balance · clothes · empowerment · saving my sanity

My Uniform

My wardrobe has shifted significantly over the last few years to align with changes in my work and personal life. 
The birth of my daughter, reduced flexibility in the time I spend at home and at work, increasing time in the classroom, and of course the never-ending to-do lists of conferencing, dissertation-writing, and researching–all these increasing responsibilities have meant I have much less time and flexibility in my mornings, less energy to spend purchasing new clothes, and more in need of flexible and streamlined routines. 
With less time to make decisions about what items to pair, and even less to purchase new wardrobe items, I’ve found myself wearing tried and true combinations of clothing, my own set way of dressing that is a safe go-to every day. Instead of gravitating towards new, unfamiliar or untested items, I found myself wearing and purchasing the same-old, same-old: my uniform.
By necessity, I’ve drastically simplified what I wear. 
By chance, I’ve found that I love it.
There’s something remarkably freeing about wearing and purchasing the same type of clothing. Instead of the time-suck of trial-and-error combinations, there’s the ease of the comfortable and familiar. Rather than money wasted on items bought and never worn, there are multiple similar items that I know I’ll love.
In teaching months, I often wear a black dress or black skirt, usually paired with a beige or black cardigan or blue collared shirt, with black tights (usually fleece-lined for our cold Edmonton winters) and cognac-brown or black boots. Sometimes I swap out the basic black dress for black and white stripes, or dark blue, or the skirt for black pants. A long gold necklace is my main accessory. If it’s warmer, I’ll exchange the boots for beige flats; if it’s colder, I’ll wear fur-lined sorels and a scarf. It’s the most comfortable, neutral, and flattering outfit I’ve personally come up with, and it works in a variety of situations. In the classroom, I look like an instructor. At a conference, I’m a presenter or attendee. At the coffee shop, I look like I’m a person who drinks coffee.
With wearing what I know has worked, I’ve also found I project more authority. Perhaps it’s the confidence of simply knowing that I’m wearing something that works well; perhaps it’s the fact that the items I dress in tend to be neutral basics, which evoke simple sophistication.
Primarily, though, duplicating my favourite closet staples and wearing a uniform has meant eliminating stress and anxiety. With less time spent on getting ready in the morning, I find I have more time and mind space to focus on other, more important things: my work; my family.
Have you streamlined any elements of your daily routines? In what ways has it made your life more simple and easy to manage?
academic work · best laid plans · empowerment · ideas for change · modest proposal · organization · saving my sanity

Drop in, tune out

Here’s an experiment I’m undertaking this term: I hold four hours of in-person office hours every week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2-4, and I encourage any student that needs anything from me to come by during those hours. If they’re out of town, they can call. At the same time, I’m also telling them: please think twice before emailing me. I’m overwhelmed with tiny tasks ping-ping-ping and I think you can solve most of them on your own, if you just spend five minutes looking it up instead of 30 seconds emailing me so that I can look it up for you. If you want me to solve your tiny problems, I say, come to my office hours and I will totally solve whatever you bring to me. But you might have to wait in line.

Some people keep emailing. I redirect them to my office hours. People are now coming to my office hours.

My office hours are the biggest party in my hallway all week. Students are sometimes lined up four or five deep. Some of them, I can hear calculating: could I fix my own problem faster than standing in line? Or, Wow, Professor Morrison sure has to help a lot of people. Or once they come see me: OH! I feel so much better now / I understand what’s happening / I know what book to read / Thanks for your help.

So far, I’m calling the experiment a success. I’m getting less email now, AND, I’m solving more problems for students, more quickly. I’m trying to really devote some Grad Chair time to direct student concerns, but without having it take over my entire life, which it was threatening to do before. Now that time is intense, but it is limited. I’m also, I discover, not super awesome with email. I have trouble triaging what comes in and I forget about stuff that slips below the fold, as it were. When I did my year end review with my chair, and had to identify my own strengths and weaknesses, I brought up the email thing before he did: I often drop the ball and while I keep working on my game, I’m not really getting that much better at it.

In my defense, I often receive malformed or misdirected queries: students ask me ambiguously worded questions without indicating some key salient piece of information, like that they’re part time students, or that they are paying international fees of something. These details are fast and easy to sort out in person. And there’s nothing wrong in students learning that there are 135 of them that I’m helping and maybe it might not be instant: the open door and the lineups make visible the advising labour in ways that help keep everyone’s expectations in check.

I might still fiddle the parameters. I might have a few more drop in hours, but I like limiting them to a couple of days of the week, to give me some flexibility to schedule the other work that I need to do, and not be on campus 35 hours a week like last term: that was too much, and productivity suffered. I’ll probably survey the students at the end of the term to see how they liked it. But my sense is that everyone is getting what they need, and faster, and with smiles, and I love to see them and they’re even having fun together out in the hallways. It’s convivial.

And it helps hold back the ever growing email tide, at the same time as it models a sensible approach to overload. For me, at least.

A couple of my colleagues have expressed skepticism. They use email to track their work and their to-do. I know I used to be like this, too: “Send me an email to remind me!” I’d say. But then, honestly, I’d let the email slide off the first screen and forget anyway. This is how you get to inbox 2000.

For me, a good solution to a good chunk of my email overwhelm was to enforce a system whereby I still do the work the email required of me, but I don’t do it over email anymore. Because I have some tiny modicum of authority (this is why so many students need my help) I can shift the culture and the expectations by fiat. I hope it works out for all of us. Like I said, it’s an experiment.

In fact, I feel so freed by this loosening of the email noose that I’ve finally found the wherewithal to start up that drop in writing workshop for dissertating students. Sixteen of them showed up to our first  meeting, and we all wrote for an hour. And none of it was email.

backlash · empowerment · writing

Writing Alone Together

Last week, Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) launched our third annual Count. I say “we” because though I have had the privilege of working with the organization for two and a half years, this is the first time I have participated in the Count launch as the Chair of the Board. In the month leading up to the Count launch things were very busy. Last week, they were very intense. Emails were flying back and forth, my phone was a-buzz with text messages from Board members and people on the editorial teams. I was working to finish my essay on the risk of writing about and as a woman in a public forum. I zipped around Halifax on my bicycle rushing from task to task–teaching, grading, freelance work, regular life things–feeling a state of exhilaration.

I also felt really alone.

One of the things that I have realized about my own work–and here I mean that work that is in addition to academic work and the work that (doesn’t really) pay the bills–is that it is contradictory. Almost everything I do, from writing with the fine folks at Hook & Eye to chairing the board of a national non-profit with more than four hundred members, is collaborative. It is also incredibly solitary. Take, for instance, the fact that Aimée and I wrote together for this blog for two years before we met in person. Similarly, I have never met a few CWILA Board members in person, though we do meet via Skype on a monthly basis. But this isn’t a post about the ways in which social media and technology isolate us. There are plenty of those around. Technology can be phenomenal, of course. CWILA couldn’t function without access to software that allows the Board to meet despite the fact we are located in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Halifax, and Innsbruck. No, what I was thinking about as we launched the CWILA Count and I looked around for people to celebrate with in person, feels a bit more complicated than simple isolation.

As I watched CWILA’s Count circulate (but not go viral… flagging inequity in a generative way isn’t trendy enough to trend, I guess) I was also watching the Internet unleash wrath against women again. Tanya Tagaq. Emma Watson. Emily Gould. These are all very different women who have experienced disproportionate and public backlash for their taking their own public stances. And that was just in the last few days. What I found myself thinking is this: how does one strike a balance between the hyper-useful publicness of web-based writing and collaboration and the ways in which, when it comes down to it, one is still alone. I don’t mean in the knock-Virginia-Woolf’s-room-and-a-salary alone, I mean something much more pernicious.

Let me try and get at it this way: when Hook & Eye first launched in 2009 we had a monthly column entitled “This Month in Sexism.” It is still one of our most-viewedpages, despite the fact that we had to pull it after only a month. Why? Not for lack of submissions, I can assure you. No, rather we received scads of submissions that began with the caveat “do not publish.” The submissions were coming, but the people sending them in didn’t want them published because they feared being recognized. It seemed to me that what we were providing was a safe space in which to articulate “this happened to me,” but that there wasn’t a safe space to publicly say “this happened. These things are happening.” And that’s one of the thorny problems with microaggressions, isn’t it? It is usually easier to absorb, ignore (is that really possible?), and get on with the work than it is to call out the issue.

Chairing the Board of CWILA and writing with Hook & Eye affords me the forums in which to think about how to usefully address microaggressions against women and other others.  But that thinking can only get activated together.

emotional labour · empowerment · fast feminism · writing

Shifting Gears: Tips on Writing in Public

Wasn’t it Farley Mowat who said “if someone tells you writing is easy, they are either lying or I hate them”?* 

Well, it is certainly true in my experience. Writing is always hard for me, no matter the genre. Indeed, when Hook & Eye started back in 2009 I had never written a blog post before in my life. The most public writing I had done was in the genre of the book review. Sure, I had many conference presentations under my belt, but there is something very different about an oral and embodied presentation of a paper. When there’s no body there one must rely on the words on the page to get the point across, for better or for worse. 

What I did not realize initially is that writing a blog required shifting gears from the academic writing that, while terrifically challenging, was the genre in which I was most comfortable. That isn’t to say that my academic writing was stellar! You should see my first drafts. I am not one of those people who is able to draft an outline and follow it. I think as I am writing and that means that the first draft results are messy, scattered, and disorganized. No, writing academic essays and articles is always a challenge, but it is a process I have become familiar with. After several years of practice I am becoming more comfortable with the blog as form. Sometimes, my blog posts break a few of the loose rules around the genre: they are too long, too introspective, and periodically they forget their audience. Every now and then they get me into trouble. But, for the most part, I have become familiar with this form, and I don’t find it as terrifically intimidating as I once did. 

The differences between writing blogs and writing academic texts–books, articles, even reviews–aren’t that great. Save for the turnaround time of publishing a blog post you still have to think about who you’re writing for, and why you’re writing. You need to know your field and have something insightful and unique to say. 

So why, when I started drafting my essay introducing the launch of the 2013 Count data collected by Canadian Women In the Literary Arts, did I stare at my computer screen in horror? After all, as an essay that will be published on the Internet it is basically a blog post, right? And I’m familiar with that genre, right? Wrong. Partly, my horror came from the challenge of again shifting gears into new genre. Partly, it came from the realization that I was writing in public for an organization, not solely in my own voice for myself.

If you’ve not heard of the organization before, CWILA (say kwhy-la) is a national non-profit organization that strives to promote and foster equity and equality of representation in the Canadian literary community by tracking statistics on gender representation in reviewing, bringing relevant issues of gender, race, and sexuality into our national literary conversation, and creating a network that supports the active careers of female writers, critics, and their literary communities. CWILA is an organization that constellates primarily on the Internet through our website. The launch, which begins on Thursday September 25, will be my first as Chair of the Board. As I’ve said, I’m plenty used to writing posts that exist solely on the Internet, so it surprised me that I was having so much trouble with this essay. Writing is hard. Writing for an immediate audience can be anxiety inducing (it can also be thrilling and fulfilling). Learning to shift tones is crucial.

Here’s an example of what I mean. This was my first-draft paragraph:

In her 1977 publication L’Amér Nicole Brossard wrote “écrire: je suis un femme est plein de consequences.” This has been translated by Barbara Godard in the English edition as “To write: I am a woman is full of consequence” (45). Writing, women, consequences. These three things seem to be at the core of CWILA’s mandate. Let me think here with you about what I mean. The “W” at the heart of the organization is always a contested space. In other words, to write “woman” is to take a risk, because in a hegemonic and patriarchal culture the term—never mind the subject position—is always already outside. Look at Brossard’s sentence. While it is tempting to read it without the colon (to write I am a woman is full of consequences) the punctuation is a gatekeeper. Granted, the colon keeps the gate grammatically ajar, inviting the reader forward into fact. With a simple act of punctuation Brossard has shifted the category of “woman” into direct relation with the work of writing. Writing is full of consequences, gendered categories are full of consequences, and writing about marginalized genders is full of consequence. And yet, the gate is ajar.

 

If this was an academic essay, or, maybe, a short meditative post for Hook & Eye, this would be a decent starting point. But it isn’t for the CWILA essay. This essay is meant to introduce CWILA’s 2013 data to a diverse reading audience. I’ve missed the mark here by half a mile, because I have fallen into the familiar academic terminology. “Hegemony,” “patriarchal culture,” the length (12 lines and no mention of the new data!), my assumption that the readers know and are familiar with CWILA and its projects, all of these tell me I’ve forgotten my audience. And forgetting your audience means losing readers. 

Writing in public requires translation. Just as writing a good conference paper requires translating complex syntactical maneuvering into something that your audience can listen to and follow, writing for public requires shifting your style. Here are some tips for translating your academic writing into writing in public:

1) Find your voice. This is the hardest part, for me. Maybe it is a throwback from the graduate student/dissertation days of demonstrating that I know the conversations in the field. I’m not sure. In any case, finding your voice immediately is crucial for writing in general and writing in public in particular. 

2) Ask a friend for help. This is at least as important as #1. Indeed, I only recognized that my intro paragraph (above) wasn’t working when I mustered up my courage and asked a friend to read my very rough draft. Thanks LM!! She put in several hours editing and commenting, and now the essay is not only better for her work, it is also the product of real feminist mentorship and collaboration. Moral of the story? Sharing your work at an early stage can make it stronger sooner. 

3) Give it time. Learning a new language is extraordinarily time consuming. While shifting your writing genres may not be exactly like learning a new language, there are some striking similarities. It is hard. It takes more time that you think it should. You can actually track your progress. 

4) Develop your audience. Writing in public is more conversational that writing for an academic readership. Do you agree or disagree? That comment box is just below this post.

5) Share what you know. I remember having discussions in grad school that focused on intellectual property (aka ‘stealing ideas’). Concern around intellectual property–especially as a student or early career or contract academic faculty member can range from the paranoid to the absolutely and completely valid. It makes sense, right? Interviews, grant applications, landing the job; all that stuff is often predicated on your solitary brilliance. Sure, that notion is shifting thanks in part to feminist theorizations and practices of collaboration, as well as the path breaking work done in some digital humanities projects. But it can still be scary to go public with half-formed ideas. I say, do it. Share what you know in public. Ask the questions about your ideas in public. Crowd-source. Build allies and communities of thinking. Learn to revise on the fly. Learn to defend or restate your ideas…in public. Try it, it can be pretty fantastic.

6) Sometimes it sucks. Like, really sucks. Even though you’re unlikely (I hope) to have experienced the unmerited and violent backlash that Zoe Quinn experienced, writing in public is always risky. You risk no one reading what you write, you risk everyone reading it and hating it, and you risk the wrath (or mean-spirited violence) of the comment box. Working on steps 1-4 help with this, but it doesn’t make it hurt less. That’s when you turn to your audience, to your knowledge, to your friends and colleagues. And, after you’ve processed what happens, you open up an new post and write again.  
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*Actually, Farley Mowat says “he is either lying, or i hate him,” but, you know, feminist blog.
advice · empowerment · keynote · openness · skills development

Keynote! Tips for presenting to a big crowd

I gave my very first keynote lecture, two weeks ago, at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI), in Victoria. It was in a giant lecture hall, that was too small, so there was also an overflow space in the foyer, with a live feed. In all, there were several hundred people listening.

Holy shit, that was scary!

That’s only the middle third. Holy crap. Add two wings and an overflow room.

It was scary because, well, that’s a lot of people. But it wasn’t really the size of the crowd that had me insomniac for several weeks before the event. What was really scaring me was that I suspected that doing a keynote was not like doing a longer conference paper for a bigger group of people, but something entirely different. Something I didn’t know how to do, and that I couldn’t find rules for. Ultimately, I asked advice from some people who had done keynotes before, and mostly I just reverse engineered keynotes that I liked and ones I didn’t to try to determine the patterns.

Maybe you’ve never done a keynote before, and you don’t know the rules either. Maybe you do lots of keynotes, and you have it all figured out and are itching for a venue in which to share this information. I’ll lay out my ideas here, and you can take or add as you wish.

Do not go over time.

This is crucial. I mean, no presentation should ever go over time, but there’s something that’s the absolute WORST about a long lecture to a big group of people that seems like it’s not going to end. And if there’s no time for questions, people get mad, and rightly so. My time slot was 50 minutes long. I calculated 10 minutes for two sets of introductions, and tried to make my talk 35 minutes long, leaving five minutes for questions. My talk came right before an open bar reception, so you’d better believe I knew that everyone had their eyes on the clock. As it happens, I talked for 38 minutes, and we started a couple of minutes late, so we had exactly one minute for questions, but we walked out the door on time, dammit.

Rift in the space-time continuum.

The bigger the crowd, the slower you have to talk. That is, the more people there are in the room, the fewer words you can say. This is true. There’s something about the bigness of the room, and the amplified shuffle-in-seats, doing-Twitter-backchannel, occasional-cough background noise just makes speaking more slowly imperative. So if you can get through 2500 words in a 15 minute conference paper, for a 35 minute keynote, don’t go over 5000. Where did the extra five minutes go? Cough, tweet, shuffle, fuzz of amplification through big speakers.

Signpost.

One great keynote I saw laid it out at the beginning: “I’m going to talk for 40 minutes. There are three topics. Here they are: the first two give the context, and they’re pretty short. The last one is the argument and it’s a bit longer, but there’re lots of pictures.” And he did exactly that. It was soooooo easy to follow as a result and I also didn’t get restless because by giving us the blueprints, the speaker allowed the audience to build the mental memory house into which to slot everything we heard as we heard it. I just totally stole that idea and used it. It also helps people live tweet, I see from the backchannel transcript of my talk.

Be yourself, no matter what group invites you

Some keynotes flub it because they try to write the paper that they think the inviting group would produce, if they were writing it. But you’ve been invited because of the work that you do. Don’t try to master someone else’s field and give a keynote on that. Because a) you’re not going to master it and b) as a result it’s kind of simplistic and insulting. But also c) they invited you to talk about what you’re an expert in. So do that. I got totally balled up on this DHSI keynote for MONTHS because I was trapped in the ontological weeds: what is DH? Do I do DH? I need to write something for all the different kinds of DH that will be there! Oh God, I’m a fraud. Ultimately, I made the case for my own book project as a kind of DH. The best feedback I got was from this researcher who does computer stylistics (pretty much the opposite of what I do)–he told me he was listening and was like, “nope, nope, nope … oh, wait, hold one … that’s right … yes … huh! I didn’t think of that … cool!” We still do radically different things, but now he understands what I do, and we can talk about it.

Be yourself, though, for that goup

Like using fewer words for a bigger crowd, consider how to frame your ideas at a higher or more accessible level for a keynote crowd. You might give conference papers to an audience of the only eight people in the world who’ve read everything you’ve written, and vice versa. The keynote group is not that crowd. Include everyone by pitching to the kind of experts described in the conference theme or call: the DHSI group knows about some field in the humanities, and they use digital tools. In my paper I gave a solid gloss of affordance theory and applied it to interface design / self-narration problem. I did NOT go into the internal debates in the field on that theory, but I could’ve if it came up in questions. Which it didn’t. Would’ve framed the same part of the talk very differently for a design studies conference, or for a literary studies audience.

Present

A keynote is more of a performance than a conversation. And it’s more theatre than film: be bigger and broader, generally. I used a remote to run the slides so I could stand in the middle of speaking area at the glass podium instead of hiding in the corner behind the computer. I gesticulated. I marked in the text where to look up at the audience. I marked in the text where to slow down to deliver the punchlines to maximum effect. (This also allows people to live tweet better; they’re better able to quote you correctly.) When people laughed, I waited for them to stop, and I smiled at them. I also managed my slides in the same way I’ve done for years, but which many people on Twitter stopped to remark on: I show blank/black slides in between content-laden slides. I don’t know about you but when there’s a slide and someone talking, I compulsively try to relate the image to the talking. So if I just want people to focus on what I’m saying, and there’s nothing I need them to look at, I just black out the screen. Pictures when relevant, blank when not. Apparently, not a lot of people have thought of this, and it was very popular.

Be present

I have always been very impressed when the keynote at a conference has been around and participating in the whole conference, and making an effort to connect with people. I am way less impressed when they fly in two hours beforehand, talk, and then go to dinner with the big wigs or their friends from grad school before flying home. I’m no bigwig but it is now the case that I’m senior to a lot of people, and that many people want to meet me. So I walked around with a smile all week and made a special effort to meet at least five people every day that I didn’t know before. Some days I met ten. It was a weird thing to see people get weirdly tongue-tied and nervous and talk too fast when they come up to me. I know what it’s like to BE that person who’s nervous, not be addressed by that person, so I’m learning how to be very friendly and engaging and not scary for people. I’ve met such nice people!

Keynote selfie in a keynote about selfies. #metaselfie #humourme

I will be a lot less scared and nervous and anxious and insomniac if I ever get asked to do another keynote. As it turns out, it really was the fear of the unknown genre that was making it all so stressful. I hope these notes might be useful to you for YOUR first keynote. And of course, if you are a keynote habituée, please add any further advice in the comments below!

DIY · empowerment

Avoiding the Empathy Trap 1: I Do Research

Two weeks ago I wrote about the empathy trap and it was the most read post I have ever written. If you missed it you can read it here. It was a hard post to write, and it is a hard post to follow up. I have been thinking about how to productively respond to my own public thinking. This is what I have come up with: In the next few weeks I aim to write a few posts on how to avoid the empathy trap. Some posts will be in conversation towards those who are in positions of relative power, by which I mean jobbed positions–be they tenured or un- — and some will be directed towards people who find themselves to be unemployed. It is important to note that I think I have been in both positions, if marginally. As a person who has held multiple contract academic faculty positions I have been in relative positions of power. As someone who is unemployed despite my best efforts, and who still has research projects on the go, I am most definitely outside the academy in some ways. In other ways, though, I am positioned to be more inside the research track than I ever could have been as a teaching-heavy contract academic faculty member.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying I am thrilled, happy, or even used to being unemployed. What I am trying to track here in the next few weeks are the ways in which I will maintain my research identity as a trained scholar of Canadian literature and culture while shifting into the first summer … and then fall…in which I am not prepping classes and ordering books and writing lectures.

Here goes nothing.

I do research. This is a fact that is easily forgotten when one is teaching an overload and constantly refashioning the old CV in an attempt to shift it towards one job advertisement or another. Or, if not forgotten, it is a fact that can be left unexplored and under-discussed. (Side note: I know that it is difficult to fit a research agenda into a tenure-track and even tenured position, but theoretically these positions are paid to do that work. At they very least, these positions get paid over the summer months) So here is my question for myself and others who don’t identify as employed: how and how often do you talk about your research? I mean how often do you talk about the research work you do? If I really tried to be honest the answer would be not that often.

My research interests have always focussed on the ways in which women and people of colour have used textual and performance art to intervene in the hegemonic narratives of gender, race, and nation. One of my favourite ways of thinking about these generative and subversive interventions came from my friend and colleague Stephen Collis‘s writing about the commons. In an incredible essay Stephen talks about the blackberry (fruit, not phone) as a model of subversive intervention. You should read it.  Collis’s idea is inspiring to me because it is one voice among many (though you have to search for them) that articulates a means of working within what is in the service of what might be. I have been thinking and writing–in my MA thesis, my doctoral dissertation, and the articles I have published thus far–about the ways in which archives work to silo experimental writing as much as they work to preserve it. In my more recent work I am trying to bring together my public writing and organization work with my literary and cultural analysis.

Here are the projects I have on the go. This is some of the research I am going to try to do over the next year as I work to find work. I’m excited, because theoretically I have time. I am nervous, of course, because that time is unpaid time.

I am working on articles about Sachiko Murakami‘s work, Gail Scott’s novel The Obituary, and Sina Queyrays‘s lyric conceptualism. I also have two articles that have been sitting on the back burner for a while. I’m going to return to these and think about whether they are worth the time and effort to substantially revise.

I have two manuscripts under contract. One of them is about the poetics of collapse, which considers the ways in which contemporary Canadian cultural producers are working to create generative if ephemeral texts out of narratives of utter devastation. The other is an edited collection of poetry by a contemporary Canadian poet.

I am also the chair of the board of CWILA, and we are working towards our third annual launch of the Count. I see this work as research, writing, and public discourse. We’re working to make this our biggest launch yet (and believe me, in terms of the numbers of reviews our volunteers have counted it is the biggest!). Look for it in mid-September when we launch the numbers and essays along with a funding and membership drive.

I am also presenting papers at Discourse & Dynamics: Canadian Women as Public Intellectuals (where I am also on the organizing committee), Avant Canada: Artists, Prophets, Revolutionaries, and the MLA.

That is a lot of stuff, isn’t it? My aim for this week is to use Julie Rak‘s brilliant five-year research plan to map out what I have to do…and then try and adapt that for the fact that, without a contract position or a tenure-track position that five-year plan may well be a ten-to-twelve month plan that also involves career transitioning.

What about y’all? How do those of you who are under or un-epmployed manage, articulate, and conceive of your research?

empowerment · possibility · running

Feels like starting over …

I went for a run yesterday. This was my first run since mid-November, when I got banned from running because of a knee injury that needed several months of zero high-impact activity to heal itself. In mid-November, I was gleefully running 7k at a steady pace, floating on endorphins, listening to albums, melting snow on my eyelashes and filling my lungs full of fresh air, smiling all the way. Yesterday, I ran for one minute, then walked for 90 seconds, then did that seven more times. Yup, I’m back on my couch to 5K app, the one I gritted my way through last year.

I’m starting over but I’m not back to zero.

When I started running last year, it was hard. I was nervous and insecure and unsure. I didn’t know how to pace myself. I didn’t know if I would ever start to like running, instead of liking to bask in the glow after I stopped. I didn’t know if I would ever be a “real” runner. I sometimes got too hungry mid-run. I sometimes drank too much beforehand and had to pee. But by mid-November, running in the snow with my nice neckwarmer and my Young Galaxy and my new app, I had mostly solved those problems.

So yesterday, running those 1 minute intervals made my heart pound harder than those 7k runs did. And today, my quads are burning more than I would like. But I do know, now, that I’ll improve pretty rapidly. I already have the right socks and the right sports bar. I know when and what to eat and how much to drink. I am a real runner–I’m just training up again.

It might look like I’m back at the starting line, but there’s something different and better that comes from my earlier experiences.

Writing is like this, too. Every new project–every new class, even–feels like starting over. Feels like getting winded going up the stairs, an embarrassing kind of weakness. But at least for me, I’m finally starting to learn the patterns. We all already know enough to be suspicious of teleologies, right? That progress narrative by which successful persons move from strength to ever greater strength, to the summit of their potential? Sometimes our narratives are more like spirals, looping back on themselves while still expanding: starting a new research project, a new grant application, a new conference paper, a new curriculum revision puts me back, in many ways, to zero. But in other ways, not. Things are maybe not getting easier in the sense that I no longer feel helpless and overwhelmed by the wide open expanse of a new writing project. But they are getting easier in the sense that I know some good ways to move past the helplessness without too much emotional difficulty, and that I know this is a regular part of my research cycle. That’s progress, I think.

So I’ll do my nine weeks of running and walking, moving back off the couch and into 5k, benefitting from my experiences and showing myself some compassion along the way. I hope I’ll be able to do more of this in my academic work in the coming year as well.

empowerment · enter the confessional · faster feminism · righteous feminist anger · sexist fail

This life in sexism

Imagine this: you’re going out for drinks with fairly new work colleagues to bid another work colleague farewell, as they* are moving on. Lots of the people present have not met each other before, because some of the people present there have been in that work place for long, while others are quite new. So, you’re walking into the pub accompanied by men and women. So far, so good. When you reach the table, however, it’s all men, some of whom you’ve never met, and who get up to introduce themselves and shake hands with… the other men in your group *only*, while ignoring you, and the other women. All this among the usual banter, posturing, and performance of masculinity of the most patriarchal kind.
Welcome to the club. Not.
Ever since Hook and Eye has started, I have been a fan of reading the positive stories, the wins, the triumphs, etc. My thinking was we all know we deal with sexism and other kinds of discrimination every single day, so let’s rally around the good stuff, to remind ourselves that we can move in better directions. I still am.
However, since 2010, I’ve gotten older and more cynical, and to tell you the truth, I have lost patience with this type of effrontery. I want to pull an SNL-style “Really!?!” whenever I meet with this level of blatant erasure of any gender that is not aggressively in-your-face, homosocial-style masculinity.
My jaw dropped on that occasion, and I could not pick it up off the floor during the entire event. I had trouble speaking, and you already know I’m a talker! My jaw still drops every single time one of my friends tells me about yet another encounter with sexism of the nth degree, because you know what the cherry on top of this BS-filled cake is? We’re talking about academia. Where we all think ourselves high and mighty and feminist and all, but when it comes down to it, we pat young women on the head, and declare them “Charming! Like Heidi” or we withdraw job offers when they try to negotiate a living wage and maternity leave
So, let’s have an Expose Sexism Fest, Academic Style, and denounce it right here and now. If you feel like keeping it anonymous, send it my way at margrit at ualberta dot ca, and I’ll post it in the comments. Otherwise tell us what happened to you or your friend or “your friend,” and let’s expose this life in sexism.

*as much as I loathe grammatical disagreement in number when it comes to personal pronouns, I think that’s the way English is going (or has already gone). On the bright side, it does enable gender-neutral expression.
boast post · empowerment · media · you're awesome

It’s that time again! Boast Post!

Datamining our archive, I see the urge to write boast posts falls upon me at the ends of semesters, those last draggy few weeks where all the promise and hope of the beginning of term is snuffed under the weight of missed deadlines (mine as well as my students’) and piles of grading, and worries about the not-yet-quite-planned-enough plans for winter teaching.

So here we are again. Let’s try to find something we’re proud of, something we did right, something we love telling people we get to do for our jobs. Share a piece of praise someone else directed your way. Imagine writing a letter of reference … for yourself, where you really want the candidate to win whatever she/you has been nominated for. Find something specific to really crow about.

As always, I’ll start. Mine is a little thing. I’ve been writing about digital photographic life-writing practices, on a number of fronts, but including, of course, the ubiquitous “selfie.” I was just doing some free-writing about Selfies at Funerals on Monday. Tuesday, “selfie” became Oxford Dicionaries’ word of the year. I got a call to feature in a local news segment on the topic (filmed right after I had had my hair done, hooray!)

But the boast part is this. After the TV interview, I thought, I want to go bigger. So I emailed Nora Young at Spark and pitched her the selfie story and me as an expert to consult. She wrote me back in 9 minutes, saying it wasn’t on their radar, but she would pitch it to her team. She wrote again 23 minutes later: it’s a go. We’re currently trying to schedule an interview time. I got to send her an outline of what I think are the important parts of the selfie discussion.

What I’m proud of is that I didn’t hem and haw: I just wrote to her and did the pitch. And I’m proud that I am making a real effort to shape public discourse on the topics I research. This kind of opportunity to be in whatever minor way a public intellectual is really meaningful to me. So yay!

What about you? C’mon don’t leave me hanging, bragging by myself. Boast away in the comments, please!

academic reorganization · academic work · appreciation · empowerment · job notes · solidarity

Who’s your role model?

I’ve been thinking about role models lately. In our graduate professionalization seminar this week, we were talking about issues related to teaching: practical issues like classroom management, broader issues like different pedagogical theories relating to the teaching of writing, but also bigger, structural questions of “What does a career teaching in the academy look like, going forward?”

You probably know from your own experience that most university teachers are passively trained: we pick up a teaching style from being taught, mostly. We then model ourselves consciously or unconsciously to resemble teachers we admired: these are, literally, our role models. This applies to our research and service work as well: we learn how to do library research in a pretty programmatic way, perhaps, but the practices relating to books versus articles, how many submissions per year, what kinds of conferences, how to select and do university service (or avoid doing it), how to comport ourselves in meetings, all of that we kind of … make up as we go along, deliberately or accidentally modeling our behavior on what we’ve seen from others, usually senior to us.

The academy is changing. Fast, and a lot. Bigger classes, more diverse students, online teaching, greater research expectations, expectations related to seeking and securing outside funding, collaborative service work, higher stakes administrative work, politicization and austerity, and globalized classrooms.

It’s possible that some of those more senior scholars we most admire actually work in a version of the academy that doesn’t exist for junior scholars. An academy where teaching loads keep going down, to promote a research agenda. Where all the students speak English as a first language, or you can let someone else deal with that. Where SSHRC actually funds non-targeted research. Where teaching online is a hobby, or something you can do for extra money. Where you can ignore, mostly, the external climate of anti-intellectualism and academy-bashing, because you’ve still got lots of majors and enough government money. Where mentoring PhDs involves writing them reference letters for academic jobs.

Life on the ground in the profession looks different now even than when I started here, almost ten years ago. It’s worlds different from when I started as a student at York, in a first year English seminar, with a cap of 12 students and taught by a senior professor.

I like the academic social media space in part because it allows us to find role models among academics of our own generation: a kind of lateral modelling where we can figure out the structural realities together, as they operate today. We can become colleagues in arms, building horizontal relationships to give context and nuance, maybe, to the vision of the life of the mind we pick up from our traditional role models or mentors, who tend to be senior to us.

Who are your role models? IRL, when I was a grad student, and of course since then as well, my role models have included Heather Zwicker (my dissertation supervisor) and Susan Brown (my MA supervisor). Heather showed me that you can be assertive and sassy and smart and get ahead on your own terms. Susan showed me how to be a feminist and a digital humanist at the same time, in a literature department. And what it might be like to start a family on the tenure track.

I have some new and different role models now. Erin Wunker is teaching me about what it means to be an academic in the new world of LTAs and increasing contingency: a teacher and researcher with incisive smarts and grace, clear-eyed and articulate. Lee Skallerup Bessette is teaching me about loud and proud contingency, about changing research areas without real institutional support, about building community through networking and public writing. Adeline Koh is teaching me about weaving a thorough interrogation of race and gender into digital humanities work, about building alliances and calling bullshit and being thoroughly engaged across scholarly and para-scholarly platforms: this is what integrity looks like. I hope to be learning more from Melissa Dalgleish about post-academic careers and what a new kind of life of the mind might look like.

I’m trying to cultivate mentors and models from across the ranks, and across the wide range of academic lives: I feel the richer for it, humbled by the various kinds of excellence I am lucky enough to witness. I feel empowered from these examples to continue to learn to be the kind of academic that I can become.

What about you? Can you share some of your role models? We’d love to hear about them.