best laid plans · Uncategorized · work · writing

Book Projects Are Hard…and fun

I’m working on a new project and it is both exciting and terrifying!

While I have complete other writing projects before, including one creative non-fiction monograph, when I finish writing anything I tend to feel as though I will, surely, never write again. Something similar happens when I get page proofs back for articles. I read, sometimes I nod in agreement or surprise. Sometimes I am impressed with myself. Always–and I mean always–I wonder whether I wrote the thing in a fugue state. Who was that person who made this sentence? Who found that salient bit of research to support a close reading? Who was she and where has she gone?

Who was it that wrote “anyone who says they enjoy the writing process is a liar”? It isn’t that I dislike the writing process. Once I am writing I love it. It feels euphoric at best, or at the very least, it feels rhythmic, like the way I was taught to breathe while doing front crawl: stroke, stroke, stroke, breath. Repeat for an hour or so and emerge tired and accomplished. Stretch, shower, carry on with your day. I am a dilettante who is a little in love with routine and a little enamoured with a good challenge, so yes, I suppose liking writing makes sense. It is the project planning that has me in knots.

I remember preparing to writing my dissertation proposal. It was a bit of a nightmare. I had all these wonderful ideas–I practically could dream the whole project–but when I sat down to put pen to paper and plan it out? Nothing. Nada. Zilch save for the slow trickle of dread that starts at the back of my neck and creeps up into my mind and then yells you can’t do this!

It turns out that I could do it, of course. I wrote the dissertation, and sometimes had fun doing it. But gosh, I sure wish I had learned how to project plan a bit. There is, I think, a happy medium place between launching yourself into the writerly unknown and crafting a research project that needs to be a scholarly monograph when it is finished.

So, this new project I am working on is a chance to shift my writerly and research habits. I’m going to try and share with you what I learn, what I bump up against, and what is (I hope) also delightful. Here goes:

It turns out that while I have edited a few collections and written that creative non-fiction monograph I mentioned, writing a scholarly monograph feels a lot like writing a dissertation so far. I need to survey the field, figure out what I can add to it, and learn through writing and revising how to be generative in a field that has so much richness in it already.

However, unlike a dissertation, this book project has already had its first encounter with peer review. When I was approached to write the book proposal I learned that I would submit the proposal to peer review. What? Wow! Wonderful and intimidating (though intimidating only insofar as it is nerve-racking to have peers assess your work). I am so grateful for the anonymous commentary I received on the proposal. Three different people took the time to read it, comment on it, and make generous and useful suggestions. When I get stuck and worry about whether I should be writing this, I return to the peer review commentary and remind myself that no book is ever the last word. What I am aiming for, always, is contributing to on going discussion. The peer reviewers remind me of that, too.

I quite like what Donald Barthelme has to say: “the writer is that person who, embarking upon her task, does not know what to do.” Whereas in the past I would have read this and taken it as permission to flail around in a bit of a froth until I churned out several thousand words, I find myself approaching Barthelme’s observation a bit differently. Instead, I am working towards an end-goal inside a project plan with the knowledge that the project will shift as it needs to shift. Happily, the heart-pounding unknowing of writing is there, too.

Wish me luck! And please, feel free to share your long-project tactics and tips!

Uncategorized

Ten Years of Feminist Academic Blogging

Readers, we’re still here.

We’re still here, even though blogs are maybe a bit archaic. We’re still here even though we have only been managing about a post a month for the last year (or so…). We’re still here because every time we think eh, we should wrap this up, it has been a good run we realize we aren’t ready. Not yet.

Since we began in 2010 our writers have finished degrees, moved institutions, left academia, published books, made families, lost loved ones, made communities, shifted, changed, raged, reflected, been anxious, joyous, sad, confused, curious, and inspired.

Turns out 2020 might be here, but the academy still needs feminist thinking and intentionality. We still need feminism and intentionality. And we need you.

In our first post back in September of 2010 Heather Zwicker wrote:

Hook and Eye is both an intervention and an invitation. We write about the realities of being women working in the Canadian university system. We muse (and rave, and query, and wonder, and share, and occasionally rant) about everything from gender inequities and how tenure works to finding unfrumpy winter boots and managing life’s minutiae

A decade has passed and these concerns and curiosities remain. They have subdivided and diversified. There are new concerns, and there are endemic concerns that persist. And for this, our tenth year, we want to stay with the trouble, commit curiosity, and share and develop our knowledges.

We’ll be working in the coming year to revivify our posting schedule. We’d love to hear from those of you who who have done guest posts in the past, written regularly with us in different years, or have never written and are interested in pitching us something.

Ten years of thinking, sharing, questioning, refusing, and creating together matters. Let’s keep doing it.

 

 

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Remembering the Montreal Massacre: 30 Years After

This is a guest post written by Heidi Tiedemann Darroch. 

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For Sharon Rosenberg (1964-2010), whose thinking about how to remember is so missed

1989

The first rumours swirl at dinner in our baronial dining hall, a nod to the University of Toronto’s Oxbridgean aspirations. Stern portraits of college heads—all men, all white—gaze down. In the main college building, a famed gryphon adorns the bottom of a staircase railing, rubbed shiny by decades of student hands seeking good luck before exams. Today I rubbed it, extra hard. It is the most beautiful place I have ever lived, and I feel safer than I have ever felt. The door to my room locks. Only I have the key.      

Students have been shot, I hear in the cafeteria line. It makes no sense.        

And then, Women have been shot. 

We were eighteen, nineteen, twenty. We called ourselves girls, usually, not women, and we were so much like those who had just been murdered: ambitious, hardworking, eager to embark on adult life and professions. Montreal was  familiar, the big city two hours from home. I knew two of the women. One died. One survived her injuries.

Fourteen women died: thirteen students and a staff member.

We’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating: in a classroom, the man separated the men and women, ordered the male students and professor to leave. He shot women after telling them that they were a bunch of feminists. One tried to protest, saying they were not feminists, just women seeking an education. To him—angry, thwarted—every woman seeking an education in the Engineering faculty was his enemy, his rival for entitlements: to education, to safety, to belonging in the world.

We need to remember that he said “feminist.” That he named accomplished women he believed to be feminists in a hit list the police were reluctant to release.        

The fourteen women who died were Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edwards, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault and Annie Turcotte.

December 6, 1989 was the last day that I ever felt completely safe at school.

*

1979

At eight, my reading obsession is boarding school novels—St. Clare’s, Mallory Towers, and the Chalet School, where the intrusion of Nazis and spy plot lines jostles uneasily against midnight feasts and sending a classmate to Coventry for tattling.

In one of these books I struggle with a puzzling phrase: “safe as houses.” My mother explains it means that the girl feels as safe as if she were at home.

My mother is wrong.

To be at home is not safe. My mother has never been safe at home, and she cannot keep us safe. She grew up with alcoholism, violence, sexual abuse, a sister stabbed with a kitchen knife by their own mother and then pushed down a flight of stairs. She left home at sixteen, married at nineteen, ended up in hospital from that marriage. She tells me her mother-in-law visited, and gave her money to get out.

*

2019

I seize up, writing this reflection, for a week. This is not a story I am supposed to tell. This is not a story I am allowed to tell. It is, and it is not, my story to tell. Here is what you need to know: As a child, I felt safer at school. 

And I learn, belatedly, that “safe as houses” means something entirely different—a Victoria phrase, referring to purchasing houses as a safe financial investment. It was never about homes.

As a child,I am safer at school. I arrive early to help the teacher, stay late to clean chalkboards and then bang the erasers together, releasing clouds of glorious white dust. My teachers notice, protect me. My fifth grade teacher calls us all “petit trésor,” little treasure. 

*

 1990 

It is January and time to return to classes. We have already stopped talking about the women who died.

My first new class is in a windowless auditorium. It’s a women’s studies course, but the exits are all the way at the back of the hall. It would be so easy for someone to come in the back, block us from fleeing, kill dozens of us at once.

I drop the course.

I choose new ones but stop attending. I drift through a winter, falling in love three times, not thinking about the women who died, too scared to go to class and too scared to tell anyone that my scholarship is in jeopardy. I get engaged and am on track to be married at nineteen, just like my mother. I end up in hospital, like—but not at all like—my mother. The assailant I am afraid of is myself. I don’t want to live in this world where going to school is not safe. Home is not safe. Walking down the street, going to a party, waiting in line at a movie, working after dark alone in a store–any next moment could be the one where a man decides I am a rival or enemy. He might be a stranger. He’s more likely to be a lover, a spouse, a father. 

*

Sara N. Ahmed writes about fear’s stickiness, such that “objects of fear become substituted for each other over time” (“The Politics of Fear in the Making of Worlds” 389). These relationships of substitution are confusing, confused. Who is a friend, and who is a threat? I work the most frantically at placating the people I fear. Reading Ahmed’s “Resignation Is a Feminist Issue” shakes me. I leave a job where I am unsafe and then, isolated, email her, because collective disbelief and denial is hard to survive. Over the next year and half, I work through official complaints and processes, lawyers and allegations that I was too competent for my own good. Ahmed includes my experience in her work, quotes my words in a public context. I feel safer, because this is solidarity, because she believes me, which helps me believe myself.

*

1999

I have learned to theorize my way through trauma. It works, most of the time. I write a paper for a conference and sit, calmly, reading it out loud because it is less scary than making eye contact with the handful of strangers in the room. I write about trauma, historical fiction, and false memory allegations. I do this for years, because the longer I stay in school the more therapy I can access for free. This is one way to end up with a PhD. 

And then I am too embarrassed to include the counselor who enabled my work in my acknowledgements, U of T’s first sexual assault counselor and educator. Thank you, Patti McGillicuddy.

*

2019

For twenty years I have been teaching in colleges and universities. I feel safe. To be the teacher, my favourite make believe as a child, is to be the safest person in the room, the one with the most power and privilege. I love teaching.      

After I have been teaching for several years, there is a campus shooting—one of many in the U.S., so frequent they become wearying. This one is at a university and there are stories about a brave professor who died protecting her students.

I am not that brave. I burn with shame. I will plead and bargain with the shooter, I imagine, and my words will be inadequate. The image of how I will fail my students is so vivid that I have to remind myself, over and over, of how unlikely it is that my students will be endangered.

My students are in danger. In their residences, the weekend partying is a euphemism for rape culture. A student, eyes swollen, sat in my office on a Monday afternoon, explaining why her paper is  not finished. She went to a party, woke up 18 hours later, hurting and with no memories. I offer to walk her to the campus clinic. She just wants to go home. She drops the course and I don’t see her again. She doesn’t answer my email. I failed her. 

It is time for my eighteen-year-old to start university, and I am terrified. I spend a summer obsessing about danger and planning for disaster. Their dad buys them earthquake supplies, even though the city where they are moving is not in a seismically active area—we are. My child is moving to greater safety, and I should be grateful, but I am so scared.

Yes, I know it’s PTSD. But living in the world and feeling this unsafe is exhausting. Fortunately, there’s baking. And my child is less scared than I am, and this is progress.

 *

Fourteen benches sit in a circle outside the Vancouver bus station, in a neglected park. The Canada geese have taken over, and it’s a mess. Every time I visit, I take a picture, charting decay, then send angry email messages to the parks board asking for the memorial to be maintained.

Christine Bold, Ric Knowles, and Belinda Leach consider in their 2002 article how a memorial site might help sustain memory and resist the “active forgetting” of “hegemonic memorializing” (“Feminist Memorializing and Cultural Countermemory: The Case of Marianne’s Park” 130). They point out that race, ethnicity, and social status inform how much public support there is for commemoration. These 14 benches are only blocks from the Downtown Eastside where dozens of women vanished over several decades. Not disappearing: being disappeared. I think of Rebecca Belmore’s powerful, haunting “Vigil,” the way she stood in a parking lot shredding rose petals from their stems with her teeth. Raging, mourning.

On December 6 I will teach my last day of classes, saying goodbye to students and the communities we’ve built together this term. I will gather with colleagues to celebrate each other’s care and support. And I will look forward to helping create a world with more light and hope in the coming year, so that all of us–all of our children–can step into classrooms, and out into the world. Unafraid. 

*

Heidi Tiedemann Darroch teaches English and Access courses at Camosun College as a term faculty member. She is the co-editor of this month’s special section of the Canadian Journal of Studies in Discourse and Writing on pedagogy and academic labour and she has recently published in several collections of Canadian literary criticism, including Ethics and Affects in the Fiction of Alice Munro (edited by Amelia DeFalco and Lorraine York) and the forthcoming Canadian Culinary Imaginations (edited by Shelley Boyd and Dorothy Barenscott. She also works on women’s cultural production, higher education activism, and writing studies.

 

 

 

 

 

        

 

 

academic reorganization · feminism · feminist digital humanities · Uncategorized

Guest Post: Open Access Is a Feminist Issue

Today’s post is from Dr. Hannah McGregor

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In “#transform(ing)DH Writing and Research: An Autoethnography of Digital Humanities and Feminist Ethics,” Moya Bailey invites feminist scholars to ask how we enact our feminist ethics throughout our research processes. At the end of the article, she outlines questions we can ask ourselves as we are embarking on new research projects. Included in those questions are “What tools and or methods encourage multidirectional collaboration?” and “What mechanism of accountability can you create?”. Accountable feminist research, research that centres responsibility to the communities our research engages with or speaks to, is attentive to how its tools and methods open out or close down the possibilities for collaboration beyond the university. As a feminist scholar, I have become increasingly convinced that one of the most accountable things we can do in our work is prioritize open access. 

 

A quick explanation: open access (OA) is a set of publishing principles and practices that are specific to scholarly communication. The goal of OA is to break down institutional barriers to accessing research, either through publishing in OA journals or depositing pre-prints of articles in institutional repositories. There are obvious challenges to OA — particularly financial ones, as we’ll have to envision new business models to ensure that scholarly publishing is both open and sustainable. With major institutions like the University of California beginning to end their relationships with publishers like Elsevier, however, a steady movement toward widespread OA seems inevitable. And, while challenging, this change is a good thing. 

 

When I started working in the Publishing program at Simon Fraser University in 2016, I joined a community of scholars who are not just invested in open access as an ideal, but who are actively building the infrastructure to make OA possible. SFU is home to the Public Knowledge Project, and the PKP’s Associate Director of Research, Juan Pablo Alperin, is my departmental colleague. The Publishing program has voluntarily signed onto SFU’s Open Access Policy and incorporated it into our tenure and promotion criteria. In the context of an institutional setting where OA is treated as a shared value, I have had the space to experiment with open, accessible, and publicly-engaged scholarship, particularly through my work on podcasting as scholarly communication in collaboration with Wilfrid Laurier University. 

 

All this to say, I’ve been embedded in a community invested in the ethos of open access for long enough, now, that it was a genuine shock to me when, in Spring 2019, I attended multiple conferences where colleagues in Humanities disciplines spoke of open access as neoliberalism, the scientization of research, and a devaluation of our intellectual labour. As one friend texted me in the midst of one such conferences: since when is open access neoliberal but paywalling research so that people have to pay for it isn’t? 

 

I would never be so naive as to claim that OA lacks barriers and challenges. In the Canadian context, the most significant one is the top-down way that the Tri-Council has attempted to implement it: not through incentive-based funding or collaboration with stakeholders, but through sudden and absolute ultimatums that threaten to strip journals–and now, university presses–of their funding if they don’t comply with new regulations. These unilateral funding changes may also be linked to OA’s association with the STEM fields, which have often driven the conversation. In fact, people working in the field of scholarly communication have a tendency to use “science” and “research” as synonyms (I keep trying to make them stop doing this, but it isn’t sticking yet). Many Humanities scholars, journal editors, and publishers feel like we have been left out of the conversation about how we want our research to circulate, and are being left to play catch-up in a publishing and funding environment that is already stacked against us. 

 

But here’s the thing: Responding to the OA movement by clinging to closed-off and paywalled forms of scholarly communication is inimical to the public mission of the university–and the public mission of the university is a feminist issue. As Bailey reminds us, a feminist research ethics means making our research accessible and accountable. Feminist scholars shouldn’t be responding to open access by dragging our feet and reluctantly complying to new requirements. We should be leading the conversation about what it means to do open, accessible, accountable research. 

 

It is also true that many of the barriers to embracing open access are also feminist issues. The scholarly publishing world is dominated by women (as is the trade publishing world); journal editing tends to be undervalued and high labour work that is at once vital to academia and also, like most forms of service, barely counted in tenure and promotion processes. The precaritization of the university has massively inflated expectations around early-career publishing, which in turn has inflated the number of journals in many disciplines. The systematic defunding of public universities has cut the entire business model of university presses off at the knees. We also haven’t solved the problem of business models for sustainable OA publishing; in the sciences, the most viable model is adding article-processing fees into grants, but grants in the humanities and social sciences are generally too small for such additions. We cannot talk about open access without talking about all of these structural problems. 

 

But if we could collectively agree to the fundamental premise that open access is a feminist issue, then our conversations about labour and value and prestige would, by necessity, shift. As Kathleen Fizpatrick so succinctly puts it in Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University, embracing open access as a values-based approach to scholarly communication “does not just serve the goal of undoing [scholarship’s] commercialization or removing it from a market-driven, competition-based economy, but rather is a first step in facilitating public engagement with the knowledge that universities produce” (148). Can feminist scholars agree that part of the mission of publicly-funded universities should be facilitating public engagement with our work? Can we agree that pay-walling and institutionalizing research created on stolen Indigenous land perpetuates settler-colonial understandings of knowledge-as-commodity? Can we agree that the scarcity-driven models of publishing in the most “elite” and “competitive” journals or of valuing the monograph over journal articles (or journal articles over podcast episodes!) is based in a fundamentally patriarchal hierarchy of what knowledge “counts”? 

 

There are challenges ahead of us as we face the transformation of scholarly communication, but there are also exciting opportunities to break down the institutional barriers of the university, to tell the stories of our work in different ways, to rethink where and how and why we publish. As we face those challenges within our disciplinary and institutional communities, we’ll start finding good solutions when we commit to the values at the heart of making knowledge open and free.

McGregor headshot_Christopher M Turbulence

Hannah McGregor is an Assistant Professor of Publishing at Simon Fraser University and the host of Secret Feminist Agenda, a podcast about the mundane and radical ways we enact our feminism in our daily lives. She lives in Vancouver on the territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

 

Uncategorized

From the Archives: Surthrival

Here’s a post from several years ago that, surprise surprise, still feels relevant! Here is to surthrival.

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Late last week I was chatting with a friend of mine and we asked one another, “how are you?” And then we both giggled. Okay, actually we sent one another ellipses and exclamation points, because we were chatting on Facebook. The hilarity and lack of verbal articulation came from the fact that my friend, who is a single parent, is teaching four classes this term, and I, a co-parent to a six month old, am teaching two classes while my partner teaches three. We have no child care. My friend was up grading papers after teaching three classes, running tutorials, and making sure her own kids were well and fed and getting what they needed. I was awake working on a job application after having driven with my partner two-thirds of the way to New England for a conference at which he was to give a paper the next day. My partner was working on a paper after having taught a class and driving for six hours. Our kiddo, generous being that she is, was asleep in her portable crib in the middle of the hotel room.

How are you?

…!!!???!!!…

Our wordless pause came from this, then: we are both in it up to our eyeballs, my friend and I. We are running from the moment we wake to the moment we drop into bed. We are, neither of us, in stable work, so there’s the usual scramble to keep it all afloat. And yet. And yet as my friend and I agreed, the things that keep us grounded–the mornings, when my girl wakes us up singing in her tiny infant voice, the afternoons when my friend steals a moment to write–these things are good. There are roots in our lives, we agreed.

But let’s not deny it is hard. Let us not deny the feeling of being eaten alive by bureaucracy, Brazil-like. Let’s not ignore the data that suggests that nearly half the people working in higher education exhibit symptoms of psychological distress.

I want a word that means more than “surviving” without losing that hard-scrabble fact of what is really going on. I want a word that defies the isolation that comes with working in the academy, because my work–the job I go and do–can and does bring me joy, even if the conditions of that work cannot. I want a word that acknowledges the emotional labour, the sheer physical labour (you should see how quick I am on my bicycle, zipping to campus and class as soon as my partner gets home from his class to take bébé).

“I hope survival turns to thrival,” I wrote to my friend, in an attempt to name our own daily work of making our lives good despite, or in spite, or just in the midst of the long, hard work.

“Here’s to surTHRIVEal!” she wrote back, proving once again (let us acknowledge it here) that poets are indeed the legislators of the world.

So here’s to surthriving. To the precariate, doing your jobs and keeping your head and your spirits above water: surthrive. Find what lifts you. To the graduate students, filled with fear and anxiety about what is next and what is now: surthrive. You are smart. To the assistant professors, finishing their first terms and finding that the dream is still a f*ckload of work: surthrive. You deserve your job, we need you there. To the associate professors, keeping it all going despite the oft-unacknowledged workload: surthrive. You are in positions of power, don’t forget that. To the full professors, wondering, perhaps, what happened to the university you came to at the beginning of your career: surthrive. We need you. To the undergraduate students, facing student debt, facing final exams, trying to keep a social life and likely a job, too: surthrive. Find what lifts you up and hold onto that shining thing and let it light your way. To the administrative staff, keeping us all organized, and keepers of our quiet and not-so-quiet sorrows: surthrive. You keep this whole boat level and moving forward with the band playing.

Here is to surthrival. Here is to refusing to lose the light while acknowledging that the darkness is coming earlier these days. Here is to remembering that there are good moments in each day if we look for them. And here is to refuelling our resolve to make more of the day good, generative, and generous.

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Sisyphus & Seaweed: Reflections on Repetition

Last weekend, as I was in the middle of dumping a wheelbarrow full of seaweed back into the ocean, I had a flashback to my first-year literature course. Specifically, I thought about Sisyphus.

Sisyphus, as you may well recall, was a royal fellow who was punished by the gods for being too self-aggrandizing. His punishment was to roll a massive boulder up a hill and, when he had nearly completed his task, the boulder would roll down to the bottom of the hill and he would have to begin all over again. Labour to roll that heavy thing up a hill, watch that heavy thing succumb to gravity and the whim of things more powerful that you. That was Sisyphus’s lot.

I learned about Sisyphus in my introduction to literature course, and it was not the classical version, but Camus’s rendition, “The Myth of Sisyphus.” Camus’s spin on the story figures Sisyphus as an absurdist hero of sorts. There goes Sisyphus! Doing it! Even though it is going to need doing again!

I remember being fascinating with both the story and the fact that a writer could come along and make a familiar story their own. Surely, I had encountered some version of this before–through memory, or family history, or any other oral story telling–but for whatever reason Sisyphus stuck in my mind.

And there was the story again last week, with me as I raked and gathered wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of seaweed, rocks, and sticks that had been washed up from the ocean during the most recent hurricane. Rake, gather, lift, wheel, dump, repeat.

There is something strange about raking seaweed off a lawn and dumping it back into the ocean. Perhaps it is the uncanny knowledge that almost certainly you’ll be doing it again soon. Maybe it is the total respect for things stronger than yourself–ocean, wind, storms. Rake, gather, lift, wheel, dump, repeat.

My work went on for several hours. As my arms grew tired and then eventually started to shake, as my heart rate elevated and I sweat and sweat and sweat some more, as I had to take more breaks for water and to fix the blisters on my hands, a strange thing happened. I leaned into the work. I enjoyed it, even. While I know that it is work that will just be done again, there was a sense of accomplishment as hauled more and more seaweed back to the ocean. With this sense of accomplishment, and with my memories of Sisyphus on the edge of my mind, I thought about how I tend to launch into each new semester with the energy of a person being chased–and how that energy is unsustainable.

The structure of academia–its possibilities, its tacit knowledges, its restrictions and limitations–means that there are times (many times) that the work feels repetitive and endless. But, as I raked, gathered, lifted, and dumped over and over again, I remembered that there are more narratives of repetition and perseverance than Sisyphus alone. Many more. Most, at least in my memory archive, are feminist stories of perseverance.

Feminist work is perseverance work. It, like other kinds of justice work, requires certain kinds of repetition. It is, I think, endless labour.

And when I stopped to think about feminist work in the space of the academy–the place where I will perhaps labour for the entirety of my adult life–I remembered a key difference between Sisyphus and the seaweed I was hauling. That seaweed feeds the garden. It is nutritive and organize. What I rake up next time won’t be the same. The labour might feel the same, but it won’t be identical. And the work? Its necessary and nutritive too. I just need to remember to stop more often, to rest, to drink water, and to reflect.

If you need that too, here is a wonderful reminder from poet Kaitlyn Boulding called “Questions to Ask Yourself Before Giving Up.”

academic work · change management · new year new plan · Uncategorized

September is for looking forward

Twenty-two years ago my mom drove me from my summer job at the family business in Ontario to begin my first year of university in North Carolina.

Seventeen years ago I moved from the interior of British Columbia to Quebec to start my Masters at McGill.

Fifteen years ago I moved from Montreal to Calgary to start a PhD.

Ten years ago I moved across the country to start a ten-month contract as Dalhousie.

Nine years ago we began Hook & Eye: Fast Feminism, Slow Academe.

Six years ago I started a twelve-month contract at Mount Allison University.

Five years ago I was teaching sessionally and my partner was teaching on contract. We had a five month old infant and no regular child care.

Four years ago I was on an with-month contract at Acadia University.

Three years ago I started a tenure-track position.

So much of my life has been organized around the ebb and flow of an academic timeline.  At times this has felt thrilling. At others, it has been oppressive and scary. Often, it has been something in between, and much of that has been tied to the more-or-less precarious state I’ve been living.

As we enter this new school year I find myself reflecting not only on my own trajectory–warts, roses, and all the rest of it–I find myself thinking about the ways in which communities are made and re-made in the spaces around and in academia. Hook & Eye was imagined as one such possible space.

This year, as we revivify the work we do here, and as we look toward a full decade of feminist academic blogging, I find myself grateful for what has come before, and excited for what is to come.

Welcome. Welcome back. Let’s get to work, and let’s balance that work with the rest of our fulsome lives.

 

 

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Composting

image via Getty

I’m teaching a new class this semester. It’s called The Personal Essay, and it is new to the department, the students, and me. It is a cross-listed creative writing and English course, and so I find myself in the delightful and slightly intimidating position of developing new in-class exercises, assignments, and ways of thinking about reading and writing.

As with most of my teaching, writing, and research prep, when I am at a loss for where to begin—too many ideas, too few, too amorphous—I turn to texts that have been recommended to me at some point. There are many! Last week, as I thought about how to get sixty-five students excited as well as informed about essay writing I picked up Writing Down The Bonesby Natalie Goldberg. If you’re not familiar with it, this is a pretty popular writing book. My copy is the thirtieth anniversary edition, if that give you any sense of its staying power. There are some things in the language of the text that show their age, but on the whole I find it a direct, clear, and surprisingly effective book of suggestions for getting yourself writing.

The section I brought to class last week is called “Composting.” In it Goldberg states,

It takes a while for our experiences to sift through out consciousness.

This is one of those observations that feels so obvious and yet also profound. From neuroscience to psychoanalysis to theory to practice there are myriad explanations of how humans take timeto process experiences fully.

Time. Huh.

This time business can be infuriating if you are impatient and if, like me, you are a human living in the twenty-first century when the speed and circulation of information, not to mention the ingestion and metabolism of information, is faster than ever before. I mean, this is not news, but still…

So composting: Natalie Goldberg uses it as a metaphor to remind writers that we need time and the distance it gives to distill our experiences. She puts it this way (note the evocative use of ‘garbage heap’ – I kind of love it, because here the garbage heap of the self is cast as a fertile bricolage of sense and experience):

Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil.

 The solid ground of black soil. I love that. And I love that in preparing to teach a new class about writing the self I am starting to find ways to think through what it means to write publicly while feminist. It will take time. It has taken time. It will take more time.

But here I am, ready to sift.

 

 

academic work · adjuncts · change management · emotional labour · theory and praxis · Uncategorized

Making Small New Habits

I love New Year’s resolutions.

I do. I really love them. I love them so much I write about them in fall and winter and spring. Hurrah for semesters and Solstices!

In fact, I think I have come to appreciate New Years–Eve and all–as a moment of self-inventory, though admittedly New Year’s Eve was (and is) a marker in time I like less. As a younger me New Year’s Eve was a kind of letdown for all its rush and waiting. All outfits and lines and are-the-plans-happening-where-is-the-best-place-to-be-ness of it all. And then, poof, anticlimax. Even now as an adult I can count on one hand the “magic” NYEs I have had. My frustration, I think, is common: it is the pressure put on the moment to make it something other than it is. A moment. But I digress…

I am that person who, on New Year’s Eve will ask about resolutions and memories. What was your most memorable meal of the last year? (My go-to interview dinner conversation question, by the way) What are you hoping to do this year? Yup. That’s me: earnest right up to the chime of the clock.

But it occurs to me that resolutions might be the wrong word. Maybe there’s too much baggage with that word, and as someone who is shifting from a decade working in various degrees of precarity to, well, unprecedented stability, I’m working to shed some emotional baggage. When it comes to putting work and production demands on myself I want to move from this

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Image from PinArt.com

to this

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Image from steamlineluggage.com

I started thinking about shifting my language after reading one of those ubiquitous late-December articles about developing new habits.  The gist of the argument is this: western psychology has tended to frame life change as something that is best understood through willpower. The idea here is that we make a decision to change some aspect of ourselves and then, through sweat and grit and determination, we do it. There are all sorts of obvious problems with this approach, I realize now (what if, as is often the case, “willpower” isn’t enough or even the right thing, for example). Still, when I was reading this in the trough between holidays it struck a chord for me. Rather than building all life change on the necessity of willpower there is a movement gaining more popular traction that suggests willpower is kind of bullsh*t. Okay, that’s not exactly what the article says, but that’s what I gleaned from it. More effective that willpower is repetition. Building in habits. Doing the small daily work of repeating. And if you don’t do it one day, if you “fail,” then you do it again the next day.

Gosh, I needed to be reminded of this.

Some of the new habits I am aiming to form in this first month of 2018 are these:

I would like to write regularly again. For all sorts of reasons I have fallen off that wagon in the last year, moving again to droughts and downpours of writing that, while effective of anxiety-inducing, have not fed me in the ways I need to be fed. In order to write regularly (which for me means 100-300 words in a session, and one session a day is plenty unless there is an impending deadline) I need to build in a regular time to do that writing. So, I’ll be getting out of bed a little earlier this month. I’m looking forward to it.

I would like to continue reading for pleasure. After my PhD and in many cycles following that I found I couldn’t read for pleasure. For whatever reason what usually was my escape, my habit that nourished me had gone. My voracious desire to read is back. To facilitate this I have shifted my reading habits the same way I have had to shift my writing habits post-bébé: I carry a book with me most all the time, and reading one or two pages (or sentences) at a swoop is enough. Is worth it.

And finally, I would like to only work on academic writing and research that nourishes me and which I really care about. I say hah to the adage that all academic work is a labour of love. It isn’t, especially if you’re a graduate student or a precarious worker or a post doc. Then it is usually a mix of love and (in my limited personal experience) a huge amount of what-will-this-do-for-my-prospects???!!!???*&!

To that I say no more, or at least, I will work towards “no more.” And if I weren’t already convinced that writing (/doing/working on/researching) something that you care about might actually make more than you feel good  (aka “staying in your lane” as I read in a recent profile of the brilliant Vivek Shraya), well, seeing this tweet from poet and scholar Billy-Ray Belcourt certainly brought it home for me

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Here is to new habits that nurture networks of care in this complicated, compromising, and often alienating and restrictive space that is academia. One of the books I am reading right now is Donna Haraway’s Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. In the introduction Haraway writes,

We — all of us on Terra — live in disturbing times, mixed-up times, troubling and turbid times. The task is to become capable, with each other in all of our bumptious kinds, of response. Mixed-up times are overflowing with both pain and joy–with vastly unjust patterns of pain and joy, with unnecessary killings of ongoingness but also with necessary resurgence. The task is to make kin in lines of inventive connection as a practice of our learning to live and die well with each other in the thick present. Our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle the troubled waters and rebuild quiet places.

Here’s to rebuilding quiet places in our days with and alongside and against. Here’s to onward and inward. Here is to January. Here is to what is and to what is next.

 

 

academic reorganization · adjuncts · affect · after the LTA · personal narrative · Uncategorized

Repetition with a Difference: Teaching on the tenure-track is different

I’ve just finished my first term of teaching.

No, wait. That’s not quite right. I’ve just finished my first term teaching in a tenure-track position. I’ve been teaching in contract, LTA, adjunct, and sessional posts since 2008. But this term? This was my first on the tenure-track. Here is what I can tell you: it is different. It is very very different.

I have been keeping track of the clear and less-clear ways teaching in a tenure-track position differs from precarious labour, in part because I have spent a near-decade in precarity and wanted to attend to the ways in which this shift affected my heart and mind. In part I have kept track as a kind of watchfulness: what is and is not possible on the other side of the looking glass? A single semester does hardly a quantitative data set make, but nonetheless here is what I can say thus far”

  1. I know how to write lectures efficiently. See aforementioned almost-decade of precarious labour, which often meant teaching 50% more than my tenured colleagues, which in turn meant learning how to write lectures in a timely (read break-neck-fast) manner. This term I’ve had a teaching release and so I taught two classes. One was a third-year Canadian literature course, and the other was a graduate class in… Canadian poetry. Guess what my area of specialty happens to be? Yup: Canadian literature (especially poetry). This is the first time I have ever taught ,my entire course load in my area of expertise. Which brings me to…

2.      Teaching in my area of expertise makes me feel confident and competent.    Seems obvious, right? Well, I can tell you from a whopping single semester of experience that teaching material I know inside and out, which I have taught before as well as written about, presented upon, and am currently researching is *cough* transformative. I did not dread going to class for fear of being read as somehow lacking. I did not have imposter syndrome. I was constantly excited to teach not only because I genuinely like being in classrooms, but also because this was material I knew! Imagine!

3. I am not scared all the time. Do I have to unpack this? Here’s what I mean: I never thought I was going to get a tenure-track position. Not because I wasn’t “good enough” (though I felt that more than I care to admit, and far more than I have ever written about here). Not because I wasn’t “smart enough” (again, not that I didn’t feel that, often). Nope. I didn’t think I would get a tenure-track job because there are almost none out there. Thus far this fall there has been one job in my field advertised in Canada. One. And let me tell you some of the effects of knowing that you are effectively shut out of the job market in the industry you’ve spent 10-15 years training in: alienation. Exhaustion. Hyper-self-surveillance. Self-doubt. A shutting down of generosity. The fear that anything–anything–you do (or don’t do) is cause for not getting a look on that long list, that short list. Any list. That you can’t report injustice against yourself. That you can’t support or report for others, and if you do you’re bound to be written off, and lord, let’s not even get started on how-will-I-pay-rent-how-can-I-be-X-age-and-so-precarious and on and on down the rabbit hole. I am not scared all the time. I know that tenure-track does not mean impermeable. I know, as the inimitable Roy Miki has said, that the university will never love us back. But I am not scared all the time, and that helps me help my students, too.

See how quickly my list moved from practical to affective? I think the largest shift in having a tenure-track position has been psychological. Of course the paycheque helps. Of course the structure and ability to plan long-term is quite literally life-changing. But what I think about most is how, even though I feel more grounded in my own training, more able to imagine and invent and (dare I say it?) be curious more often than I am strategic, it is going to take me a long time to process the emotional and material trauma that was precarity.

In her stunning essay on precarity and survivance T.L. Cowan writes,

What I hope is that the revolution of adjunct faculty is coming and that it will create a new turn in our disciplines.  The ‘Adjunct Turn’ which, as a method from below, will be aligned with what Chela Sandoval calls “differential oppositional consciousness” (2000), coalitional techniques for affinity-based disciplinary and institutional transformations. An orientation away from individualism and the life of a solitary specialized genius, and an orientation towards critical intimacy, towards collaborative, process- and practice-centred distributed epistemologies and an aesthetics of multiplicity and shared resources. A method aligned with what Audre Lorde called in the power of the erotic, “the yes within ourselves” (1984, 57); the yes work of making the intellectual-cultural worlds we desire.

As I become more grounded in my institutional legibility — with all the enormous violences these institutions bring — I am dreaming, planning, and scheming about how to  help build those intellectual-cultural worlds we desire.

What I know is this: when I see CVs that bespeak years of precarious labour I will be looking for what T.L. calls the fabulous in our disciplines:

The fabular is the practice of creating and holding what is necessarily generative for ourselves and those who listen to our stories in the face of obvious disaster (Cowan & Rault 2016); it is “a good enough analytic” for these times and I propose that this is the analytic from which we are all working, adjunct and otherwise; to operate securely is to disavow the situation that produces these massive inequities in our places of education.

To be continued. But for now, know this: I see you.