academic reorganization · adjuncts · classrooms · guest post · mental health · workload

Guest Post: When too much is still not enough; Academic workloads and campus exhaustion

Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall, Suzette Mayr’s recent satiric novel about a harried English professor, dramatizes the anxious thrum of academic work. Edith teaches, grades, and answers “pounds” of email. Her phone therapist advises her to excel in new areas, to increase her pace of publications while exercising regularly, revamping her wardrobe, and networking more extensively. Edith protests, “there’s never any time.” While swimming laps, she worries she “should be catching up on her critical theory, not frolicking in pools.”

Over the past decade, faculty have become increasingly willing to protest that academic workloads are overwhelming, stressful, and conducive to ill health. In last year’s The Slow Professor, Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber called for a shift to a more deliberative, less frenetic approach to research and teaching. Cultural theorist Rosalind Gill contends, “A punishing intensification of work has become an endemic feature of academic life.”[1][1]  The contributors to a special issue of The Canadian Geographer on academic workload and health describe “academic cultures and practices that valorize overwork, including expressions of martyrdom, talking about not sleeping or eating and about working all of the time, [and] an expectation of always being available for work purposes . . . .”

Faculty complaints about workload and stress may “appear self-indulgent,” as Berg and Seeber acknowledge. Mark Kingwell, for example, has little patience: “I am sure that people feel rushed to produce journal articles and positive teaching evaluations, to sit on this committee or that. But can you seriously compare this to actual work? Surely, there is a better term for such high-end special pleading. Ultra-first-world problem? Point-one-per-cent lament?” This is an invitation to shame and guilt. How can you be working too hard if what you are doing is not even work?

And the culture of shaming starts early. A mid-August tweet from the University of Cambridge praises novelist and alumna Zadie Smith for spurning barbecues in favour of long hours in the library and asks students, “Are you #teambbq or #teamlibrary”? The fierce competition for admission suggests entering students are unlikely to need an additional nudge. But the comment is perfectly characteristic of the anxiety that if we are not working all of the time, we are not doing enough to pursue the world-class status demanded by a growing number of institutions, with all members pressed to achieve more with declining resources. It reflects the anxiety of a neoliberal higher education sector beset with measurements and rankings of excellence. Graduate students are urged to publish while completing doctoral studies as rapidly as possible, even while new (and not-so-new)  proposals advocate that they also commit extensive time  preparing for non-academic careers. Institutions increase class sizes for introductory courses taught by teaching-stream faculty and sessional instructors and then mandate the time-consuming development of online resources to support struggling students. Research universities require qualifications for new Assistant Professors that were once sufficient to achieve tenure.

Contract faculty cobbling together enough courses to pay rent, staff members who have experienced surges in expectations without salary increases, and hourly-waged service workers on campus laid off every summer are all experiencing time crunches of various kinds, exacerbated by financial strains. Rather than isolating one kind of faculty work for analysis, we might assess how various campus groups—including students who are juggling onerous work obligations with school—are participating in a culture of academic exhaustion. We need to know more about each other’s work conditions. A student who fell asleep in one of my classes explained that she clerked at a convenience store until two a.m., when public transit had stopped running, and then walked several kilometers home. She had no family financial support and, as a first-generation university student, feared acquiring a heavy debt load. A member of the custodial staff described how her work duties had been revised to increase the amount of heavy lifting while reducing the social contact with faculty and students that she enjoyed. Knowing these stories, and translating that knowledge into advocacy for better student aid and more equitable and safe working conditions across campus, is crucial.

But we also need to resist the notion that academic work is such a privilege and a pleasure that there can never be too much of it—only too little capacity to carry it out. This approach stigmatizes people who bring up workload concerns and equates endless work with competence, pushing out those who, in Berg and Seeber’s terms, fear they are “not suited” to academia, who judge themselves as inadequate to (unreasonable) demands. It also creates trickle-down impacts, as burnt out faculty members’ responsibilities shift to their colleagues.

And we need to watch out for the unequal workloads that are imposed. Alison Mountz is among those who have pointed out that female faculty members perform a disproportionate amount of emotional labour; persuasive evidence suggests they do more service work, particularly in lower-status roles,  and that this has a negative impact on promotion. Racialized and Indigenous faculty are called upon by their institutions as diversity workers and as mentors to students from traditionally underrepresented groups, sharply increasing service responsibilities that are less valued than research.[2]

Universities and colleges have increased their attention to student mental health, but most are doing far less to support faculty and staff members (even while adding to their work the support and monitoring of student well-being).

Workload is a labour issue; workload is a feminist issue; workload is a disability issue; workload is a mental and physical health issue, a collegiality issue, and a sustainability issue. It is also one that academia avoids tackling. Ramped-up expectations in all areas of faculty performance have come to seem inevitable, and they cannot be resisted without collective will.

[1] More recently, Gill reflects on the ubiquity of a discourse of academic pain among tenured faculty: “Academics’ talk about our own lives has become suffused with extraordinarily violent metaphors: people speak of going under, of coming up for air, of drowning or suffocating. This shocking imagery should surely give cause for concern.” Rosalind Gill, “What Would Les Back Do?: If Generosity Could Save Us.” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society. Pre-print. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10767-017-9263-9

[2] The essays in The Equity Myth expose a much broader set of issues and reach depressing conclusions about the ways in which symbolic forms of inclusion and diversity are overriding more substantive equity efforts. Frances Henry, Enakshi Dua, Carl E. James, Audrey Kobayashi, Peter Li, Howard Ramos, and Malinda K. Smith, The Equity Myth: Racialization and Indigeneity at Canadian Universities (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2017). The essays by Henry and Kobayashi and by James pay particular attention to the workload consequences.

 

Heidi TD

Heidi Tiedemann Darrock holds a PhD from U of T and taught as a contract faculty member at universities and colleges in Ontario and BC for more than a decade before accepting a position as an Assistant Teaching Professor. For four years she was a member of the MLA’s Committee on Contingent Labor, serving for two years as Chair. Heidi publishes on Canadian literature.

#shinetheory · academic reorganization · DIY · empowerment · guest post · Uncategorized

Gap Riot Guest Post: How to Start Your Own Small Press, From People Who are Still Learning

Thinking of starting your own small press? There is lots of PEE YOUR PANTS EXCITEMENT AND ANXIETY, plus material, financial, and good business issues to think about when starting out. The ladies of Gap Riot Press are here with some helpful tips, some loving caution, and some gentle reminders to keep us all woke.

Aside from learning the craft of the chapbook, learning the business side of publishing has been a twisting and winding ride. Other small presses, poets, and printers have been very generous and super helpful, and have created an integrated community thinktank that has been invaluable. These fabulous people include Will and Nicole at words(on)pages, Catriona at Desert Pets Press, Cameron at Apt. 9 Press, the very patient and understanding Sebastian Frye at Swimmer’s Group, and the excellent members of the Meet the Presses collective. But for some things, we’ve been on our own trying to figure out the lay of the land.

Among the things we’ve never asked ourselves before now: How does one register a business name to accept grant monies? And, do we even have to do that? What the hell is a master page in InDesign? How do we begin to think about royalties? Since we are academics ourselves, we know well the culture of unpaid labour that runs rampant in cultural circles, so we made it a mandate to pay our authors. But how much? How much do we need to pay our designers? And what does that leave for us?

But please remember: we are not the experts; we are the adventurers. We’re learning every day, and we’re failing too. We’d love to share some of our story, but you’ve got to clear your own path. And for cat’s sake, please be kind to yourself throughout your journey. Ask for help when you need it. And hike up your knickers – you’re in for a wild one.

To encourage other riotous word-lovers to do it themselves, we’ve worked with Hook & Eye to put together this helpful (hopefully) how-to guide to start you off, inspired by the collective that continues to inspire us, the incomparable New Kids on the Block.   

Step 1: We can have lots of fun

One of the first things Dani was asked when she sat down for coffee with Will and Nicole from words(on)pages was, “So, why chapbooks?” It was a fun question, and although we thought we had an answer, it was something we had to think about for a while. We realized that we needed to spend more time at the beginning conceptualizing our press and our mandate. So, our first piece of advice is that before you start up your small or micro-press, you need to take some real time, right off the bat, to conceptualize a larger poetics, mandate, or vision for your project. Remember, your press should be fun for you and for others, and it should highlight the kind of work you want to amplify.

This process starts with deciding on a name, logo, and general design theme or concept that conveys the message you have decided on. In our case, we developed the name Gap Riot Press for a few reasons, first and foremost because both founding editors have gaps in their front teeth, and we live this truth everyday. We also wanted to convey an acknowledgment of gaps in publishing standards, in the gender and race of editors, in the voices heard in the avant-garde and in visual poetics, and in the persistent gendered wage gap in the Western world. The riot came next, a clear homage to our Riot Grrrl predecessors, and a reminder that resistance is always a collective space, a physical and a psychic space, and a volatile space. Gap Riot is in flux.

For logos, we enlisted our friend, local artist and graphic designer Stace Schmidt to develop a logo that brought gap teeth to the forefront, making beautiful our “imperfections” and channeling our femme power. Stace developed a set of beautiful graphic logos that we use on all our print and digital media. We did our own website design to start, but as we grow we are working with local web designer and IT professional Jordan Doucet to create a dynamic website that has room to grow and expand with us.

Having a clear vision for your small press is important, but it’s also good to keep reminding yourself that a vision does not have to be a limitation. Kate is always reminding us that while we want to prioritize femme, queer, and PoC voices in our press, we also don’t want to cut off conversations or limit participation in our collective vision. We have had to be very careful about our language, always being clear that what we seek is focus and not another form of tokenism, exploitation, or exclusivity.

Having fun with your press also means carefully considering what your role in the press entails, and who else is on your team. The both of us wanted to share, as equally as possible, the requirements of a small press editor. Stace handles all the visuals, including book cover and illustrations, and helps with general book design. Different small presses organize this work differently. You need to figure out what works for you based on your print runs, your finances, and your abilities. Some small presses bring in a copyeditor or proofreader for the final stages. Some editors do all the design work themselves. Some presses solicit photographs or illustrations. Some presses contract out their PR and marketing.

The moral of this story is that this is absolutely too much work to take on as one person, particularly because as much as we love small press publishing, it’s not likely to become your full-time job, and certainly not from the beginning. Kate has a full-time job with a company. Dani works as a sessional instructor at two post-secondary institutions with typist work on the side. Stace works as a freelance graphic designer. None of us can put off paid labour to do Gap Riot work. It’s a really important thing that you need to remember: at best, you can hope with the start of a small press to break even. Do not try to do it all yourself, unless you are independently wealthy and have decided to spend all your time spreading the good literary word. If that’s you, power to you. But, I’m guessing it’s not, which brings us to the issue of funding.

 

Step 2: There’s so much we can do (once we have some funds)

Getting initial funding for a small (especially niche) literary press in Canada can be really difficult. That said, we were really lucky. Some full disclosure: Kate’s work, the fabulous Ian Martin Group, supported our press from the start with a donation, and continues to emotionally support our work. It’s fabulous that they helped us, but it’s also pretty rare and carries some hefty privilege. We don’t point this out to discourage others starting out, but to point to the fact that to start off our press, we looked in a pretty unconventional place. In other words, don’t just limit yourself to major funding bodies (Toronto Arts Council [TAC], Ontario Arts Council [OAC], Canada Council [CC]). First of all, it can be limiting to have to abide by the rules that come with using government monies to support your press. Second of all, most of those funding agencies don’t even support purely publishing projects anyway (see step four). But, there are funding opportunities there if you look. There are plenty of guides to getting funding, so we won’t spend too long on that. What we found we needed most guidance on was what to do after you have some cash flow (from grants, donations, a crowdfunding campaign, sales [from books, tickets, drinks at events, or PWYC at the door], or whatever method or combination you choose).

If you are accepting grant or donation monies for your organization, you’re going to need a business bank account. This is where the most confusion came up for us. Most other small presses in Toronto have a business account, but have not incorporated, enlisted as a partnership, or registered as a non-profit.

For tax purposes (blame it on the man), both major banks we consulted required that we actually BE a business before we registered for a business account. So, we registered as a 50/50 partnership and chose an account with low fees if we do most of our banking online. Whatever you choose to do in this situation is largely dependent on what kind of runs you’re doing, how well you think you’ll be selling, how much money you’re dealing with, and so on. Alongside this, it’s worth noting that you don’t need an HST number for your press right off the bat. According to the wonderful woman who set up our account at the bank, this is really only necessary if you’re going to be making over $30,000 per year with your press. But, if you’re there already, you’re likely not reading this.

This is also a good opportunity to add a quick note on paying your authors/artists: try to! Please! Have guidelines for royalties, speakers’ fees, honorariums, or whatever you decide, outlined clearly in your author contract. Not only is this good practice (in business and in ethics), but many larger funding bodies require that you pay your authors/artists (and that those authors/artists have receipts for their income) so having good documentation is useful. Royalty payment for authors varies greatly between presses: most offer a certain number of comped copies of the book to the author alongside a percentage of sales; most offer the author discounted copies above the comped copies; some offer the percentage of sales after a certain amount to ensure they cover costs, while others offer a smaller percentage off in-person sales and a larger percentage off online ones. Your author contract/royalties plan might change depending on the size of the run (and if it goes into more than one run), size of the book, cost to produce, notoriety of the author, and other factors. It’s important to craft a clearly defined author contract, but remember that the Press is a fluid business; don’t be afraid to talk about payment with your authors/artists and negotiate the contract together.

 

Step 3: It’s just you and me (and that’s it?)

One of the most important things to remember when you’re running a small press is that you’re not making books in a vacuum. LISTEN, THINK, REPEAT. This means three things:

 

  1.         Listen to and Think about your authors: engage them on whatever level they feel comfortable and consult them about design, run, and so on. Also, don’t be SHADY. In our opinion, a Press should never be a Best Friends Club – this is one of the ways in which Press culture becomes self-replicating and impenetrable. Support your community, but be generous – open your eyes and ears, and consider submissions (and even solicitations) of works outside of your circle, and your comfort zone. And, again, if you can, PAY THEM for cat’s sake.

 

  1.         Listen to and Think about your readers: make books they want to read at prices they can afford; offer some samples for free online; make it easy to purchase online and have a clear digital presence while at the same time having launches, readings, events, and attending markets to make yourself physically accessible.

 

  1.         Listen to and Think about your community: as we have said over and over, the community of small press publishers, DIY collectives and spaces, and so on, has been invaluable. We learned A LOT from simply listening to our peers, and hearing their concerns about publishing and how to make this process better. This works both ways. Other presses can, and will, help you, but you need to also support them. Go to other events for other presses. Buy other chapbooks. Support other presses and others through hyperlinks, sharing on social media, and promoting other works. You may consider doing this through the Meet the Presses Literary Market, happening this year on November 18, 2017. Meet the Presses is a collective that works to actively support small press publishing in Canada. Other organizations, like the League of Canadian Poets & Diaspora Dialogues are also places to look to join, build, and support the small press literary community in Toronto, and other versions of these organizations are all over the country.

 

Step 4: I can give you more (than just a few books)

As we mentioned in Step 2, most funding bodies do not offer funding opportunities for presses who just make books. This is absolutely true of TAC and OAC grants for literary organizations. But, that’s not the only reason to expand your literary praxis beyond making books. The truth is, we have tons of poetry by white people, and not nearly enough from others. But beyond poetry, what we need is more active conversation, more inclusive communities, and more opportunities for writers, readers, artists, editors, and other people involved in literary communities to come together, to share, teach, and learn.

 

Alongside your small press, you might consider the role of a reading series or other type of reading/gathering to complement the work you publish. Not only will this make it possible to apply for other funding you wouldn’t be eligible for otherwise, but it also provides space to sell your books, meet new potential authors, and engage physically with your community. Gap Riot is in the process of organizing a reading series which we aim to begin in the fall. You might also want to consider having your organization run workshops (writing, bookbinding or design, printmaking, &c). You can also, once you have some real funding supporting you (never stop dreaming), envision your collective as a space where you invite others in the literary scene to come in as apprentice editors, as curators of a series or an anthology, etc.

 

Step 5: Don’t you know that the time has arrived (to make a book)

When you get to the point where you have all your ducks in a row and you’re reading to make a book, our best advice is to jump right in. The best way to get started is by trial and error. We typeset and design our chapbooks in InDesign. Other people were really helpful when we started to figure that out (Nicole, Sebastian, and Stace in particular). One thing Nicole pointed out to us that I think bears repeating is that you can find SO MANY fonts available for free online that you can use to make your book cover and design unique. But, you should be careful that you’re not stealing someone else’s font design. Be sure that any font you download and use for your books is free for all uses, and not simply free for personal use. That is, if you care about paying artists and designers, you’ll keep in mind that a font is their art product. When/if you have enough money, donate to a font designer or buy a fancy font. There are a lot of free tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere about using InDesign and we recommend using all those resources, as well as just playing around, to get you started.

Also, don’t forget that the best way to make your chapbook more serious is to get an ISBN for each book. This will help your authors when they try to get writers’ grants, and it will help preserve your work for posterity (if that’s a thing you care about). When you get an ISBN, which is hella easy, you need to remember to save copies of your chapbook to send to the Library of Congress.

 

Once you’ve created your masterpiece, you need to think about how you are going to print your books. The way we see it, you have three options:

 

  1.         Get all the materials and print it yo’ damn self: expensive to start but will save money in the long run; much more time-consuming; you have complete creative control; there’s a real learning-curve here, unless you already know what you’re doing. You will need a quality printer, a guillotine or excellent exact-o knife, a large stapler and/or awl, needle, and binding thread (I have been advised that embroidery cotton also works well and is cheaper). You may want to invest in a paper folder. You can get adventurous about paper.

 

  1.         Go to a chain store (like Staples, FedEx, TPH): obviously the cheapest option, and usually the fastest; very limited control/engagement; supporting big bad industries who do not care about small presses, or poetry, or art, or…people.

 

  1.         Go to a small printing studio (we use Swimmer’s Group and they are amazing, but there are others): the most beautiful end-products; smaller studios will engage you in the printing process and advise you about design issues, paper and binding options, and ways to experiment with the book; plus, you are supporting a small, local company.

Don’t forget that one of the bonuses of small press is that you’re not stuck with the boring standards of popular/mainstream publication, so for cat’s sake have fun with the material components of your books. Make something beautiful, weird, fascinating, or terrifying. But, make a statement for real.

So, that’s our advice, for now. Take it with a heaping spoonful of salt. If you’d like to ask us questions, give us feedback, or see copies of our contracts, etc., please feel free to reach out to us at gapriotpress@gmail.com.  

Sashay, Shanté, and don’t forget to WERK IT, gurrrl.

love,

dani & kate xo

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Kate Siklosi lives, writes, and thinks in Toronto. She holds a PhD in English Literature and has defenestrated from the academic ivory tower in search of warmer climes. She is a writer by day and a poet by night. She is the cofounding editor of Gap Riot Press and is currently working on a manuscript of experimental petro-poetry, Love Songs for Hibernia.

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Dani Spinosa is a poet of digital and print media, an on-again-off-again precarious professor, and the Managing Editor of the Electronic Literature Directory. Her first chapbook, Glosas for Tired Eyes, was published in 2017 with No Press and her first scholarly manuscript, Anarchists in the Academy: Machines and Free Readers in Experimental Poetry is forthcoming from University of Alberta Press (Spring 2018).

academic reorganization · backlash · guest post · race

Guest post: I talked About Racism in Canada in a Public Venue. Here is what happened

By Misao Dean
I gave an interview on my research last March on the CBC program The 180. In it I talked about colonialism in Canada, picking away at some of the myths that sustained my childhood sense of “Canadianness,” and arguing that we should read them as representations of colonial power.
These ideas are not that radical in Canada; they’re absolutely conservative, in the context of recent interpretations of Canadian law. But it seems that when you bring those abstract ideas down to specifics – this piece of land, that cultural practice – or when you mention whiteness – well, some people get pretty excited. And someone wrote a reaction to my interview on a British right-wing website called “Heatstreet,” and that got a comment in the Times Higher Education Supplement, and a tweet was picked up by Fox News, and then things went a bit bananas.
On October 23rd 2016 I checked my e-mail and found a request for an interview about my research, from a podcast that is produced in Chicago. My first thought—as a researcher and scholar based in Victoria, British Columbia was WTF? The request referenced a tweet from someone I’ve never heard of, who according to Google, is a sociologist from the UK. My feelings shifted ever-so-slightly from incredulity to careful interests. Maybe my research is really getting some traction, I thought. People are talking about it, excitement, I thought.
By the time I got to work there were more requests for interviews, this time from ESPN, and there was something else: a steady stream of e-mails all consisting or two or three words, calling me a cunt and a fool, an idiot and an “SJW,” (derogatory internet slang for ‘social justice warrior.’) These emails had something in common: they were all lamenting the way I’m poisoning the minds of students. Many of them suggested I commit suicide.
Take a moment and pause on that: I was receiving emails from strangers telling me to commit suicide.
By the time I finished teaching my first class in addition to invitations to be on international news, and the hate-filled trolling, there were also e-mails to the Dean and my department chair, and someone in the Dean’s office had contacted me, offering “support.”
I’m ok, no big deal,I said. When the first death threat appeared in my inbox my stomach dropped, and I started to wonder why I did that interview.
I mean let’s stop and think about this again: I talked about systemic racism in Canada and I got death threats. Me—a middle-aged white university professor whose idea of a good time is a visit to the National Archives—got death threats talking about facts of Canadian social and political history.
My daughters asked me, What did you expect? Talking about race in the mainstream media just makes you a target. I gave this some thought. It doesn’t really help that I was attacked using my own words, taken out of context. This kind of irresponsible and de-contextualized quoting has become an art form among Trump followers who think it’s hilariously funny to post stories that make it look like famous “liberals” have said something entirely opposite to what they actually said: for example, that Michael Moore endorsed Trump, or that a woman academic doesn’t know the first thing about her own research topic.
I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect hundreds of abusive and obscene accusations from people who didn’t even know that the interview was talking about Canada.
I didn’t expect my Rate My Professor  page to be flooded with complaints about my teaching from people I’ve never met, and who can’t find my university on a map.
And I didn’t expect my kids to find abusive comments about me in their Facebook feeds.
I expected a conversation, but this isn’t conversation. Hate isn’t a conversation.
Listen, I’ve been called an idiot before, and survived (after all, I grew up with brothers). I’ve still got my job, and all the privileges that go with it. But last week I was asked to review a grant application for SSHRC and evaluate, among other things, a “knowledge mobilization strategy” in which Some Poor Sap, PhD., wrote that when his book comes out, on an important topic that really needs sophisticated discussion in the public sphere, he intends to create a website, and make himself available for media interviews and panel discussions, and really get his results out there.
I wanted to tell him, publish that book, create those new courses, teach those great ideas, but keep your head down, and don’t talk to the media, at least not before asking yourself these questions: Are you tenured? What will happen to you if colleagues or students Google you and find that the top results assert your incompetence?
And what does this self-policing of necessary and hard research questions do to researchers, to scholars, to our students, and to the public who is meant to receive that mobilized knowledge?
Research like ours, the complicated, risky, challenging ideas that really teach you something: this isn’t the stuff of public discourse anymore, and it’s disingenuous of SSHRC to suggest it is.
Have I learned something from this?  If the CBC calls again I will probably talk to them; the producer who organized the original interview called to apologize, and I think he honestly does feel bad about it. But the stuff is still out there, articles and blog posts and tweets that make me ashamed and defensive about my years of successful peer-reviewed research, and the fact that there’s nothing I can do to correct it makes me feel ill.
Miao Dean is a Professor of English at the University of Victoria. She teaches courses on the Canadian novel, and is interested in non-fiction prose and travel writing as well. She has published extensively on early Canadian women writers, on the literature of wilderness travel, and on animals and hunting in early Canadian writing. Her most recent book, Inheriting a Canoe Paddle, is on the way the discourse of the canoe is mobilized to justify Canadian sovereignty in the context of aboriginal title.

academic reorganization · Audre Lorde · feminist communities · guest post · writing

Guest post: It’s Personal

by Marie Carrière

I am on a half-sabbatical leave from my university. And lo and behold, I am working on a book! In a nutshell, my reflection focuses on our present, or late, feminist moment that I call metafeminism. Here is how I am defining metafeminism: I find the idea ensconced in the prefix meta central to understanding this moment; it delineates the reflections and deflections of the several recognizable faces of feminism with which Western culture has grown familiar. Such vacillation of feminism’s tropes, waves, and manifestations is at the heart of my understanding of metafeminism.

But I want to slow down, and I want to write differently.

In Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks argues that revolutionary feminist theory – meant to inform masses of people and transform the societies we live in – is not, ironically enough, readily available or accessible to a non academic public. It “remains a privileged discourse,” hooks writes, “available to those among us who are highly literate, well-educated, and usually materially privileged.” This is more than a fair point. But unlike hooks’ work here, my essay cannot claim to address anybody other than those already with an interest in feminist thought and writing. I cannot claim nor do I want to pretend that the book I’m writing is not an academically driven project. It stems from my long-standing research into contemporary feminism, especially of the late twentieth century and new millennium. But I am looking to break with the monographic tradition that continues to render so much academic writing, including my own, relevant only to… academic reading and yet more academic writing… I look to also speak to skilled readers and certainly to students curious about feminism’s trajectories through thought and literature.

Of course I am not writing in a generic vacuum with no history. The French essai is a literary genre of writing that comes close to what I have in mind for my book. I’m not sure that “essay” is the most accurate English equivalent. But for now, I’ll take it, with a few qualifications. The online Larousse defines the French term essai as follows:

ouvrage regroupant des réflexions diverses ou traitant un sujet qu’il ne prétend pas épuiser; genre littéraire constitué par ce type d’ouvrages […] action entreprise en vue de réaliser, d’obtenir quelque chose, sans être sûr du résultat ; tentative.

This definition appeals to me. Not only does it help me understand how I might distance my work from the comprehensiveness of the standard academic monograph. It helps me imagine how a personalized (but not, in my case, intimate or confessional) academic essay might take shape and give rise to a different form of scholarly writing.

Simply put, how might I say I in my academic writing?

So “simply put,” that when I read out this last sentence to S., my 13-year old daughter, she replied, “It’s not hard, Maman. We learn that in first grade.”

What I haven’t yet explained to S. is that figuring out how to say I, as a woman, within the academy, even from a tenured, white, cis gender privileged position like my own, is not that simple. Although writing in the first person as a woman will not, of course, automatically produce more accessible scholarship, I still hope that in this essay it might give rise to a different form of scholarly writing. How might I say I in an academic book project and write from a place of intellectual feeling, of literary sensation, and of feminist care? How might I tap into what Audre Lorde describes as a “disciplined attention to the true meaning of ‘it feels right to me’?”

Ann Cvetkovich’s remarkable 2012 book, Depression: A Public Feeling is, unlike my own, partly written in the form of the academic memoir, laying out her personal struggle with depression. Of note is what I would call the metafeminist “rapprochement with legacies of 1970s feminism such as consciousness-raising, personal narrative, and craft” that Cvetkovich recognizes in her blending of memoir and criticism. As in metafeminism, there are in fact multiple sites of influence in Cvetkovich’s work. She also acknowledges the legacy of a generation of feminists including bell hooks, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Jane Gallop who have continued the trend of personal academic writing. And she harks back to the influence of a more marginal feminist confessional zine culture of the early 1990s.

And so, perhaps that’s the big deal (with affection, ma fille): I too would like my own personalized essay to be a kind of rapprochement to these different expressions of feminist thought. To recall a context closer to home, the fiction theories (or fictions théoriques) practiced by feminist and queer Québécois writers in the 1970s (Bersianik, Brossard, Théoret) and their Anglo-Canadian counterparts in the 1980s (Brandt, Marlatt, Tostevin) also serve as my models.

(A girl can dream, especially during a thought experiment.)

I discovered these texts during my undergraduate studies in my early twenties, delving deeper into them in graduate school. Bringing together anglophone and francophone influences has allowed this bilingual feminist room to dream across borders and boundaries. In a sense, these texts have been my feminist super-egos, my propédeutique to literary understanding, my entry into feminist ethics. With their blend of female subjectivity, feeling, creative reflection, and aesthetic experimentation, these authors started to write at an exceptional time in Québécois and Canadian literature, which I examined in my first book (a monograph!). Since then, some, though not numerous, Canadian works of more recent personal criticism by women (Lee Maracle, Catherine Mavrikakis, Andrea Oberhuber, or Erin Wunker) have followed in this vein. Finally, just as Cvetkovich’s turn to the confessional in her critical work on affect fittingly sets out to raise public consciousness through the expression of personal experience and emotion, my own personalized essay, like metafeminism, hopes to fittingly oscillate between various manifestations, or waves, of feminist theory and practice.

Further to the resistance of academic exhaustiveness in my adoption of the personalized essay is perhaps the issue of exhaustion itself. Attributing the appeal of personal memoir in criticism to humanities scholarship’s affective turn (Clough; Gregg and Seigworth), Cvetkovich entertains the idea of personalized academic writing “as a sign of either the exhaustion of theory or its renewed life.” I find the idea very provocative. But I’m also a bit loathe to pigeonhole theory in those terms. I refuse to believe that theory is exhausting, exhausted, or even exhaustive.

Theory, I try to reassure my students (to a variable degree of success), is just theory: a thought experiment, a set of principles, a string of ideas; it’s always historical with a material context, and to an attentive reader willing to take a few risks and work a little harder, it should be no more daunting than any other narrative. But I do think there is room for deeper thinking about why more open forms of theoretical writing, that draw from intimate experience and personal understanding, might be apt at this time in feminist, indeed metafeminist, work. I’m thinking especially of theory that draws from intimate experience and personal understanding, and adopts a jargon-free, intelligible, fathomable language. In what is still a profoundly scholarly meditation on the socio-cultural aspects of depression, Cvetkovich’s book, particularly its “depression journals” segment, is as personal and readable as it is intellectually engaging.

This work also falls in line with other recent turns to academic memoir, such as Maggie Nelson’s brilliant feminist “autotheory” in The Argonauts, at the heart of which she traces her relationship with her fluidly gendered partner, her experience of queer pregnancy, and her realization that pregnancy is queer. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s personal essay We Should All be Feminists, adapted from her TEDx talks of the same title, is in turn an attempt to free feminism from stereotypical notions that Adichie grew up with in Nigeria and still encounters in American culture. (And this is before that orange fuckface entered politics.) Wunker in turn writes, in her own words, at the “interstices of critical and literary theory, pop culture, and feminist thinking” in Notes from a Feminist Killjoy. She posits her use of the pronoun I as a personal and intellectual gesture of positioning herself, textually and socially, as a white privileged woman writing about feminism in Canada today. Most recent is Sara Ahmed’s highly anticipated, Living a Feminist Life, an academic memoir that Ahmed began to construct through her ongoing blog, feministkilljoys.com.

To my mind, these works are not exhibiting theoretical exhaustion. They are brazen, filled with admirable feminist boldness, as they pursue the more open forms of writing that may, from a neoliberal standpoint, be slowing them down, and that the neoliberal university may not be ready to fully acknowledge. But these are forms that feminism today – whether intersectional, queer, or oriented around affect studies – fully warrants. Given the accumulation of its multiple variables and directions, metafeminism, to hark back to hooks’ argument, “needs to be written in a range of styles and formats.” I would love to continue to see feminist writing that loosens, as do the works mentioned above, age-old boundaries separating the academic and the personal, or the scholarly and the accessible. I believe such efforts can address the need for stylistic diversity and enrich both a common reading experience and a more specialized scholarly one.

It’s difficult not to notice as well the early second-wave mantra of “the personal is political” being powerfully re-invoked by works like Nelson’s or Cvetkovich’s. Hence my argument that my book, my personalized essay is an attempt, my attempt, at a metafeminist form of academic writing. This project is also an attempt to figure out how my scholarly learning, which is always in process, can breathe life, or let life breathe, into forms of expression that fall outside of strict or standard academic norms of writing. Finally, and maybe this is (too) brazen on my own part, but could these personalized moments in my writing be a form of queering such norms? Through Nelson’s own take, I recall Sedgwick’s controversial notion of queer as encompassing various kinds of disruptions and subversions. “Queer is a continuing moment, movement, motive – recurrent, eddying, troublant […] relational, and strange,” writes Sedgwick, to which Nelson adds:

She wanted the term to be a perpetual excitement, a kind of placeholder – a nominative, like Argo, willing to designate molten or shifting parts, a means of asserting while also giving the slip. That is what reclaimed terms do – they retain, they insist on retaining, a sense of the fugitive.

Meanwhile, Sedgwick also acknowledged the danger of dematerializing the term through this removal of “same-sex sexual expression” from queer’s “definitional center.” As Nelson again adds: “In other words, she wanted it both ways. There is much to be learned from wanting something both ways.” (29).

That’s what metafeminism, by the way, is all about: reflecting and deflecting; having it both ways.

Writing about feminism today, at least for me, craves a suppler form than the monograph allows. One that’s less exhaustive and less exhaustible, one that’s fugitive perhaps, and maybe even queer. One that wants it both ways. To write, then, an academic personalized essay. To take the unfinished wave of a scholarly attempt, and to chase the tides of feminism’s first, second, third, and even fourth movements in the texts of Canadian women writers today. Maybe a personalized essay is the only form possible for an academic study of metafeminism. Vast and extensive in historicity as well as content, metafeminism encompasses what has been referred to for some time as feminisms in the plural; it denotes those shifting parts of sexual, racial, gender, and trans identities articulated beyond the normative categories of a very old and very persistent patriarchal tradition. Perhaps metafeminism’s breadth, multidirectional texture, and ambivalences, indeed its queerness, already resist the monograph – the highly detailed, authoritative, legitimized account of a single thing.

Perhaps only the essai personnalisé, with its open process and its desire to give academic discipline the slip, will do.

Marie Carrière directs the Canadian Literature Centre at the University of Alberta where she also teaches literature in English and in French. Her most recent publication is a critical anthology co-edited with Curtis Gillespie and Jason Purcell, Ten Canadian Writers in Context.
academic reorganization · grad school · guest post

Guest Post: The Grad School Decision: Thoughts and Advice for Students, Professors, and Mentors

Last weekend, I took a two-day workshop on active listening organized by my campus’ student union.

The workshop was geared towards supporting survivors of sexual assault and harassment, but needless to say the skills could be widely applied. I started thinking about the conversations I have with my friends and family, especially regarding personal difficulties or decisions, and how I can be a more effective support person. Specifically, I started to notice that people were coming to me seeking certain things, whether they (or I) realized it: sometimes they need hard, clear advice; sometimes they need commiseration; and sometimes they just need someone to listen deeply, and to leave the analysis and decision-making up to them.

To be clear: these needs aren’t always mutually inclusive, and it’s ok for me (and others) to mistake one conversation for another. Communication is hard, and as they reminded as in the workshop, there is no ‘right way’ to support someone. But the very act of stopping, listening, thinking, and setting your own concerns, experiences, and judgments aside can be as valuable as it is challenging.

So why is this post about choosing to continue grad school?

Well, it’s February. The applications for scholarships and programs are submitted, or about to be. Grad committees are meeting. And students everywhere are seriously contemplating whether or not they should go to grad school, and where. And though many students may not have heard back on their applications, the decision starts to press in from all sides (especially if your lease expires in just a few months).

In this post, I hope to offer two things: reassurance to my fellow students or would-be students; and advice to profs, supervisors and mentors who will be consulted on this major decision.

To students and potential-students:
· It’s ok to want to go to grad school, even if you don’t see a job at the end of it.

· It’s ok to not want this (anymore), even if you’ve worked towards it. It’s ok to feel worn down, or like you aren’t up for this, or like you want to put your energy elsewhere. You are so wonderful, and you will be valuable no matter where or how you work, fight, and love.

· It’s ok to feel weird at any/every stage of the process. I felt sick to my stomach when I got my acceptance. I’m not the only one.

· It’s ok to prioritize family, community, health, comfort, geography, and financial stability in your decision-making. You are more than just a student, and your program will go smoother if you let yourself know this.

· It’s ok to think short-term: does your funding package appeal because it’s more than you make at your retail/service job? Does student-status look better than precarious work or unemployment? It’s ok if this is your motivation, rather than a passion for research and teaching. Maybe your motivation will shift, maybe it won’t.

Which brings me to this:

· It’s ok to imagine yourself dropping out or not finishing. Sometimes, just the knowledge that you can leave is the only thing that keeps you going. (Shout out to RM and MK: one or both of you told me this when I felt full of despair).

· It’s ok to leave. Whether that means turning down that offer next month, or leaving your program mid-way through.

· And above all: this decision affects you most of all, so centre yourself and your needs. No matter what your decision, your supervisor(s) will be fine. That helpful grad coordinator or administrator will be fine. Your best friend in the program will be ok. You’re the one who has to live with this decision, so listen to yourself.

To the faculty, advisors, supervisors, professors, and mentors:*
This is when my thinking around active listening comes in. I can imagine it’s incredibly difficult to provide emotional and professional support to your students. Maybe you feel invested in them, or maybe you are too busy to be the kind of helpful prof that you had or needed or wanted. But if you know you’ll be a part of these conversations, my primary advice is to apply the basic principle of active listening: wait, listen, think, and try to gauge what the student actually needs from you.

· Do they need information? That could be straightforward. Maybe they just need to be put in touch with a grad coordinator. Maybe they need that kind of tacit knowledge Aimée has discussed. Or maybe they need the kind of information that feels like gossip but is actually vital. If you don’t feel comfortable telling them that that star academic probably won’t give them the support they desire, try and put them in touch with a grad student or colleague who can speak honestly with them.

· Do they need advice? This is tricky. First of all, do they need advice from you in a professional capacity or as a friend? Does this difference mean something to you? More on advice-giving below.

· Do they need reassurance? Don’t we all. If you’re not able to give the kind of emotional support they need, especially during that awful period of waiting-to-hear-back, then just ask them “Do you have someone you can talk to about this?” This can help to signal that maybe you are not that person, and can remind them about that other student going through the same process, or the career counselling services on campus.

· Do they need space? Then please give it. Note if you are always the one starting the conversation about [ominous tone] next year. Note if they try to change the topic. Give them back control: remind them that you are available to talk, and let them start these conversations when and if they need them.

Some general advice:

· Your student is not you. What was right for you won’t necessarily work for them. They can’t follow your trajectory–times have changed and so has tuition.

· No matter what decision they make, they will never be wasted. Yes, professors have told my friends that if they don’t go to grad school, it would be ‘a waste’ of their ability; this can sting. If your student is talented, intelligent, passionate, and skilled, they will bring that spark to any job, career, program, or path they choose.

· You don’t need to know their personal context in order to respect it. Maybe they are hesitant to move away: they don’t need to disclose to you that they want to be near a sick relative, or that their partner’s job is a priority, or that they need to prioritize adequate mental health services. You just need to recognize that geography is a major concern for them.

· Money is personal. They may need more–or less–than you did. Again, they may not want to disclose that they are supporting dependents, or dealing with debt, or accounting for the cost of healthcare, divorce, family planning, a long distance relationship, etc.

· We all value different things. Some people prioritize prestige or reputation more than others. If they signal that they don’t share your values, that’s not a judgment on you. Rather, it’s a sign that they know themselves pretty well.

· Just because the academy needs them, doesn’t mean they need the academy. Shout out to HM for this. This applies especially to students who are marginalized within institutions. Yes, we need more Black and Indigenous students. More students of colour. More queer and trans students. More disabled students. More students from working class backgrounds. But it’s not on your student to make diversity happen. If they fought to earn a degree or two from institutions that aren’t built for them, then they are fierce as hell, and you can remind them of this. But if they are ready to leave and put their energy elsewhere, that’s ok too. Back to my first point: they will never be wasted. And if you feel like they would have stayed if the university didn’t have oppression built into its very old, very white bones, then let this be your motivation to make the institution better for the next student.

*I came to my PhD with the support of some amazing professors and fellow students. The advice offered here is modelled off of supportive behavior I have witnessed, and should not be taken as shaming faculty and instructors for being imperfect. Your efforts are so valuable and so deeply appreciated.

Kaarina Mikalson is in her second year of her PhD in the Department of English at Dalhousie University. She doesn’t regret it (yet), though the initial decision made her nauseous and weepy. She reads CanLit and comic books, and currently researches the Spanish Civil War and labour in literature. She plays roller derby, sews and embroiders, and now owns a soldering iron, so she’s ready for the apocalypse.

academic reorganization · academy · altac · empowerment · ideas for change

Professionalization and the Skillz to Pay the Bills

My first email address, that I got at York in 1993, was this: yku01233@yorku.ca. I probably only remember it because it was my very first email address, and I only knew, like 10 other people with email addresses, pretty much my friends who were geeks and who were at university: queensu.ca, uoguelph.ca. We memorized each other’s weird handles and it all felt very computery and The Future. We were emailing with command line Lynx.

When I got to Guelph for my MA, I had a new address: amorri02@uoguelph.ca. The first thing I did was go into the settings of my mail program (Pegasus!) and configure the account so that the name “Aimee Morrison” attached to the email address amorri02@uoguelph.ca. That way, if you got an email from me, it would list my actual name in your inbox. And if you were on campus and typed part of my name, it would autocomplete the address from the directory. When I got to the University of Alberta (in 1998) I did the further trickery of registering an actual alias address: ahm@ualberta.ca worked, but so did aimee.morrison@ualberta.ca. People marvelled at my astonishing computer skills.

None of this was hard to do. And it was the professional thing to do. Last week, I was ranting on Facebook about the number of students who won’t check their emails at all (YOU ARE ALL GOING TO FLUNK OUT BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE WE SEND DEADLINES), who won’t use their university accounts (FORWARD TO YOUR GMAIL IF YOU WANT BUT THIS IS A WORKPLACE), or who just never attach their names to their emails so that everytime I want to email them, I have to actually look through the university directory. Or they email me, and I have to reverse lookup the email address to figure out the name of the student.

Honest to god. Stop this. This is why people think we’re useless.

It got me thinking about bigger issues, about a different kind of professionalization, and institutionalization. One of the ways, I fear, that graduate students become institutionalized to think that there is no good life for them outside of the university is that we both passively support and sometimes actively encourage a very high degree of practical uselessness in them. You’re 30 years old and wrote a book length treatise on cycle plays but didn’t get paid in September because you never told HR that you moved, and they still have your email address from high school? Yeah. You might not be ready to have a regular job.

My sister works in the private sector. She wears real pants to work every day, uses a corporate intranet, meets deadlines, writes professional emails, uses spreadsheets, runs meetings. She has no patience at all for the life of the mind I describe to her, where everyone habitually misses deadlines, no one is trained on the main parts of their jobs, no one knows the org chart or the policies or the paperwork. Use a spreadsheet. Add. Their. Names. To. Their. Emails. And it is ridiculous, really.

Perhaps when we claim that our careers must take place in universities, we are as much about the negative valuation as the positive: we literally cannot function in office environments, because we don’t even know how to do a hanging indent in Microsoft Word, let alone create a pivot table, or use Excel functions to sort a table along two axes. Maybe we are unemployable.

This is depressing. Yes, academics are eccentric. One of my dear dear colleagues (love you!) knows how to ride a horse, but not drive a car. This type of thing is endemic. But can’t we be both eccentric AND competent? Paleography AND touch typing? Multi-modal poetry AND hand your grades in on time?

It begins with training. You know, when I started as grad chair, I was handed a master key, and a password to an email account, and left at it. Unacceptable. This work is complex, collaborative, multi-departmental, deeply financially implicated, full of ethical pitfalls and legal duties. Not one minute of training. I didn’t have the knowledge to run a lemonade stand, and I found myself in charge of a whole graduate program. It doesn’t speak well of the professional standards of my profession, truly. Just this year, the university is beginning to offer formal training for these roles. Next week, two and a half years into my three year term, I’m going to a workshop on how to lead meetings. Thank god.

We can do better by our students. The number one thing would be to inculcate the idea of the university *as* a workplace, and all of us as professionals in it. And of course, many professors (me!) need a lot more training in the mechanics of the workplace than we ever get. The next, and much easier thing, would be to offer opportunities to acquire basic workplace technical skills: using software, running meetings, emailing like a grownup, navigating the org chart.

Somewhere between debauched bohemian and corporate drone, there’s got to be some kind of middle place, some kind of basic competence in workplace skills and behaviours, so that we have more opportunities open to us, rather than fewer?

What do you want training in?

#shinetheory · academic reorganization · feminist communities · you're awesome

Hot Topic: How to Amplify Women’s Voices in the Academy

Last week a short article was making the rounds on social media. The article was about how women in the Obama administration managed to make their voices heard. The interviewees in the article noted that initially it was difficult to even get into the important meetings. And, when they did get into the meetings they were often overlooked. Or their ideas were not heard and credited as theirs.

Peggy accurately captures my feelings.

So they made a plan.

The women got together (hello, shine theory!) and decided that each time a woman made a suggestion in a meeting other women would repeat her suggestion while naming her and giving credit.

There they were: women boosting other women’s ideas and demonstrating how to give credit where credit is due. Think of it as amplification.

I love this idea, and since I read the article I have been thinking about how to bring this more deliberately into my practice in scholarly writing. So here is the beginning of a list of ways to amplify  work by women and other marginalized people:

Citations

I often make an effort to write two lines of argumentation into one paper. Rather than being confusing (two thesis statements?!) this is fun and political. Here’s what I mean: I regularly make an effort to cite friends, peers, colleagues, and mentors in my paper if their thinking is relevant to the work I am doing. I’ve done this since I was a graduate student, and I learned the practice from some of my mentors who thanks me and other students in the acknowledgements of their books. Now, I go out of my way to reference the intellectual work of women when I speak publicly and write. It’s my academic version of Le Tigre’s anthem Hot Topic.

Invitations
If you’re on advisory committees or in department meetings or have any opportunity to influence who gets brought to your campus then speak up! Bring in women. Bring in women of colour. Bring in Indigenous women. Bring in differently abled women. Bring in trans people. In fact, bring them into your classroom! Skype and google hangout are free. Departments often have some sort of funds for guest lecturers. Getting invited to speak, getting paid for your public thinking, and getting your work introduced to a new group of people is invaluable. So speak up and suggest names when you have the opportunity to do so!

Book Reviews
In one of my other writing lives I chair the board of Canadian Women in the Literary Arts aka CWILA. Every year we do a gender audit of book review culture in Canada and one of the things we’ve found that doesn’t show up in the metrics (yet) is that reviews matter in terms of how books and ideas circulate. You know: buzz. It is a real thing. And here is something I have found, though again anecdotally: there’s not as much buzz around academic writing by women and other Others. So pitch book reviews! And feel good about the crucial contribution you’re making to a richer, more diverse and representative discourse of writing happening in academic circles. Hype books you’re excited about (I for one cannot wait for Professor Karina Vernon’s book to come out, for example). And speaking of hype…

Referrals
When you’re in a conference Q&A or sitting in the department lunchroom talking to colleagues or speaking with graduate students and the inevitable “do you have a text to recommend?” question comes up… recommend with relish and enthusiasm and care! Reference diverse work in your lectures! In your conversations! And…in order to do this, challenge yourself to keep a current sense of new and archival work by to draw on. When’s the last time you had Mary Ann Shadd on your early Canadian Literature syllabus, for example? Or what about Tanya Lukin Linklater‘s work on your Performance Studies syllabus? Referencing and referring feels awesome and it is awesome.

academic reorganization · feminist health · gradgrind · guest post

Women, Academia, Sport: “Pink It and Shrink It,” the Tomboy Running Experience

Until the early 1990s the running industry’s philosophy towards women and running could be summed up by the phrase “pink it and shrink it.” This phrase was used in reference to women’s running shoes implying that they were the shrunken version of men’s and “feminized” by colouring them pink. Thankfully, largely owing to Nike and their recognition that women’s gait and biomechanics differ from that of men, this philosophy has since changed.
I grew up being that girl with untamed hair, ripped jeans, stealing my dad’s hats, and avoiding at nearly any cost the colour pink.  In short, I was a tomboy.  On entering the world of running I was overjoyed to discover that the industry had moved beyond the need to make all women’s running shoes pink.  Nike had set a new and forward thinking trend and not only adjusted the shoes to fit a women’s gait, but also had decided to give women the choice about the colour of their running shoes.
Nearly five years later, with still not-pink running shoes laced, I am heading to run club on Sunday morning much like almost every Sunday for the last five years.  When I first started going to run club I expected to find an all-boys club with only a few women – I was wrong. The room was packed and majority were women. Since moving beyond “pink it and shrink it,” more and more women have taken up running. I’ve really noticed the increase of women participating, as my running clinics are usually all women with one or two men. I usually start my new clinics with the opening remark: “running is more of relationship than a sport, and one that is sixty percent psychological and forty percent physical.” Running is more often a game of convincing yourself that you can do it and then pushing your body to do so. In this way, running is also the most freeing sport relationship. You decide how far, how fast, and how long you go. You set your own goals and if you stick to the training program you can achieve your goal. I wish I could say the same for academia.
Academia is the other major relationship in my life. Unlike running, there is no training program that I can follow to succeed as an academic. While my relationship with running has not always been straightforward due to injury or inclement weather conditions, there is always a sense of security because of the degree of control I have.  My success in academia, however, I only partly control. I can pour over books, jump through all the program hoops, and meet all the deadlines with no guarantee that I will be able to advance to the next phase of my academic career. While both academia and running operate on a schedule, the biggest difference between them is bureaucracy.
Academia has become more about jumping through bureaucratic hoops than actually participating in scholarly exploration. When I started graduate school I was under the impression that part of the reward of succeeding beyond the undergraduate level was the freedom to research and study what interests me, but like my expectations for run club, I was wrong, and this time it wasn’t a pleasant surprise. The higher up the academic ladder you climb the more bureaucratic and unpredictable it becomes. I wish academia were more like running where if you set a goal and stick to a training schedule you have the security of knowing that you could succeed on your own merit rather than your success being determined by the subjective and often conflicting nature of academic bureaucracy.

While my love letter to running is ongoing, my letter to academia has become a little bitter sweet.  It’s difficult to succeed in a discipline when the goals keep changing; when you’re cheering section and equipment are ill-fitting and change daily from “you can do it!” to “you’re just not good enough”.  I am sad to say I am only partially in control of my academic career.  The other part is controlled by the bureaucrats still making equipment that is a simple reduction and recolouring of the same flaws academia had a hundred years ago.  In short, I love you academia, but you are still in the “pink it and shrink it” phase and make it hard for minds like me to show you what I can do.

 

Liz Tetzlaff is an MA candidate in English at Dalhousie University, and running coach for Running Room, where in addition to coaching, I give outreach talks around the city encouraging others to get involved in the running community.  My research interests mainly focus on poetry of the female Great War poets and their engagement with radical pacifist movement. In addition to running and war poetry, I enjoy playing with puppies, listening to Sarah McLachlan, and watching BBC mini series.

academic reorganization · guest post · kinaesthetic thinking · play · women and sport

Women, Academia, Sport: A place in the league

Maybe My Derby Name Will Be Attack-Anemic

 

 

 
It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m in a gym in Spryfield, Nova Scotia. I have just skated 20 laps in 5 minutes–my best time yet. We have reached the halfway point of the Anchor City RollersFresh Meat program, and one of our coaches is explaining how the league works: “We want you to know that no matter what your skill level is, there will always be a place for you to skate in our league.” This practice has been rough on me, but her statement affirms that I have chosen the right sport. I have avoided sports for years: I’m not competitive, I’m quite clumsy, and I associate sports with the burning shame of being the worst in the group. So far, roller derby is different. It’s terrifically welcoming and supportive. We are learning so many new skills–stopping, whips, transitions, crossovers, and endurance–all while trying to get comfortable on our skates. But the coaches are good-humoured and attentive in a way that makes it all seem achievable. When I start to feel like I’m falling behind, they roll up, ready to offer me guidance and help me recognize how much I am progressing.
 
Like Erin, I’m a walker. Mostly, I walk to campus and back–a solid walk through parks and a swanky neighbourhood. For me, walking is a time of mental processing. I usually don’t listen to the radio or music, because the sound crowds out my thoughts. Walking helps me sort my thoughts, ideas, and feelings. On days when I stay home, my brain feels cluttered with unsorted material.
 
But walking isn’t enough. I need something more active and engrossing, something to take me out of my head and into my body. I think this has always been an issue with sports; if I don’t enjoy the activity, I don’t commit to it mentally and physically. My discomfort erodes my attention, so I make mistakes that make me even more uncomfortable, and eventually I quit. I approached roller derby with the assumption that I would love it. I was so relieved to find that I did. It’s exciting enough to engage all my mental energy. It’s two hours a week when I don’t think about my research, my coursework, marking, or writing. It leaves me feeling exhausted but powerful. It’s a discipline totally removed from my other wonderful but totally fraught discipline–literary studies. I want to devote more of my time and energy to this feeling. I do squats while I wash dishes. I work on my balance while my students write a quiz. I do strength training throughout the week, because I like the idea of arriving to every practice just a little bit stronger.
 
And through it all, I feel a sense of security–there will always be a place for me in this league. Even if I’m the worst in the league, I still get to be in the league. I should note that I don’t work well under pressure. I never complete my work last minute. I am rigorous in my time management because otherwise I end up on the kitchen floor crying. For me, roller derby feels like a sport without all the pressure. I can progress at my own rate. I can set my own goals. I can participate as much as my schedule will allow. I can attend meetings and events, watch bouts, trade fitness tips with other rollers in our Facebook groups. So far, it’s the kind of space I wish academia could be. It’s the kind of space I try to build with my colleagues, the kind of space I see my mentors trying to make for me, and the kind of community that helps us endure in these broken institutions.
 
In a PhD program, no one–not even the most supportive colleagues and mentors–can assure you that there will always be a place for you. I receive two kinds of advice, usually simultaneously: do everything you can to be an ideal job candidate, and have one foot out the door. I don’t have to tell any of you how daunting that is. You’re here, making the choice every day to do more, work harder, try again, and/or you’re making the difficult, exciting choice to make a career elsewhere. I don’t know yet what my own path will be, but I’m starting to see the value in finding and building spaces for myself outside of academia. The mental space of walking, the physical space of roller derby, the community space of the league–hopefully, when the going gets tough I have these to fall back on.
 













Kaarina Mikalson  is a PhD student in English at Dalhousie University, and the project manager for Canada and the Spanish Civil War. Her research interests include literature of the Great Depression, the Spanish Civil War, and the intersection of gender and labour in Canadian literature. Besides roller derby, she enjoys sewing, comics, and lipstick. 

academic reorganization · kinaesthetic thinking · self care · women and sport

Women, Academia, Sport: I Dance Therefore I Am

The famed ballet choreographer George Balanchine once said, “I don’t want dancers who want to dance. I want dancers who have to dance.”
I have to dance. I do not think I could manage school, or much of anything else in fact, without dance. Unlike Erin, who calls herself a kinaesthetic thinker, I dance to get away from my thoughts and out of my head. Dance is the only thing I have ever found – except perhaps film – that allows me this reprieve. And as someone who struggles with anxiety, depression, and perfectionism, it is both a welcome and necessary reprieve.

I said I would dance anywhere. That includes near Parliament Hill!

When I talk about dance, unless I am referring specifically to my time inside a studio rehearsing a piece or working on my technique, I am usually speaking about improvisation. Though I enjoy these other aspects of dance, and recognize they are necessary to expanding my control over my body, and consequently, my ability to express myself as limitlessly as possible, I find the most solace in improvisation. Give me a dark room and some music, and my body takes care of the rest.

I will dance just about anywhere – from airports to parking lots, to between bookshelves in the library, in my room, and, of course, at dance studios. When I begin to panic and feel like my world is spiralling out of control, getting up and starting to move, with or without music, in any space, grounds me in my body. As someone whose mind is usually either stuck ruminating on the past, or else is speeding off into the future, dance draws me back into the present. I have been filled by some of the purest joy while dancing, but have also turned to dance when I am too numb to feel anything else. I often process my emotions, or at least allow myself room to feel them, through dance.
Ironically, I have both school and my perfectionism to thank for my years of training. Upon realizing that dance classes were perhaps the only things that would keep me from studying, over time, my parents gradually gave in to more classes, more workshops, and more competitions – anything to get me away from my textbooks. It was even thanks to my grade eight math teacher that I ended up at my high school where I studied dance. My parents were anxious to get his advice during a parent-teacher interview on where I might thrive most after middle school. As the story goes, he ignored their questions about IB and gifted programs, and instead asked if they had considered letting me go to an arts high school for dance. I have felt indebted to him ever since.
I have on occasion attempted to bring my love of dance into the classroom, and not infrequently use it as a frame of reference when trying to grasp new concepts. When we talk about gender roles, my mind inevitably turns to the tradition of ballet, which firmly relegates males and females to different choreographic parts[1]. When we discuss sexualisation, my thoughts turn to the alarming sexualisation of young children – mainly female – at dance competitions. When my sociology of education classes feel hopeless, I try to think back to my experiences of attending an arts high school, and I am reminded that there are alternative ways of approaching education.
I had a field day with my first aesthetics class in philosophy. I leaped at the opportunity to relate every assignment back to dance, which eventually led to me taking on an independent study on the aesthetics of dance. Though I enjoyed the independent study, I quickly realized that dance for me exists outside of the realm of the written word. My professor pointed out that my papers were riddled with unsubstantiated claims – but everyone can dance! We are born dancers! – and I learned that having the privilege to experience dance is enough for me. I do not want to try to capture something so elusive, magical in its nebulousness. Scrutiny can undermine sanctity. 
This summer my psychologist told me to make a list of all of my commitments I had signed up for during the school year. She instructed me to choose three to keep for certain, and to rank the rest in order of how much they would increase my stress and decrease the quality of my work. I tried to argue that my dance classes should not count as one of the three guaranteed commitments, because, like Gillian, who makes time for roller derby despite her packed schedule, dance is a given in my life. I simply don’t function without it. I take as many dance classes as I can, and have taught and choreographed dance for years. When I am asked what I do for fun (the list is scant), I sometimes forget to list dance because it is such an integral part of my life and identity that I do not see it as a hobby.
When I improvise, I feel seen, known, and understood. Improvising leaves no room to premeditate, no time to plan, curate, or refine the image you want to portray. This stands in stark contrast to my imposter syndrome and general insecurity, both of which cause me to feel like I am constantly “faking it”, and have yet to be found out for the (inadequate, terrible) person I really am. Being able to return to my body and know that embedded within it is an authentic version of myself is a blessing. Further, no one has ever been able to figure out why I approach everything in my life but dance with unceasing perfectionism. Somehow I have managed to reserve this one space in which I am allowed to simply be, and to enjoy myself. Though this is not the case for many dancers, especially those attempting to make a professional career out of dance and often those studying ballet, I am thankful to say my dance remains perfectionism-free.

Throwback to high school.
If you read this, and thought to yourself, “I wish I could dance,” please know that you can. Everyone can dance. I truly believe it is only socialized inhibitions, and perhaps in some cases, the limits and abilities of our bodies, that prevent us from dancing as we age. So turn off the lights and turn on your favourite song. And if you have a child and the means to do so, consider enrolling them in a dance class. You never know, you or they might just be someone who has to dance too.
 
My dance playlist is always evolving, but here are some songs that have stuck with me over the years (as well as a few that I am enjoying too much right now not to include).
Caroline Kovesi is a fourth year student at Mount Allison University. She is pursuing an Honours Bachelor of Arts in sociology with a minor in philosophy. She is passionate about de-stigmatizing mental health. Her academic work often focuses on the intersection of mental illness, disability, accessibility, and higher education. She recently started a blog exploring such topics called “for the love of a bear.”


[1] There are, though, some pretty fantastic ballet troupes beginning to play with gender bending, like Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Check this video out.