I like to think of myself as a pretty dependable correspondent. Email, text, social media: I’m on it. And if I’m not responding then I am there, listening. I know the conversations, the key talking points, the hot takes and the thorough think-pieces. I can point you to a dozen “important” conversations in my field (which is, cough cough, Canadian literature…) At the very least, regardless of the length of my to-do list, I get the emails sent on time. I tweet back. I message. I respond. I engage. I try and listen. But today when I signed in to schedule my post and found two dozen emails, a few direct messages on Twitter, eighteen notifications on Facebook, and read Aimée’s piece on Lindy West’s departure from Twitter for the first time (she published it four days ago) I finally had to admit what other people have known for a while: I’m dropping some balls.
Or rather, I am tired. Existentially. Politically. Poetically, even, if you count the gorgeous one-liners I think up in the liminal space between waking and sleeping. What has tired me out, I think, is not social media per se, but rather what my friend Sue Goyette identified the other day as the slippage between impact and intent. Let me break it down: I love Facebook for the news. It keeps me in contact with people I would otherwise have long lost touch with. Sure, we don’t write to one another daily, but seeing photos and thoughts and comments from far-flung friends and acquaintances has broadened my access to other people’s lives and perspectives. It isn’t a stretch to say I feel enriched by the connections of many people I know and “know” on Facebook. I like Twitter too. I like the speed of conversation, the way that information and ideas and writing and news travels. It feeds the impatient part of me (a big part of me…)
But for about two years now social media has felt at least equal parts draining and sustaining. I have been trying to mark a moment when that shift started happening, and I think there are, for me, two. The first was when Chief Theresa Spence was on her hunger strike in Ottawa, and the second was was when Emma Healey published her brave, necessary, and gutting “Stories Like Passwords” on The Hairpin. There have been many many more moments since these two, but for me those events mark moments in my digital life when it was made clear to me that hate–in the form of racism and misogyny and rape culture–was so clearly fed and fanned by the conditions of social media.
I’m fortunate: I’ve not been cyber-bullied. I’ve only had a handful of rape threats on Twitter. I am not a lightening rod for charged conversation. I have friends, mentors, and acquaintances who are, and while I am so grateful to them and in awe of their energy, I worry for them. I can see the toll it takes, being constantly accessible. Feeling, I suspect, constantly responsible.
And so, as we head into this new year with its uncertainties and ruptures I find myself wanting not resolutions but reorientations. I aim to reorient my relationship with speedy responses. Yes, I’ll respond to students and colleagues on time. But perhaps I won’t keep Facebook on my phone. Maybe I will schedule time for social media and when that time is up it is up. Maybe I won’t do any of this and bring it to my students as a case study for letting ourselves fail and learning from our failures. Who knows. What I do know is this: I’m working to be more generous in my engagements with others–online, in the classroom, in my home, and with myself. And sometimes being generous means taking a moment and a step back.
So here’s to a new term, dear readers. Here’s to another Monday, another opportunity to take a tiny moment for ourselves to reorient how we’re moving through the worlds and with and alongside others. And here’s to writing and reading feminist work. We need it, we’re going to need it.
Lindy West left Twitter yesterday. I noticed that around the time I was holding her book Shrill in my hands, so I could transcribe the title of an essay into the syllabus of one of my courses: “You’re So Brave for Wearing Clothes and Not Hating Yourself.” The essay is about the notion of ‘confidence’ and what it means, culturally and personally, to be a confident fat woman. It begins with body acceptance, and according to West, the chapter could be only sixteen words long and it would say this and be complete: “Look at pictures of fat women on the Internet until they don’t make you uncomfortable anymore.”
West reminds us that representation matters. She narrates the process of seeing, over and over, and then actively seeking out and voraciously consuming, photos of fat women, starting with Leonard Nimoy’s Full Body Project, and moving through blogs and hashtags. Seeing her own body type represented, over and over, and celebrated and loved and just simply being, cracked something open.
When West married, she produced this. This is the internet I want to live in.
However, the internet I actually have is a little different. It’s an internet where even after 10 years, Twitter’s best anti-harassment tool is to make is so those who are being abused can “mute” their harassers, whose hate everyone can still see. It’s an internet that Sherman Alexie also just left on New Years, tweeting “Hey folks, I’m leaving Twitter because its negatives increasingly outweigh its positives. Thank you for the follows.” Ta-Nehisi Coates is gone, too, though maybe temporarily. It’s a platform for fake news and gas lighting and hate speech and doxxing and dog-piling. It’s weaponized virality with the aim of silencing oppressed and minoritized populations. It’s developing its own vocabulary, even.
Maybe the internet was started by computer nerds–government funded misfits and model train builders and hippies and prodigies. Somewhere along the line–in Usenet groups, through Reddit and 4chan, and leaping onto the WWW and sites like Facebook and Twitter–the internet itself became a tool of oppression. And I think this was in direct proportion to its utility and effectiveness as a tool of liberation. The internet gave us #GirlsLikeUs, #BlackLivesMatter, #MMIW, #ILookLikeAProfessor and more, a platform that no one gave to us, but that we took. That internet is under attack, and we risk losing it.
To say we live in a moment of powerful backlash against acknowledging and celebrating the always-there-but-often-suppressed diversity and plurality of our shared world would be an understatement.
West deserves a break. Alexie, too. Leslie Jones deserved a break. Hashtag activists deserve a break. It’s time for those of us who have remained behind the front lines, benefiting from their cover, to step forward. We are going to have to fight for the internet we want, because it’s not a given. I’m collecting strategies and resources, and trying to do my part. You might start here, with Femtech Net’s Centre for Solutions to Online Violence. Or, if you you want to get down and dirty, consider something like Sleeping Giants. And, crucially, stay online. Stay on Twitter as a progressive. Stay on Facebook and keep reporting those fake news sites. Keep blogging, keep linking, keep sharing.
Representation matters. Women, people of colour, disabled people, immigrants, LGBTQ communities, rural people, the underemployed, we’ve enjoyed a really good run with online publishing tools, producing vast troves of amazing content, and cobbling together amazing communities. This is all at risk. Fight. And maybe someday Lindy West will come back.