good things · perpetual crush · self care · style matters · you're awesome

Jump in!

jumping

Image via

(with huge thanks to Leigh and Michele for agreeing to let me write about our conversation)

Last week, I went to an amazing conference and I admit that one of the many, many highlights was a moment of sartorial sisterhood between one of my totally fabulous co-panelists, Leigh, and me. The panel was done and we stood up, looked at each other, and she said something like, “Nice jumpsuit.” I don’t really know exactly what she said because I had been so busy admiring her jumpsuit. We were in on the same not-so-secret secret: jumpsuits are awesome.

Hers was blue. Mine was black. Hers was more structured. Mine was a little more flowy. Hers didn’t have a belt. Mine did. But, really, it was the ways in which they were the same that mattered. The top was attached to the bottom. Somewhere (in a place usually apparent only to the wearer) there is a zipper. It’s never all that obvious how one gets into one of these things and that, I think, is just one of their many advantages.

More on the advantages in a sec. Let me first get right into what you – if you are not already a jumpsuit convert – are probably already thinking. What about when you need to go the bathroom? Isn’t it a huge bother?

I know. I thought that too. It was the main reason why I resisted for so long. But here’s the thing. It’s not a bad thing to be forced to think ahead a little about when you might need to go. I know you’ve been there. You’re in office hours and the students are lined up down the hall and all of a sudden you have to run to teach or go to a meeting, or you’re writing and you don’t want to stop, or you’re at a conference and listening to mind-blowing papers and you can’t imagine slipping out of the room and missing anything you think you’ll just wait till the break but then the break comes and you end up talking to people you really like and then it’s time for the plenary…  and you remember, too late, that you actually really needed two, three, four, heck maybe even five minutes for yourself somewhere in all of that rushing around. Leigh described actually hopping on one foot by the time she got home at the end of the day because what had been discomfort had verged into crisis. She tells me her husband says, Why do you do this to yourself?

How many days have you had where you were so busy that you didn’t have time to find a bathroom? Let’s not do this to ourselves.

Leigh put it perfectly when she told me that the jumpsuit has taught her a kind of self-care. It forces her to stop and check in with herself about some pretty basic needs. It forces her not to wait until discomfort becomes crisis. It forces her not to do this to herself.

Michele, another conference attendee, overheard this conversation and immediately pulled out her phone to show us a picture of a jumpsuit that her partner bought for her at the very same moment that she had liked it on insta. We paused to celebrate how all these jumpsuit-stars were aligning and Michele pointed out that she likes jumpsuits because they reminded her of a kind of futurism (think: astronauts, star trek). Okay, yes!

Here’s my vote for the jumpsuit as the uniform of feminist futurism. Jump on in. The future is fine.

 

good things · health · sabbatical · summer

We Need It

Because, by the end of the semester, despite best intentions, we are tired to depths that don’t have words.

Because that tiredness separates us from ourselves and from our loved ones.

Because we need to tend to our own selves.

Because we want to tend to our loved ones, be they babies, beloveds, books, or all the above and beyond that ad infinitum. 

Because we need bike rides, and walks with our dear ones.

Because it is nearly picnic season.

Because that damn conference paper needs writing.

Because soon the lakes will be warm and the ocean swimmable.

Because we may have accidentally, again, neglected self-care.

Because sometimes, for some of us, a wild panic sets in, and that panic needs listening to, and quelling.

Because we have not had wine on a patio without feeling guilty.

Because despite feminism, we feel guilty.

Because administrative work wears us down.

Because precarity wears us down.

Because finishing dissertation writing is difficult, necessary, and energy-consuming.

Because Sunday brunch.

Because sometimes we need rest, and we forget that we need rest.

Because we want to come back stronger, more articulate, more focussed, for ourselves and for you, our readers.

Because we deserve it.

Because we want to remember we love our thinking selves.

Because we want to fall in love with writing again, or keep that wild love burning bravely.

Because self-care is, as Audre Lorde writes, warfare, and we live and work in a neoliberal patriarchal culture that does not want us to take care of ourselves or each other.

___________________________________________

We will be on self-care sabbatical until August, dear readers. Take care of yourselves and we will too.

Pitches, guest posts, and the like can be sent to Erin Wunker at Gmail.

good things · mental health

Things that keep me warm

Today is the 15th consecutive day that this city I moved to in order to escape from the frozen tundra has been under an “extreme cold weather alert.” This month has been the coldest on record. Well, the joke may be on me, but at least I’m well equipped by my long residence in the northernmost North-American city with over 1 million inhabitants to deal with cold, and keep myself healthy and sane. So here’s a list of things that I do (or aim to, or think of doing, or flatter myself I’ll be doing when more time will be on hand):

– browse food blogs for cold-weather recipes
yoga (this is the most aspirational part of the list, really)
– use my SAD lamp regularly
– surf style websites and blogs to vicariously enjoy living in cities where street style is actually possible
read or listen to multiple books concurrently, according to mood
– read reviews of CanLit books, or of great books generally, so I can make lists like this one for the future
– watch Downton Abbey
– plan my spring wardrobe
– go for runs every Sunday (and promise myself religiously I will find at least another day in the week for a run)
– make lunch dates with friends
– knit (I’m almost done the sweater I started in September)

Knitting as procrastination

All the while, I also alternate at despairing of and completely ignoring the pile of marking that seems to spawn newly every hour. Whenever that happens, I just go and pick the easiest element on the list and have at it until guilt overcomes me. At that point, I decide to be responsible, and pick another line from the list for variation. I am a master procrastinator.

And you? What are your (extreme) cold-weather recipes for survival? Please share your food-/style-/cartoon-/[insert favourite procrastination method here] blogs or sources, so we can all refresh our bookmarks.

best laid plans · contract work · good things · january blues · positive thoughts as I fill out grant applications · women

Generous Thinking

If you ask me, Mondays sort of beg for some kind of genuine inspiration. Especially Mondays in January. Mondays are, in a micro-manner, a day to ever so slightly return to and reset your larger best laid plans. Sure, it is very easy to slip into Blue Monday mode, but let’s not today.

Why the optimism? Well, this weekend I have found myself thinking time and again about generosity. I thought about it on Friday evening when my partner and I went out for dinner with colleagues. Amidst the genuine anguish about what is happening on our campus here was such an undercurrent of real, palpable care for the spaces in which we work and especially for the students we teach in our classes. We talked about what’s wrong, got angry–righteously so!–about the many systemic injustices, and throughout it all I kept thinking ‘what luck, to be engaged in such generous thinking.’ Generosity was the electric current of the conversation. It kept us coming back from rage or frustration to a refrain of how much we care.

And then, on Saturday morning at oh-my-lord-o’clock I met a former student for coffee before she joined her badminton team for 8:30am game preparations. She took a bus from where the team was staying on the outskirts of the city to meet me. (I’ll admit, all I did was clean off the truck and drive, but it was c-o-l-d!!! and e-a-r-l-y!). There we sat, the only people in the coffee shop, and talked about her classes, my research, her plans for grad school, my intention to shake off fretfulness, the Taylor Swift channel on Songza, strategies for self-care in Canadian winter, how badminton differs from tennis (a lot!), and books we wanted to read.

Later that day, as I worked on a SSHRC application, I was grateful for my colleague’s generosity. As a contract academic faculty member I am not on the research services email list, yet she has continually made sure I get the information and support I need. I thought again with gratitude of the people who have read and edited the proposal on their own time. And I thought about my colleagues across the country who are joining the application. These people are completing the Canadian Common CV for me. How unspeakably generous! Seriously.

Some basic definitions of generosity include “a liberalness in sharing or giving,” and “willingness to give value to others.” In addition to some of the lovely conversations I have had this weekend, I have also come across that liberalness in sharing or giving on the web. Specifically, I have had the pleasure of coming across Ayelet Tsabari’s blog post outlining her reading intentions for last year. Tsabari writes that in 2014 she intended to read only writers of colour. In her post outlining her intent she is candid about her reasons and her reservations:

I thought of VIDA and CWILA and their yearly counts, which often spring an offshoot discussion about the lack of writers of colour in reviews and magazines. And I remembered that the brilliant Madeleine Thien recently spoke about the underrepresentation of writers of colour in literary awards. And then, I thought I should dedicate 2014 to only reading writers of colour. And immediately dismissed it as a silly idea and went to bed.

But I kept thinking about it. When I woke up that night to feed my baby, I thought of books by writers of colour I can’t wait to read and got excited. In 2011, when I only read short story collectionsI discovered many incredible writers I’d never heard of because I was always on the hunt for new collections, and I read more, simply because I made a public pledge to do so. It wasn’t a burden, but a blessing. I imagined this would be a similar experience; by imposing ‘restrictions’ on my reading list I would be reading more widely, not narrowly, the same way that writing under constraints may sometimes result in better writing. And I knew I’d have many great writers to choose from. Last year, Roxane Gay of The Rumpus had conveniently compiled a long list of writers of colour (a list in which I’m proud to be mentioned) in response to the argument that there are simply not enough writers of colour. That list would be a good place to start.
But the idea made me nervous.  Unlike reading books of short stories, this choice felt political. And coming from Israel, politics tend to scare the shit out of me. I shouldn’t be choosing books by authors’ ethnicity, should I? It’s so arbitrary, so random. But then again, what’s wrong with that? People choose to read books because they’re on the Giller list, or on Canada Reads, or on the staff picks at their local bookstore. People choose books based on covers and blurbs and titles and gut feelings. So why not this?
But I was still hesitant. Ethnicity is a complicated thing, and identities can be layered and shifting and blurry. Where do I draw the line? What about writers of mixed heritage? Or writers of colour who write about white people, or choose (stubbornly!) not to write about their heritage? (I loved this article which speaks about the expectation from writers of colour to write about their heritage and their heritage only, or to write novels that—as a dear friend of mine, an Indian-Canadian writer, has put it—“have mango trees.”)  And what about other minorities? LGBT writers? Writers from other cultures who aren’t ‘of colour’? And really, should we be even talking about race? It makes people so uncomfortable. (Read Tsabari’s whole post here)
How generous is this thinking? This willingness to be public, vulnerable, adamant, dedicated, and nervous? Tsabari, it seems to me, gives her readers something of value, and she does it for free. And then, just recently, she returns to give again by returning to her original intent and telling us about her experiences, about her thinking. You can read her post, “My Year of Reading Only Writers of Colour” here
Tsabari isn’t the only person out there thinking meaningful, challenging thoughts in public forums, but as I came across her writing this weekend I was grateful for her. For her generosity and for the generosity of others, like this blogger, who share their thinking, work, and resources. 
What kind of generosity have you come across in the academy or its vicinity,  readers? I’d love to have some more examples to buoy me through this January Monday and maybe, just maybe, right through until spring. 
boast post · good things

Boast Post!

It’s that time again! I’ve had quite enough of this month’s news–women still not being reviewed, Jian Ghomeshi, Gamergate, predation in the guise of mentorship, catcalling, the election of another white conservative millionaire man as mayor, and on and on. I’m also in scholarship purgatory, very stupidly decided that I wanted to set the deadline for my current chapter on the same day as the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships are due, and am entirely unprepared for the onset of winter. That means we’re due for a boast post to cheer ourselves up, yes?

Remember how this works? You have to boast about yourself, without apologizing or cringing. Did you get some awesome teaching evals? Land a new job? Submit an article? Finish a dissertation chapter? Give an awesome conference presentation? Ace an informational interview? Get an unexpected but meaningful compliment? Tell the world! Or at least, that chunk of the world that reads this blog. Yes, it feels super weird and awkward, but it also feels great when you’re done.

I’ve got three things!
First, I got a lovely email not long ago from one of our Canada Research Chairs in mathematics, thanking me for my work on one of our Banting postdoc nominations and complimenting my development work to our Dean. For an English scholar, I’m pretty darn pleased that I can develop the heck out of a Banting-calibre math application. My eighth grade teacher would be so proud! 
Second, I launched our Graduate Professional Skills program in late September. With the invaluable help of my graduate assistant and other staff in our office I pulled together a half-dozen great workshops, a bunch of really excellent speakers, and a full day of training, eating, and talking about graduate professional development and its relationship to academic and post-PhD career success. Everything went off without a hitch, everyone had a good time, and the program I’ve been working on since 2012 now officially exists!

Third, I’ve finally gotten over my fear of pastry and learned how to make a really good apple pie. It’s easy (albeit a little time consuming), delicious, and so rewarding. Watching someone enjoy eating something I’ve made is one of my favourite forms of instant gratification.

And now it’s your turn! Remember, no self-deprecation, undercutting, or humblebragging. Just boast!

good things · job notes · learning · running · teaching · tenured life

Yelling, and other things I’ve forgotten in ten years

Last Wednesday, I shouted myself hoarse. Or, more specifically, I talked so much and so loudly for so much of the day that I gave myself a pounding headache and my braces tore up the inside of my mouth. I told myself it was because the “Faculty Speed Dating” orientation session was really loud, and since I was the one that had to get people to move tables every five minutes, it was the yelling that did it (note to self for next year: buy a bell, or a gong). But then Thursday: headache again. And all I had done was a presentation to 20 continuing PhD students, for an hour. Perhaps I was coming down with something?

Friday found me standing in the graduate coordinator’s office, clutching my throat and my head, moaning. J is a singer, with a degree in music. She knows about throats, and yelling, and of course, about managing grad chairs. She offered me a headache pill and then some advice.

She said I should stop yelling and start speaking loudly, from the diaphragm. Pfft, I said, I know how to do that, I’ve done theater! And singing (very very poorly)! And public speaking! She told me, then,  kindly, that her own speech therapist noted that every September, she was besieged by … teachers. Experienced ones.

July marked the 10th anniversary of my hiring at Waterloo. I’ve been a professor for ten years. Ten! Tenured now for three. The “new carpet” I brag about my office having is now ten years old. Some of the books I bought new with my first grant now have sun-scorched spines. I’ve taught somewhere in the vicinity of 35 classes, ranging from 10 to 200 students, and given what feel like countless presentations and papers.

But here I was, like a rookie, squelching up my throat and squeezing my vocal cords and pinching my voice and yelling. Like a rookie.

Ten years in the same office, with the same departments, many of the same colleagues, and surprisingly many of the same classes. This stability is, of course, one of the great privileges of tenured and tenure-track appointments, but in the midst of all this incremental moving from one September to the next, it’s easy to forget that I am changing, still learning, forgetting things. This year, over the summer, somehow I’ve started yelling instead of projecting. So my project is to remember how to be loud without giving myself a headache.

My career here attains the rhythm of a long, slow, Sunday run. I’m focused on endurance, and maybe enjoying the view, listening to the birds. Ten years behind me and at least another 25 in front of me, in the same office with the same carpet, and many of the same colleagues. I’m not racing to put together enough work for the fall. Not sending applications out wildly into a future I can’t see. Not packing or unpacking for or from a major move. In ten years? I’ll still be here, most likely, doing much what I’m doing now.

Yet, things change. To keep to the running metaphor, if the job hunt is like racing for the bus in heels while dragging a laptop and 50 student papers behind you, and tenure is a long, slow training run, you might say that I’ve got time to work more carefully on my form. And so I am. This term it’s my own voice, as well as using informal daily writing in my first year class. Last year it was shifting my fourth year design course to a fully major-project focus. I’m learning about anti-racist feminism and how to integrate this better in my teaching. I’m trying to figure out how to help graduate students train as writers rather than just as subject-area experts. I’m writing my first book. Since I finally understand how the courses fit together in our degree programs, I’m starting to think of new and old courses in terms of their fit in the curriculum. I’m taking on bigger administrative roles.

Ten years ago, I was having trouble imagining how I could do one thing for 35 years. I was used to running pell-mell from one milestone to the next, waiting for my real life to start. Ten years in, I can say it’s started. It turns out I’m still feeling just as challenged as ever, and even if I’m in some ways developing new and more advanced skills, sometimes I’m learning the same lessons over again. Like how to project my voice into a big room.

I’ve been catching up with my departmental colleagues this past week, and like they do–like I do–every year, they report the same dream we all started having as children: it’s the first day of class, and I’m not wearing anything; I’m in the wrong room; I’m meant to be teaching in Japanese; the books didn’t arrive on time. Ten years in, I’m still as excited and nervous–nervouscited?–about the new school year as I ever was.

Once I get this headache under control, that’s going to be really cheering to think about.

good things · saving my sanity

Beyond post-summer tristesse

Living in Edmonton has made me so polite, that I start every conversation with a weather update. Well, polite might not be quite the term here, but my optimism (self-delusion?) makes me prefer it to, say, boring, obsessed, desperate, etc. So you can see how the beginning of September and its ushering of a greater statistical possibility of snow, sleet, and other decidedly non-summery meteorological events would make me cringe less than happy. However, what saves it for me is looking both ways: forward to the new term, but also back to the summer that’s passed and its many delights.

One of summer’s delights: the ferry leaving Swartz Bay

It’s been a working summer for me, as for most people, I guess. What made it different in my personal academic history, was the absence of that uniquely summery feeling that “if it doesn’t get done today, it will tomorrow, or next week. It’s all good.” Yes, I actually did use to have summers like that. They were glorious, in retrospect. One deadline after another cascaded throughout this most recent summer of mine, in a way that will probably take its toll mid-October, if not sooner. But I did so some summery things. Many of them, in fact. Like travel, like walks to the park and in the River Valley, like reading fiction for pleasure.

Reading fiction at leisure is the definitive trait of my summers. If nothing else, I can read as much as I want, because while experiencing it, summer seems endless. The days are long, especially this far north, and mostly sunny, so all I dream of doing, really, is taking a book out in the back yard, and lounging and reading a great book. And then thinking about how I might teach it.

Which brings my gaze to the “forward” direction: the new academic year. The busy campus. The new students. The mind-blowing conversations. All the things. So many things to discover, to discuss, and to do. Erin was asking on Monday about the resolutions we might make at the beginning of the academic year. I’m not one for resolutions, but I do wish I could maintain a balance between the impression of freedom and endless time that summer bestows (at least on me, and it’s definitely an impression) and the tenuously contained chaos of September. What do you wish for yourself?

being undone · good attitudes about crappy possibilities · good things · saving my sanity · video

Academic Spring

When the weather turned nice, briefly, this week, I dragged a colleague out to grab a cup of tea on campus, and instead of taking the tunnels and our coats, we walked outside. I breathed in the smell of melting snow and wet earth and dry sand and warm sun.

“Spring is my least favourite season,” I blurted out. “It just makes me so anxious!”

I surprised myself saying it, but it’s true! Since high school, I’ve associated this time of year with fast approaching deadlines for materials I’d been wildly procrastinating on for month. Spring is not new beginning for scholars: it’s a time of reckoning. I did my BA at York, which has eight-month courses, so spring was the culmination of everything, and that usually meant desperation, panic, and last-minute calculation of possible grade outcomes. Ugh. Of course, every April also meant packing up all my worldly belongings and moving back to Kirkland Lake for the summer: not really an awesome prospect. Deadlines and impending uprooting! Spring! What’s not to love! Similar angst accompanied my MA and PhD coursework years: constant apartment moving, and lots of deadlines, and waiting for results from SSHRC!

My colleague has worked as a sessional instructor for a long time: her spring, she notes, is marked usually by enormous piles of grading and total uncertainty as to employment status two weeks hence. Contingent labour in the academy, I imagine, must feel as mixed up about spring as I vestigially do.

We’ve written here before about the marvellous opportunities, the spring-like rebirth that September offers us. Well, I guess April can sometimes be the reverse.

I’ve got no reason to dread spring any more. I own my own home, so I’m not moving anywhere. I have a steady job. I do have a lot of conference paper deadlines, but I get to travel and that always excites me. I just reflexively panic, still, when the snow melts and the trees bud.

You too?

As an antidote to the spring heebie-jeebies, I offer you a video–a lip dub I made with my yoga studio friends and teachers at Queen Street Yoga. It’s full of sunshine and smiles and happy music, and it might make you smile as you grade / write / move / job hunt.

good things · grading · women

Canadian Women and Mountaineering

It is that time of year. This week I finished marking a pile of essays and have to give a final exam on Friday. And I’m in the midst of a very fun and interesting interdisciplinary conference, Thinking Mountains, all about international mountain studies. 
I’m enjoying it because it has a great mix of things in my field (environmental history) and things entirely outside of my field, but which are united by a focus on particular kinds of places (mountains) and consideration of our (human) interactions with them.   
So in lieu of a proper post I wanted to plug tonight’s plenary — a roundtable conversation on Canadian women and mountaineering, which features four of the most accomplished Canadian women mountaineers and climbers, who work and play in a hyper-masculine environment. If you’re in Edmonton you should come out to it, it’s open to the public. If not, they’ll be recording the roundtable so you can check it out online in the future via the U of A’s mountains studies website.

faster feminism · feminist win · good things · ideas for change

Make a Fuss: Calling All Critics

I am feeling unusually excited. Maybe it is the residual buzz from spending the last three days talking with critical and creative practitioners at Public Poetics. Maybe it is the excitement of having seen Tanya Davis, El Jones, and Ardath Whynacht on stage telling it like it is … and watching a crowd of people listen, enraptured. Maybe its the launch of the new Lemon Hound site. There are so many women doing such diverse, engaged, and important public work right now! And there are ways you can participate too. 

Today’s post comes care of the wonderful Christine Leclerc and on behalf of the Canadian Women in the Literary Arts. CWILA launched in the spring, and one of its foundational initiatives is to create a critic-in-residence position. Here’s how you can apply.

Christine writes:

This year we released the Canadian Women In the Literary Arts numbers, attracted fine folks like yourselves to our emerging organization and raised more than enough for CWILA’s first critic-in-residence. Still haven’t applied?
If you’re a female Canadian writer (poet, novelist, storyteller, scholar) who’d like to raise awareness of women’s literary and critical presence in Canadian letters, we hope you’ll submit your critic-in-residence application to info@cwila.com by November 1, 2012.

The resident critic will work on critical essays and/or book reviews and submit them to one or more Canadian review venues (print or web). CWILA also archives the work, which will be available at cwila.com following publication elsewhere, copyright permitting. If there’s time, the resident critic is encouraged to support a climate of critical responsiveness in Canadian letters with a collaborative or community-based project. The residency is virtual, so the writer is free to work from home. Please visit cwila.com for full details.

To apply, please send a letter of intent to describe your project, the venue (or venues) you plan to submit to, a one-page CV and a short sample of critical work to info@cwila.com by November 1, 2012. A $2,000 stipend will be awarded in December.

We encourage applications from genderqueer writers, indigenous writers, as well as other women and/or genderqueer writers of colour.

Or, if you’d prefer to support next year’s critic-in-residence, we are pleased to accept donations of any size. Thanks for your ongoing support! We have much to be proud for such a young organization.

If you’re on Twitter, Facebook, or have a blog, please share this year’s Critic-in-Residence November 1, 2012 application deadline with as many women in Canada as you can. And if you’re with a university, please send a short email to your department, or better yet, print and post the attached poster. Thanks so much!

All my best,
Christine

For Twitter or Facebook: RT @CanWomenInLit Advance women’s presence in Cnd letters. Critic-In-Residence w/ #CWILA – deadline: Nov 1 – http://cwila.com/wordpress/critic-in-residence/ #canlit