appreciation · balance · conferences

Leaning into the weight and being off balance

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This is me giving a conference paper in Paris a few years ago. That’s my daughter in the baby wrap thing. Those are her little legs sticking out. She had  fallen asleep right before my panel. We had just survived our first trans-Atlantic flight together. I was SO tired. I know she was too. Once she fell asleep, that was it. I was not going to disturb that nap no matter what. So I gave my paper with the lights dimmed and reveling in the white noise of the projector. I whispered. The whole time. The room was hot. I am pretty sure everyone in the room was asleep by the time I was done.

Not the greatest conference paper of my career. For sure. But I got through. And the whole thing seems very funny now.

I’ve been thinking about this moment again. There’s always a lot of talk about work-life balance and how hard it is to strike that balance. I would be the first to agree. But I’m also starting to think that, sometimes, it’s ok for things to be kind of totally unbalanced. Maybe you’re a new parent. Maybe you have to care for a parent. Maybe your partner needs you a lot all of a sudden and you need to be there for them.

When I look at this picture, I can feel how heavy my baby was. I can feel the straps cutting into my shoulders and the heat of her little head against my chest. It wasn’t exactly pleasant, but there was a kind of sweetness in that weight too and I want to hang on to that.

Let’s keep talking and staying with each other about all the craziness of this thing called work-life balance, about whether to lean in or lean out.  I don’t have a lot of grand thoughts about any of that except to say that, sometimes, things just won’t be in balance. You will try. And you will let that be good enough. And, sometimes, you will lean into the weight of the things that throw you off balance. You’ll feel it in your shoulders and your in your chest and it will probably be exhausting. Lean into that too. It’s ok.

accident · accomodation · bad news · balance · being undone · best laid plans · Uncategorized

Hustle and no

I broke my foot. The doctor’s office phoned at lunch yesterday to confirm Monday afternoon’s x-ray: I broke my foot.

I broke my foot about 10 days ago, actually, in Nova Scotia, falling down some dew-covered stairs in the dark. At the time, it hurt so much I nearly threw up, and when I stood I was incredibly dizzy and disoriented, but I really had to go pee and I was all alone in the dark on the grass so I kept walking another 200 meters or so to the camp bathroom. And when I got back to my cabin it hurt to even have the pressure of the lightweight sleeping back on it, so I stuck my foot out into the open air, and gritted my teeth for the hour or so until the pain subsided enough for me to sleep. I mean, people were sleeping, what was there to be done? The next day I clocked about 8500 steps. I let my friend Megan carry my luggage for me, out to the camp bus, and up and down the stairs at her house. My foot was comically swollen. I walked to Erin’s house and back. (WORTH IT–BISOUS BISOUS TO THE WONDERFUL ERIN WUNKER.) The next day, I walked around two airports, took the dog around the block. The day after that, I taught all day, on my feet, walking around the room to every student, every group work laptop, writing all over the boards. Later that week I walked to and from campus. Yeah, my foot hurt, and was weird colours and was swollen, but there were things to do, you know?

My partner and my sister eventually convinced me to go the doctor on Monday, after I’d insisted on a 5km walk on Sunday to clear my head: my toes bruised solid purple and the top of my foot turned an alarming green.

I should have sought medical attention the night I hurt my foot.

I didn’t, and probably, you wouldn’t, either. People kept suggesting it and I was like, but what’s the point? I can walk, I’m fine. I don’t have time for the appointment itself, let alone whatever nonsense convalescence anyone is going to recommend to me. Rest. Elevate. I laughed out loud when the doctor murmured rest-and-elevate, stay-off-your-fee, a big mean guffaw: BUT WHEN? I demanded, HOW? There’s a dog, and I teach, and what about the groceries, and my kid’s pickups and her lessons, and all the rest of it. I have an incredibly supportive partner, and the blessing of a sister in town, but I was really like, meh, I’ll just muscle through it.

There’s something in that, something about the contemporary academy and contemporary woman- or mother-hood. There’s no slack in the system: we break our feet and we keep walking, because we feel we have to, just to keep the system moving forward, but also, and importantly, because we just don’t want to be a bother to anyone.

We break our feet and keep walking.

There’s something in me that doesn’t want to listen to my own body: I wanted to start the term strong, teach my classes, keep my writing days, be the prof I want to be. The life of the mind, the knowledge professions, can be intensely alienating: our bodies are impediments that we appease in order to keep thinking, seamlessly, frictionless. There was no room in this narrative for a broken foot and so I edited that part out. My partner already does at least half of the child care and the house work and the emotional labour and I don’t want to burden him, so I carried my own weight. My sister has a family of her own and a demanding job: she doesn’t need to come walk my dog at lunch everyday so I hold the leash in my other hand and pretend that makes things easier. My own pigheadedness and refusal to acknowledge my own body’s reality is pretty impressive. My denial game is STRONG.

We break our feet and keep walking.

I’ve emailed my chair and department administrator and the occupational health and safety officer to let them know about my foot, and ask about parking accommodations. I’ve canceled my on-campus meetings today so I can stay home and type with my foot up high on the desk beside me. I’ve taken off my fitbit and put it in a drawer. My sister is coming at lunch. I feel really awful about asking for and accepting this help, this help I would gladly and unhesistatingly extend to friends and colleagues.

So I ask you, dear readers, beyond pig-headedness and heavy responsibilities and maybe some guilt, why, why, why do we keep on walking, alone, when our feet are broken? And how can we stop.

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Yeah, that’s me in my grad class, 8pm, teaching with my foot on the desk. IN DENIAL.
balance · coping

Bad dreams

Lately, I’ve been having been have bad dreams. I am not the only one. Mine aren’t all that interesting, but I’m interested in how so many of us seem to be having them. They aren’t necessarily about the political moment but they probably aren’t disconnected from it either.
Sometimes, lately, I’m just scared. I mean, I find a lot of courage and balm-for-the-heart-and-soul in all of the resistance and in the knowledge that this resistance is working. But, just for a moment here and there, I’m also scared. There is no real reason except for, oh, you know, all the reasons.
It feels sometimes like there are no grown ups around. Even though I’m a real grown up (that’s what I keep telling myself), it’s hard to shake the flash of vulnerability that these bad dreams open up. As Aparna Tarc writes in her beautiful essay on the nightmares of a Fatima, a Syrian child who witnessed so much horror, “A Child is Dreaming”: “ we all were once children with nightmares, we may still be too close to the violent truth of feeling vulnerable at the mercy of grownups in charge of a big scary world.”
This disquiet, this vulnerability, reminded me of the dreams of terror that Charlotte Beradt collected, with considerable difficulty, in Germany between 1933 and 1939. I found myself rereading them last week. These are the dreams of ordinary people who knew that something bad was happening even if they couldn’t quite pin down what that bad thing might be. This structure of anticipatory knowledge, of knowing before knowing, strikes me as something to hang onto in a time when things can feel really scary really fast.
And when things happen so fast, it’s hard to hang on to the small moments where something bubbles up, reveals itself to us, especially when they don’t feel that great. I’m not a fan of waking up from a bad dream and staying with all those bad feelings. But maybe we can recognize that this disquiet is also a kind of knowledge. As Sharon Sliwinski so brilliantly recognizes in Mandela’s Dark Years: A Political Theory of Dreaming: “Dream-life is one of the key points of contact with this unconscious knowledge that each of us carries but does not quite possess.” Sliwinski’s distinction between possessing and carrying knowledge is important here. There are some things that we know and we know them because we will carry them, maybe only for a while, but we don’t have to keep them. Possession is its own kind of entrapment. We don’t have to fall in. We might just need to hold on for a bit.
Hold on and also remember that there are other dreams too. I had been driven to reread the Beradt dreams of terror because I wanted to remember that one is not alone in one’s bad dreams. Then I remembered that there was another great collection of dreams out there that connect, albeit obliquely, to this moment. During the 2008 US Democratic Primaries, Sheila Heti collected “real dreams that people have had about Hillary Clinton.” I reread a bunch of these too and remembered how funny and charming this project was back then and thought about how strange it was to read them now. It is tempting to fall into nostalgia, to feel as though these dreams captured another, sunnier, time. But we all know better than to think that the past is ever really just about the past. I don’t have a grand theory about the dreams Heti collected but I do know that they helped me remember that not all dreams are bad. I know that seems obvious. But, when you’re scared, even the obvious can seem stupidly out of reach.
Waking up from a bad dream is one of the loneliest things I’ve ever known. And then I lie there in the dark and remember that we are all dreaming and it is not all bad.
balance · gradschool · mental health · PhD · reflection

Repost: The Trap of Perpetual Productivity

It’s hard to believe I’ve been writing for Hook & Eye for well over two and a half years now, having joined the team in January of 2014. Sometimes I go back through my old posts and, shockingly enough, find inspiration from them. I say to myself: you’re pretty wise, past me! Tonight, after having enjoyed a semi-proper weekend doing weekend things (the extravagance!), including taking a long hike in the woods up the Hudson river with my partner, and now sitting at home facing a large stack of neglected papers and experiencing the dawning realization that a job app is due tomorrow…pulling out an old rant about the cult of perpetual productivity seems apropos.

Taken today, Oct. 23 2016, from the George Washington Bridge connecting NYC and NJ.

(originally posted March 11, 2014:)

After a tough week involving a lovely dose of strep throat and a major chapter deadline, I wanted to post a follow-up to Jana’s repost from last week, which was a vital reminder to “take the time for self-care.” The article to which she linked is indeed important as it opens up a conversation regarding the pervasive but often overlooked problem of mental health in academia. But while this Anonymous Academic is concerned with the pervasive “culture of acceptance” that encourages academics to keep silent about their own mental health issues, I’m concerned about the culture of guilt that disallows us from taking relaxing, enriching, non-academic-related mental health breaks. I want to know, that is, how exactly we unaccept the culture of acceptance.

As I’m now finally in the dissertation-writing stage, I’m finding this more than ever: with this behemoth of a paper looming over me, I am faced with a constant sense of having to be productive. Academics with families, I think, may have an easier time structuring their schedules, setting aside dedicated time for work and dedicated time for family; and they have a defined life outside of academia, giving them fulfillment and balance and perspective. But for a night owl and worrier like myself, who has spent the last seven weeks sans partner and even sans teaching, I feel like I am supposed to be working on my dissertation all the time.

There is a culture of guilt in academia that demands not only that we churn out articles and research at an alarming rate, taking few breaks, but also that when we do take breaks, those breaks be designed to make us more productive. I so often hear academics guiltily confessing that they ended up watching TV instead of working (at like 9 pm at night), or posting statuses akin to “this chocolate bar with help me work, right?” Or reminders that breaks are important because they’ll help us work that much harder when we get back to it. Why does everything we do–even the breaks we take–have to hinge around how productive we are? Why can’t we eat a chocolate bar and just enjoy it for its own sake? How do we learn, that is, to structure our time such that our breaks do help us establish more generative work-time, without falling into the trap of perpetual productivity? Especially during a time when our futures are precarious and we non-tenured must learn to accept that academia may not always be our home, it is more important than ever that we cultivate lives and passions outside of the ivory tower (though the catch 22 is that this is not always possible due to the very nature and structure of the system).

 Atsuko Tanaka, 93G (1993)–at the Armory Show 2014 

I recently tried to take a full day off, the first in weeks and weeks. I visited the Armory Show, located inside a massive passenger ship terminal on Piers 92 and 94 on the Hudson River. I saw so much art that challenged me or confused me or made me think (and I also marveled at the fact that I was in a place where, if I had thousands of dollars to spare, I could feasibly purchase a Pablo Picasso or a Kandinsky. And have it in my home.) I tried, readers, to relax, and breathe, and take time for myself. But I have to tell you, fighting back my own guilt at doing something entirely unrelated to my dissertation was really, really hard.

——
I guess I still don’t have answers to these questions, but think them important to raise. Readers, do you find yourselves struggling to enjoy allotted time off? Do you have advisors who indeed encourage and enable this kind of thinking? Please, share your stories. 

balance · day in the life · emotional labour · enter the confessional · food · time crunch

Sunday Suppers

My relationship to food is a long and deep one. I come from a family that prizes Sunday dinners, at home or at my grandmother’s house, where the twenty-or-so of us would gather at least once a month for birthdays and holidays or just because. We’re a family that spends meals talking about other meals, that shares intel on really good cheeses like state secrets. Growing up, we ate dinner as a family nearly every night. My Valentine’s Day was spent cooking for those people, who all piled into our dining room for dinner despite how unromantic or uncool it might be to spend the day of love with your parents. It was awesome. (If you’re interested, we ate Martha’s mac and cheese, which was SO GOOD, plus a green salad with fennel and lemon, and a beet salad with citrus, pickled onion, olives, and pistachios. Mom brought brownies baked in a heart-shaped pan, Dad brought wine, and Colleen brought the secret cheese.)

From the time I was in high school, I was often the one responsible for getting dinner started, and I’ve fed myself–and often other people, roommates and friends and sisters and spouses–almost every night for more than a decade. I’ve kept a food blog, off and on, since 2006. I own somewhere north of a hundred cookbooks, many of which are dog eared and food splattered, plus boxes of cards that record recipes collected from my mother-in-law, my grandmother, my own mom, and the internet. I have a knife callus at the base of my right index finger, and mandoline scars marring the fingerprints on three others. I’m an extremely good cook, mostly because I love to eat good food and I had to learn a long time ago–especially during the dire grad school years, when money was not a thing that we had–to make it for myself. I also really love cooking, the act of turning raw ingredients into something much more than the sum of their parts, of adding a bit of this, and a little more of that, until whatever I’m making tastes exactly like itself. Tastes good. As Tamar Adler would put it, I like exerting my will over a little slice of the chaotic world through cooking.

Cooking is also–and it seems like a cliché to say it, these days–one of my primary forms of emotional labour, of care not only for myself but for the people I feed. And my love of cooking gets in my way when it comes to gender equity at home.

My partner is good at many things, but meal planning and walking into a kitchen and turning what’s in the fridge into a meal is not one of them. He’s a good cook, but because he’s had rather less practice than I have, his repertoire is much more limited, and his ease in the kitchen is less. It seems to me a natural consequence of living in households where women are (expected to be) the primary preparers of food, and because I like doing the thing that keeps us fed, I leave less room than I should to step in and take over. The tension between wanting to cook–to feed us both well–and wanting to create equitable divisions of labour in our family has long nagged at me, especially since cooking is one of the major tasks that make up the second shift, that after-work work that women do rather more of than men. My desire to find different ways of approaching food-labour also has to do with the fact that as much as I love to cook, I hate making weeknight dinners. After all those years starting dinner as the first one home, and because I don’t want to become the human fridge inventory and Magic 8-ball that answers the question of what’s for dinner, the last thing I want to do after walking in the door from work is pull out my knives and light the burners. Too, I work full time, finish my PhD part-time, freelance sometimes, and try do things like sleep and have fun with friends and move my body and watch the new X-Files and have a life that is full but not “busy.”

There is not time to make dinner every night and do all those things.

It’s only in the last six months or so that I’ve seemingly found a solution that works for us that does not involve eating avocado toast for dinner every night or resorting to (and resenting) takeout, one that lets me indulge my love of making food, create room for my partner in the kitchen, transfer some of the food-labour to him, and get rid of weeknight dinner making. I call it Sunday suppers, and it is, in essence, a sort of leisurely batch cooking that makes me feel both relaxed and proficient, which is exactly how I want to feel before starting a new week. At some point on Sunday, I put a few things on the stove or in the oven or the slow cooker that will do their thing for awhile, with only a gentle nudge and prod from me as I do other things–read, write, watch Firefly for the thousandth time while I put away my laundry. I pull out my stacks of quart and half-quart takeout containers from the restaurant supply store, a roll of painter’s tape, and a Sharpie. I spend some time turning those simmering, bubbling pots into things that can be at the centre of a meal; this week’s pots of beans and cans of tomatoes became pasta e fagioli, channa masala, and Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with onion and butter. There are usually a few pans of roasted vegetables in there, which most often become breakfast with a fried egg on top, or dinner piled onto toast and snowed under with Parmesan cheese, or blended into soup. Sometimes there’s quiche, or a sort of chili-pilaf cross, or Ethiopian lentil stew and greens, or falafel. Later, everything get packed and labelled and stowed in the fridge and freezer. On weeknights, my partner gets to be on assembling and pasta-boiling and salad-making duty, or we do it together because we like being in the kitchen together.

Everyone gets fed. I don’t feel resentful. We eat together, and well. It works, and we both get what we fundamentally want, which is full bellies and time to do the things we love and a marriage that keeps working to break down old barriers and ways of being that don’t work for us anymore.

Now to figure out a better system for the laundry…

accomodation · balance · best laid plans · self care · winter

Sick Days

A few days ago, I went to work sick.
I was not so sick that I couldn’t get out of bed. But I wanted to stay in bed.
I was not so sick that I couldn’t get dressed. But I didn’t want to get dressed.
I was not so sick that I did not stay up past midnight the night before finishing my lecture. But I should not have finished it.
I was not so sick that I couldn’t go to work. But I should not have done it.
I can only say that now that I have completely failed to be sensible. Of course, I went to campus. Of course, I delivered my brilliant lecture noting that it was made more brilliant by the halo of rainbows that seemed to wobble in and out of the periphery of each powerpoint slide. Of course, I stayed on campus after teaching and kept all of my appointments.
Of course, I dragged my sorry self home at the end of a long day and wondered why I did that to myself.
You have totally done this too. Don’t even try to pretend otherwise.
I wonder now why I did not take Sheila Heti’s excellent advice. Heti reminds us that it is especially important to take a sick day right before you are really, really sick:
I recommend being sick in bed especially when you are not that sick. When you are seriously knocked out, eyes crusted over, sneezing nonstop, it’s hard to have life-changing epiphanies. The sick days we must take advantage of are those when it’s just a simple cold. The days when, if we pushed ourselves, we could get out of bed; the days when all it would take is a shower to make us feel 70 percent better. Those are exactly the days we should choose to be sick in bed. You still have your brain; you’re not aching all over. You just need to take things slower.
Heti’s recommendations are so gentle, and so right, that you should just, if you have not already done so, read the whole thing yourself. But, for now, let me draw out few things in particular. First, note the reference to life-changing epiphanies in the above passage. For Heti, being sick in bed, ideally, is a chance to pause and arrive at illumination of some kind. It is not just about lying there, buried in tissues, hoping that the meds will kick in soon so that they rest of the day can be spent in sweet oblivion. Although that would be nice too.
I thought about the times when I have been sick in bed. I have never been as wise as Heti. I have only been sick in bed when I have been really, really, really sick. In a hospital. Once, that happened the year before I came up for tenure. I was sick for a while. Months. I came out of that with a tremendous sense of gratitude for the friends who saw me through, but also with a wonderfully recalibrated attitude towards getting tenure. After being very sick, and then no longer being sick, I came to the realization that I was pretty awesome generally, and pretty awesome at my job specifically, and that any tenure and promotion committee would have to be blind not to see that. I also finished my book in four months. I had been sitting on that thing for over four years before that. It took getting sick and forcing myself to only read murder mysteries and trashy magazines for many months to kick my ass in gear. I can say now that I did not do it because I was afraid I would not get tenure. It’s hard to believe, but that honestly was not the motivation. I did it because I had been very sick and then I was not and I realized that I should just finish that thing. Not because it was my life’s work or anything like that. Just because it was something I should do.  
There is no logic to any of this. It’s just how it went down. I’m not even sure it was a life-changing epiphany. It felt much more prosaic.
I think back to that now and I wonder why I put myself through that. Maybe I could have just done it after being a little bit sick?
That is the second thing that I wanted to draw out from Heti’s essay. She suggests that the best sick days are the ones where you are not really all that sick. How hard it is to really take that wisdom to heart, to know to push the pause button just before the full-blown fevered climax. That this is the real trick.
And this trick is connected to the third and final piece of tender wisdom that I want to sit with. “Why,” she asks, “is it so hard to stop doing, to just rest?”
Although Heti connects this question to the need to value unproductivity simply for its own sake, in my case, there is also some unthinking machismo involved. I’m not saying it is like that for you. I am just owning up to the ridiculousness of the way that I man up.
Last fall, I had a bike accident. I flew over the handlebars and my chin bore the brunt of the fall. I was really lucky. There was a lull in traffic so there were no cars around me right at that moment. I had my helmet on. I was not going fast. So I was a bit banged up, and cut my chin up enough to need some stitches, but I was otherwise ok. Still, I couldn’t really open my mouth without pain (hello, stitches). Did I go into class the next day and lecture for two hours? Yep. Did I run my tutorial after, wincing the whole time? Yep? Did I refuse to cancel any of my appointments? Yep. Did anybody make me do that? Nope. Would my teaching or any of the other parts of my job have been compromised if I had just called in sick and stayed in bed, mouth shut, drinking smoothies and reading murder mysteries and trashy magazines? Nope. Was I an idiot? Yep.
Am I writing this right now while still sick? Yep.
Am I ever going to learn? I really hope so. And if I don’t, I hope you do. Do you feel a little sick? Don’t man up. Keep your jammies on. Stay in bed.
balance · family · generational mentorship · guest post

Guest Post: An Open Letter to My Son, On Starting University

Dear Owen,
When you were accepted to Dalhousie, one of my first thoughts was “welcome to my world!”
I’ve been around universities all of my life. I was born in Berkeley, where my parents had met as graduate students. I vividly remember childhood visits to my father’s office in UBC’s Old Administration Building: I had no idea what work he did there, but I loved the hushed yet busy atmosphere and the cabinets full of stationery supplies. My parents used to pick us up from elementary school at lunch time so we could attend the Music Department’s noon-hour concerts; when I went to University Hill Secondary School (which, as its name implies, was on the periphery of the campus) the university library, cafeterias, bookstore, and pool all became familiar territory. Without really knowing it, I was internalizing a culture, a way of life, that I went on to explore further as a university student and which I now inhabit fully as a professor myself. Though I’m at the opposite side of our (very wide) nation from where I began, in this respect at least I’m still very much at home.
It’s not as if you haven’t also been around universities all of your life, of course. You were born literally across the street from the Dalhousie campus, in a teaching hospital affiliated with the university’s medical school. You went to many summer camps at Dalhousie — what a treat it always was to visit you on the quad at lunch time! You’ve hung out with me at my office and attended workshops and special events here. Over the years you’ve also overheard endless conversations between your two professor parents about our academic work: about our students, about our colleagues, about our professional commitments, but also about the passionate interests that motivated us to take up this work in the first place.
You aren’t exactly a stranger to this world, then. But it’s different now, because this time it’s about you, not me.
I’ve been surprised by how emotional I get contemplating your move to university. It’s not just that you are literally moving, into residence, though that’s part of it: the room that has been yours for so many of your 18 years will feel more than empty. It’s not just that I’m worried about how well you’ll take care of yourself without a bit of nudging, though of course that’s part of it too, because moms fret (“this mom especially,” I hear you saying, with a hint of irritation)(but seriously, you won’t forget to floss, will you?). No, what’s both exciting and unsettling is knowing what a period of discovery this will be for you, and thus, inevitably, for us, as we all find out who you are really going to be and where you’re going to go from here. We’ve brought you this far, but from now on we will recede, rightly, from the foreground of your life — we will be formative but not definitive influences on you. “Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending,” George Eliot wisely observed: while for you this is a beginning, for me it is also an ending, and so my celebration is inevitably tinged with poignancy.
It turns out, then, that I’m not really welcoming you into my familiar world: I’m watching you make it yourworld. Don’t think, though, that this means I don’t have any advice for you! After all, I’ve still been around universities a lot longer than you — and I’m still your mom. So here are my top tips, for you and for anyone on the brink of this big adventure.
First of all, take care of yourself (did I mention flossing? healthy gums, healthy mind!).
Second, take care of your business — by which I mean the business of your education. My specific tips here might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how much they matter, and how many students disregard them, sometimes until it’s too late.
1.     Go to class. Boring or entertaining, simple or challenging, that’s what you are there for, and you won’t always be the best judge of the value of the time you spend in the room.
2.     Do the work, including all the readings. Remember the immortal words of Raymond Chandler: “There are no dull subjects, only dull minds.” Make it interesting.
3.     Be present — not just physically, but mentally. Sometimes this will take effort. Make the effort.
4.     Talk to your professors. That’s what they are there for — and there’s nothing they like better than talking to a student who is trying to know more, understand more, do more with the subject they have dedicated their lives to. (Remember how I light up when I talk about Middlemarch? Every professor has a Middlemarch, and you will learn the most from them when they talk about it. If you ever want to listen when I talk about Middlemarch, you will learn something from me too!)
5.     If you don’t know something, or if you need something, ask someone. This applies in class, but also across campus: in your residence, at the library, at the counselling center, or at the gym. Just because it’s up to you now doesn’t mean you’re on your own.
I miss you already, but I also couldn’t be more excited for you. Learn a lot, have a wonderful time, and when you’re ready, invite me over and tell me what it’s like for you.

Mom
Department of English, Dalhousie University
Read Rohan’s amazing blog Novel Readings here
balance · day in the life · empowerment · feminist communities · summer

The Summer Round-Up: Everything but the kitchen sink

Dear Readers,

It is JUNE! We made it! The snow? Gone. The grading? Done or now in spring-grading mode. The flowers? Out! Conference time? You’re in it! And the possibilities and promises of summer are rolling out before us like a wide open road. 

Here at Hook & Eye we have decided to take some of our own advice. We are taking a summer break from now until late August! We’ll be back as the school year begins again, but for now we have several things for you to read, think about, and, we hope, write to us about when the mood or the inspiration strikes. 

First, a call for guest posts and faster feminist spotlights. Do you have an idea or an issue swirling in your mind that you think is suitable for our blog? We would LOVE to have you write a post for us! We are looking for posts that take up a wide range of issues related to feminism, academia, and work/life balance. Posts tend to be 500 – 750 words, and if you’re not used to writing blog posts I would be happy to work with you to develop your idea and get your post in shape. I’ll be organizing the majority of the guest posts again this year so please send pitches to me at erin dot wunker at gmail dot com. 

We’re also looking to continually diversify our roster of regular writers, so please email me if you have a person you’d like to see write for us, or if there is someone you’d like to see profiled in a faster feminism spotlight. 

To get you inspired for your summer plans whatever they may be many of us regular writers have jotted down our plans for hitting work/life balance … with a major emphasis on living life. Here’s what some of us will be up to in the coming months:

MelissaThis summer is going to be spent settling into my new job, figuring out how to grow the Research Training Centre and my career, and doing things that push my boundaries a bit–speaking about the York strike at Congress, teaching my first course at DHSI, and taking a holiday where I’ll be speaking solely in French. The summer is also going to be spent settling even more firmly into my now well-embedded writing routines and getting much of the dissertation wrapped up and ready to go in anticipation of defending by the end of the year. It is also going to be spent thinking about how best to serve our H&E readership next year–I’ll definitely be continuing the #Altac 101 series, but I also want to think and write more about the gendered aspects of career choices (or lack thereof) for PhDs. I’m looking forward to a break and to seeing you all again, refreshed and ready to go, in September. 
Aimée: I’m looking forward to rounding out my first year as Associate Chair for Graduate Studies—things slow down a lot in the summer, at least until Orientation planning swings into gear in August. I’m saying “no” to most things this summer: I’m not traveling anywhere, I’m not doing any conferences, I’m not undertaking any big home projects (other than weeding). I’m saying “yes” to sitting on the porch and writing and reading (and getting my book finished), “yes” to long walks with the dog, “yes” to more unstructured time with my family, “yes” to mid-day yoga classes and hanging my laundry on the line.
MargritMy year has been packed, so I’m leaving my summer uncluttered to balance things out: there will be some international travel, some more local camping, and maybe an impromptu road trip or two. There will be reading, and there might even be some writing—which I found I cannot live without, not after structuring the last decade of my life around it—but it will be unstructured and aimless. Overall, however, I want a flimsy, balloon-light summer to even the scales. If you’d like to check in, I would love to hear from you, too: find me on Twitter @Dr_Margrit. I wish you have the summer of your dreams (nightmares not included).
Boyda: will be spending her summer soaking up the rays and the often unbearable heat of New York City, feeling generally like a wet sponge. She is aware, however, that this may be the last summer she has in this glorious metropolitan center, so will make the most of it by scoping out outdoor film festivals, fighting for beach space on Coney Island, and keeping a journal of rat spottings. She hopes to visit her people in the Great White North at least once, and she will join that art class she’s been meaning to join for years. In terms of professional goals: she plans to finish drafts of two chapters of her dissertation, and is crossing her fingers about an article that she’s already submitted. She will also be preparing her job market documents and fighting off the inevitable anxiety induced therein. Will miss her online H&E community!
LilyAlthough my admin work does not really slow down in the summer (hello, undergraduate program with its endless needs!) there’s no need for me to pull out my tiny violin at all because I get to represent York at the Institute for World Literature hosted by the University of Lisbon this year. It is going to be unbelievably cool to be sort of a student again. I am buying a new notebook and sharpening my pencils! I’m enrolled in Debjani Ganguly’s seminar on “The Contemporary World Novel: Hauntings and Mediations” and will be part of the affinity group on “Postcolonialism and World Literature.” Umm… so excited.

Erin: As I wrote ever so briefly last week one of the things I haven’t felt able to write about this winter is the fact that I was pregnant. Being on the job market and being pregnant? That’s a post I think I’ll be ready to write in the fall… I just had our daughter twelve days ago. In fact, as I type this she’s asleep on me. Hurrah multi-tasking! So this summer while I will be working on a non-fiction handbook about how to be a feminist killjoy (SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS BOOK!) I will also be spending the majority of my time getting to know my girl. My partner and I will take trips to the shore, visiting family and friends, walking the dog, and introducing the babe to East Coast summers. I’ll be thinking about career changes and writing projects and all the rest of it, but not right away. For now it is all about my partner, our new kiddo, the dog, and the salty air of here. 

Hi from me and the newest Hook & Eye kiddo!
Let us know what you’re up to, whether you have an idea for a post, or someone you’d like to see write for us. And please, above all, don’t forget to make time for yourself. September will come soon enough. The work will get done. Make taking care of you and yours part of your daily practice too, will ya? (& tell us about it, because we all need reminders for self care as well as reminders that self-care is part of a feminist praxis and pedagogy).

balance · enter the confessional

Bring your kid to work day, March Break edition

I brought my kid to work today. She’s got an iPad to read pony comics on, my second laptop to watch some Netflix while the iPad is charging, headphones to keep the noise down, some stuffies, some crayons and paper, and a work-appropriate hairdo (“I don’t want to look like a hobo at the office, Mom”). She picked a special outfit, and some accessories to look more professional. She’s happy as a clam.

See?

Snacks plus Netflix = Bender salute

It’s March Break, and normally we would have enrolled her in camps all week, because of course her father and I both work full time and I can’t take vacation time in the middle of term and neither can he. But we didn’t do all camps this year, because she’s burnt out. When the topic of March Break was gleefully announced by her about a month ago, she had visions of lounging in her pyjamas all day, on the couch, snuggling the dog and watching Monster High movies with me and her dad. Reminded about our jobs and her camps, she visibly deflated. Camps are fun, but they’re not relaxing, and she needed to relax, she said. I see her point. Camps mean getting up early, and packing a lunch, and lugging around a day’s worth of supplies, and interacting with grownups and kids you don’t know, and being in structured time all day.

And, frankly, I want to lounge around in my pyjamas all day, on the couch, snuggling the dog and my kid, and reading an entire book from front to back. I’m burnt out, too. I get it.

I admire my daughter’s capacity to sense her own limits. To know when enough has been enough. To recognize that being a full time student is actually a lot of hard work, not least keeping to a strict schedule and letting others be in charge of your time and your activities. I admire her stubbornness and her self-knowledge: she said that coming to the office with me would be better than camp, and she said she would behave and she’s been as good as her word. She knows herself enough to know that just being alone with me and a bunch of toys in a really quiet room is what she needs to recharge, not a room full of kids and loud noises and routines and chaos.

She doing three days of camp this week, and spending two on downtime. That’s our compromise because, really, I can’t teach an 8:30-11:30 graduate class with her in the room, and there are things that I need some peace and space to get done too, considering it’s not a break week for me.

But there’s a lesson here for me, and for all of us, maybe. The eight year olds are stressed and pressured and overworked, which is terrible. It’s awesome, though, that the eight year olds can express that and just say no, to the limits of their agency. It’s worth remembering to listen to ourselves in this way, too.

All this is to say, I guess, that I’m overworked and stressed out. And you probably are, too. And if you have kids you’re probably trying to manage their March Break and your work at the same time, and feeling various further kinds of overwhelm and guilt. Tonight, when we all get home from work, it’s going to be straight into pyjamas and straight onto the couch. No chores, no cooking, no piano practice, no racing out to one thing or another. Just a little bit of peace and togetherness. A March Break.

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

Do What You Love, Part Deux

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

Screw that, frankly.

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

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