academic reorganization · grad school · guest post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings me to this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some general advice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

collaboration · community · feminist communities · grief · guest post

Guest Post: Why my feminist teenage daughter should not despair on the mornings after 8 November 2016.

This is a first in a series of posts about concrete actions we can post-US election take as feminists working in the Canadian academy. We need intersectional and intergenerational feminism now more than ever. 
_________________________________
 
My daughter turned 15 about a week ago, and she is a feminist. I love my daughter just for being, and I love her for many reasons, and I also love her for her integrity and her passion and her bravery.  My daughter’s world, High School, is largely closed to me much like her room. When the doors to that world open slightly, I get a whiff of the misogyny, racism, ableism, homophobia, ageism, and every other conceivable exclusionary sentiment that reeks in that hot bed and that structures the lives of teenagers in the western world today.  Into that world, my daughter walks every day and proudly declares herself a feminist. She wrote articles to the school paper on sexual harassment, sexism and violence against women. She joined a group advocating for the rights of LGBTQ people on campus. She joined an environmental club. She gets into regular confrontations with “racists” and “xenophobes” and refuses to allow them a free pass, ever. On weekends she volunteers with the public library youth advisory group and with Amnesty International. She is an advocate for social justice. Politically and socially, she is every progressive parent’s dream child.
When America entered this election cycle and my daughter took notice, she identified strongly and predictably as a Bernie supporter. She knew the figures and the positions, downloaded every John Oliver clip on the elections, pulled out a few hairs every time she saw or heard Donald Trump. But with a wisdom, or perhaps cynicism, beyond her years, she reflected on the irony of wishing for the loss of the first credible female nominee in the democratic presidential primary.  When Bernie lost the democratic nomination to Hillary, she was devastated. Then she did some soul searching and came out strongly in support of Hillary Clinton. She bought her autobiography. She became more and more frightened of Trump and of his America. But it was his misogyny, more than anything else he represented, that repelled her. She believed that Hillary must win.
Last night, like millions the world over, she went to bed defeated, broken, incredibly sad. In the coming days, my daughter will be forced to confront the aftermath and navigate her way through this historic slap in the face America has delivered. I can already taste her outrage: how could women, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims vote for Trump? But women especially—how could they?
I steel myself to field her questions and help her walk her way through the oncoming piles of discursive crap, with her passion and her commitment and her feminism intact. How do I acknowledge not only her outrage but more importantly her heartbreak? She is not only angry, she is hurt, betrayed by fellow humans and fellow women she trusted would know better, would choose differently. For she imagined her community: a community of well-informed even if not progressive voters, of committed even if not politicized women.
There is no doubt that the election results are frightening. Support for Donald Trump reflects an America that is comfortable with intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and other exclusionary phenomena. It also reflects an affinity for a brash irresponsible populism that is deeply worrying in the leadership of the most powerful country on earth. Hillary Clinton’s political history is troubling as well: ruthless and hawkish internationally, elitist and opportunistic nationally. Her career is sustained by incriminating ties to the military industrial complex  driving international conflict, and the banking and finance sectors and multinationals fueling rising inequality at home. But at the level of discourse, she presented a vision of America that was more conciliatory, less abrasive, discursively (if not economically or politically) more inclusive. There is value in that. And yes, it would have been a significant achievement for the United States to finally catch up with the many countries all over the world from India and Sri Lanka to Chile and Brazil who have known female leaders for decades now. For many girls and women in the US today, the disappointment must be crushing. In her concession speech, Clinton proved again that she could be articulate, wise, graceful and generous. Adjectives one would hardly extend to the president-elect.
Much will be said in the coming days about the need to reflect on the shortcomings of what stands—only in America perhaps—as the left, or more accurately the center right represented by Hillary Clinton’s democrats, and on the need to listen to the silenced majority in rural areas and non-coastal states. Experts will pontificate on Trump’s instinctual control of and affinity for the dynamics of reality television, and of the increasing tilt in American politics towards populism. As in the shocked and humbled voices that rose after Brexit, some will call for a deeper understanding of the roots of anger against a political system dominated by elites.
But what about the women of America? And what about feminism in America? Overall Clinton won among women by a margin of 54% to Trump’s 42%, a respectable margin but not exactly impressive. Among white women, however, Trump beat Clinton by 53% to 43%, and among white women with no college degree by 62% to 34%. Why did the white women of America not only reject one of their own, but give their votes to a man who openly and proudly denigrates women in almost all spheres of life?
Many commentators are thrown by the fact that Trump’s overt sexism did not repel women voters. Many women, many feminists, are today outraged, dumbfounded, unmoored, despairing. The results are mad, crazy, incomprehensible. I heard all three words over and over from friends as the results started coming in late last night. The words also dominated Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. The words dominate my daughter’s world today as she struggles to lift her head up and find her voice. I hope that the voice she finds in this cacophony of hurt indignation is not that of the enraged despairing feminist, but of the committed curious one.
The charge of madness is silencing and dehumanizing, and, as women especially have known for centuries, it is a handy patriarchal charge. The political act of those who voted for Donald Trump, but especially the political act of the women who chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, cannot be dismissed as mad or incomprehensible. If we find it so, it is because we are unable to comprehend, wedo not have the knowledge or the tools to read that act and recognize its context. It is because we, the ones whose feminism is fixated on breaking glass ceilings in Washington may well be unaware of who walks the grounds of the cities and towns beyond Washington’s radius, and the conditions that structure the reality and the imagination of those women who rejected Hillary Clinton.
And ultimately, it is because as feminists, some of us are unable or unwilling to concede that different women in different places and in different times have the right to comprehend their own reality and prioritize their own goals differently. It is because as feminists, some of us are still unwilling to accord respect to women who may code their struggles for justice in language other than that of educated middle class feminists. Women who may see their struggles against racism or neoliberalism or imperialism, for example, as constitutional of their feminism, but not to be subordinated in its name. Women who have the right and the awareness to strategize their engagement with the political spheres of their communities and country.
Many feel today that Hillary Clinton lost the election because she is a woman. We could note, and take comfort even, that 80% of black men voted for Hillary. 62% of Latino men voted for Hillary. I am not sure of the numbers but I would guess that the majority of Muslim men in the US also voted for Hillary. While gender may have certainly been a factor, for us to insist that Hillary lost because she is a woman is to reinstate a worldview bleached of race and possibly class as well. Only in a posited non-racial world would we discount the votes of the majority of non-white men and women in the US who voted for a woman. If we only see that Hillary lost because she is a woman, then we do not see those who voted for her regardless of her gender or because of it, and more importantly, we do not hear their voices, we do not consider their political act, we do not give credence to their fears.
I do not necessarily know what reasons the majority of white women who voted for Trump have for doing so. But I extend them the respect to recognize that they must have their reasons and that those reasons are varied. And those reasons may ultimately turn out to be regressive, or at the very least unsavory, even plain wrong. Perhaps. I do not know. And if I want to know, I should go find out. I hope my daughter tries to find out. Despair follows from incomprehension. We despair when we no longer know what is to be done, when every effort has been spent and yet no enlightenment has been reached, no change is forthcoming. We have not yet spent every effort to understand. In some cases we may not have even begun. This is not the day to despair. I hope that today of all days my daughter is filled not with a desire to drown out the madness of the crowds but the drive and determination to ask questions and listen and learn. For women, a lot of women, in the US, have spoken. As feminists, we need to listen.

 

Maisaa Youssef has a PhD from the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. She works in international development and her research is in the areas of biopolitics and social justice.

fast feminism · generational mentorship · guest post · ideas for change

Guest post: An Anti-Elite Manifesto for Canadian Public Intellectuals

Last winter, I took graduate level seminar Public Intellectuals in Canada: Their Essays, Talks, and with Dr. Joel Deshaye at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, and it got me all riled up.
Considering the academy is churning out so-called intellectuals without even recognizing the status, or implications of the term, I wrote “Anti-Elite Manifesto for Canadian Public Intellectuals.”
Why? Because manifestos harness imaginative power.
Manifestos intervene. Manifestos are excessive. Manifestos are relentless. Manifestos interrupt. Manifestos persuade. At their core, manifestos are public declarations, often pushing political, social or artistic motion.
While elitism is defined as a select part of a group that is superior to rest in terms of ability or qualities, to truly be successful as a Canadian Public Intellectual one needs to speak to an audience, and appeal to a broad range of voices. One voice can’t speak for the whole, but many voices can create a chorus. A manifesto is a critical poetic choir of sorts.
As a poet and journalist, I’ve written several manifestos. In my opinion, the manifesto acts as a conversation between private and public thought. In my tenure as Canadian Women In Literary Arts critic-in-residence, I wrote “An Incomplete Manifestofor Canadian Women In Literary Arts,” in 2014, though it wasn’t the first time I was drawn to the manifesto as a genre. I’ve also written a “Modern Day Riot Grrrl Manifesta,” in 2011 for International Girl Gang Underground zine, and “A Fragmented Manifesto,” for GULCH: An Assemblage of Poetry and Prose published in 2009.
I am drawn to manifestos. They exist somewhere between poetry and criticism.
According to Mary Ann Caw, who edited Manifesto: A Century of Isms, “Originally, a manifesto was a piece of evidence in a court of law, or put on a show to catch the eye. The manifesto is: “a public declaration by a sovereign prince or state, or by an individual or body of individuals whose proceedings are of public importance, making past actions announced as a forthcoming.”
Manifestos articulate specific plans for action, and can discuss the intersections of feminism and social justice. Unlike the essay, which is quieter, more textual, manifestos are loud. Manifestos are messy. Manifestos elicit. Manifestos ignite. Caw notes, “The manifesto is an act of the démesure, going past what is thought of as proper, sane and literary.”
I didn’t intend to write to convince or convert, only to consider. This “Anti-Elite Manifesto for Canadian Public Intellectuals” is an invitation, an offering.  Hopefully, I’m not coming across as a one trick pony. I’m only taking Atwood’s advice to “think pink, and pack black.”
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An Anti-Elite Manifesto for Canadian Public Intellectuals
By Shannon Webb-Campbell

BECAUSE we need to acknowledge the land where we gather
BECAUSE this is unceded and unsurrendered Mi’kmaq and Beothuk territory
BECAUSE Indigenous communities of Newfoundland and Labrador have always existed despite what was declared in 1949
BECAUSE we relate to the characteristics of this country now called “Canada”
BECAUSE private actions can have public impact
BECAUSE public is a relationship among strangers
BECAUSE we have a responsibility as publics
BECAUSE we are involved in the affairs of a community
BECAUSE not all communities are recognized as publics
BECAUSE we must examine
BECAUSE we want to discuss poetry’s potential in public
BECAUSE Michael Warner notes, the diary can’t have an imagined public
BECAUSE public sphere is purely imaginary
BECAUSE publics are internalized as humanity
BECAUSE an image of writing should be the ghost of freedom
BECAUSE there are all kinds of knowledge transfers
BECAUSE public language addresses a public as a social entity
BECAUSE Daniel Rigney believes capitalist ideology is the main type of anti-intellectualism
BECAUSE paradox is the elitism of intellect and progressive ideals
BECAUSE mass media is a manufactured product
BECAUSE we are of the public, by the public, and for the public
BECAUSE of Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message
BECAUSE personal and social consequences of any medium is an extension of ourselves
BECAUSE new technology eliminates jobs
BECAUSE fragmentation is the essence of machine technology
BECAUSE electric light is pure information
BECAUSE it’s a medium without a message
BECAUSE Glenn Gould reminds us, you can’t forget to pay homage to the source where all creative ideas come
BECAUSE we don’t have to duplicate the eccentricity of experience
BECAUSE we must discover how high our tolerance is for the questions we ask of ourselves
BECAUSE questions extend the vision of our world
BECAUSE this is a performance of the self
BECAUSE self-reflection means you always question yourself
BECAUSE questions paralyze the imagination
BECAUSE there is a new kind of listener
BECAUSE there was two hundred thousand “so-called” Indians in what became Canada
BECAUSE most of Canada clings to the attitude of a dominion
BECAUSE we’ve been watching from a ring seat, waiting for our time
BECAUSE Conrad Black deliberately had absolutely no contact, direct or indirect with anyone
BECAUSE in the past he’s known the prime minister
BECAUSE like Phyllis Webb, all our desire goes out to the impossibly beautiful
BECAUSE the glass castle is an image for the mind
BECAUSE we claim the five gods of reality to bless and keep us sane
BECAUSE a place of solitude is not where I choose to live
BECAUSE I prefer a suite of lies
BECAUSE Thomas King knows the truth about stories
BECAUSE stories is all we are
BECAUSE I’m not the Indian you had in mind
BECAUSE you are beginning to wonder if there is a point to this
BECAUSE you can’t say you would have lived differently years down the road if only you’d heard this story
BECAUSE we’ve heard it
BECAUSE George Eliot Clarke is parliamentary poet laureate
BECAUSE journalists turn facts into jazz
BECAUSE we have all the public fun
BECAUSE revolution is the orgasm of history
BECAUSE you really want to be prime minister
BECAUSE we have the privilege of academic freedom
BECAUSE poetry begins where lying ends
BECAUSE when I tweeted that last Clarke quote, Sina Queyras responded: if only
BECAUSE publicness can’t be underestimated (especially for women)
BECAUSE to think publically takes great risk and vulnerability
BECAUSE women’s work and criticism is still under-represented
BECAUSE we’re taught not to take up space
BECAUSE we are rarely invited to speak
BECAUSE there isn’t one way to write or think about anything
BECAUSE women are prevented from evolving in public
BECAUSE poetry makes its own mouth
BECAUSE the public doesn’t read
BECAUSE poetry repeatedly enacts its own construction and deconstruction
BECAUSE David Suzuki doesn’t have to kiss anybody’s ass
BECAUSE he doesn’t have to mask truth that comes from his heart

BECAUSE if you want everyone to like you, you are not gonna stand for anything
BECAUSE there will always be people that object
BECAUSE the greatest need we have is for clean air
BECAUSE we owe it to mother earth to take care of her
BECAUSE Margaret Atwood knows she is omnipresent and omniscient 
BECAUSE those are two attributes of the divine
BECAUSE the issues of responsibility are legal, moral and societal
BECAUSE intimacy builds worlds
BECAUSE we need to run the marathon
BECAUSE speaking in public still makes me sick
BECAUSE we must think pink, pack black
BECAUSE Atwood’s done her job
BECAUSE we’ve yet to do ours
Shannon Webb-Campbellis a Mi’kmaq poet, writer, and critic. Still No Word (Breakwater, 2015), recipient of Egale Canada’s Out In Print Award, is her first collection of poems. She was Canadian Women In Literary Arts critic-in-residence 2014, and is a board member.
Shannon holds a MFA in Creative Writing from University of British Columbia, a BA from Dalhousie University, and currently studies and teaches English Literature at Memorial University. Her work is anthologized in IMPACT: Colonialism in Canada (Manitoba First Nation Education Resource, 2017), Where the Nights Are Twice As Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets (Goose Lane, 2015), This Place A Stranger: Canadian Women Travelling Alone (Caitlin Press, 2015), and others.
She curated “Screening the Offshore” at The Rooms Provincial Museum, Art Gallery and Archives, and worked as a curatorial assistant at Eastern Edge Gallery. Shannon is poetry editor at Plenitude Magazine.
Her play Neither Love Letters Nor Moonlight, premieres at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland February 2017. She is a member of Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.

community · guest post · kinaesthetic thinking · language · women and sport

Women, Academia, Sport: On Academia, Yoga, and the Practice of Beginning Again

“If you fall out, you are human. If you fall out and get back in, you are a yogi.”
It’s 10am. The studio is unusually hot today—high humidity, the windows are already streaming. The noise of the world outside seems distant in the faux tropics of the heated room. I have a full day of revisions ahead of me, but as I unfurl my mat, all I need to be is Kate, radically myself in this moment, a moving, breathing participant in the now. I usually practice yoga in the evenings, when I feel more awake and more myself, but lately I have been caught up in a continual whirlwind of revisions—for articles and for my dissertation—that has thrown me out of whack mentally and has sent my anxiety levels soaring. So, I decide to switch it up a bit and see what happens when I make the conscious decision to begin my day with centering and presence.
Yoga—while certainly not a cure-all remedy, has some concrete applications beyond the mat. It is first and foremost a practice, one that teaches you presence, as well as the honour and dignity of beginning again. If you have ever practiced yoga, you know all too well the lingering frustration when on Tuesday you were able to fully kick back into standing bow, but today you can’t even find your balance in tree. But you try, and try again, stretching your muscles and fascia to their present ability, making room for the new, flushing out the old. In experimenting with the now of your body, yoga offers you a chance to laugh at yourself, to enjoy the foibles of the human body as it moves, sometimes clumsily, sometimes gracefully. In this way, it is a nice counterbalance to the “perfect mind” syndrome that plagues academia. When you play with balance and respect your body’s capabilities in the moment, falling out and beginning again restores dignity and lightness to the body and mind, and encourages you to be empathetic with yourself in the process.
As academics, and, more generally, as people in the saturated milieu in which we live, yoga is an available antidote to the constant demands for active production and perfection. While dropping the day’s worries and focusing on the breath seems like a luxury, for me, it has become a basic human need. With so much pressure to “get things right” in my professional life, yoga has taught me invaluable lessons of balance and process. It is a space and time where you can fall out and get back in—under the intensity of heat, the sweat and breath of neighbouring bodies, the closeness of the experience can be overwhelming. There is also something intensely human to be felt, however, in the pure pleasure of movement and breath.
Yoga is consciousness in motion. It is about synching the flows of the body with the natural rhythms of the breath, the life force, prana. As a doctorate student who studies the projective poetics of Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, and the Black Mountain crowd, this aspect of uniting the breath and body in movement is especially poignant. The projective poetic mode advocates for the immediate connection between lines of verse and the breath and movement of the body through space.
According to Olson, proprioception, “sensibility within the organism / by movement of its own tissues,” extends beyond aesthetics to become a poethic, a practice of living and creating rooted in the immediacy of the body in motion. “Proprioception” comes from the Latin proprius meaning “one’s own,” or what is proper to the self; in this way, it identifies a radically personal and subjective means of relating to the world through the body. At its core, it is about bodily awareness: of being aware of the parts of the moving body as they are extended in space, in relation with other objects in this spatial field. It is a term that certainly applies to yoga, but also to academia.
The act of publishing and sharing ideas, of receiving critique and revising accordingly, are all practices of awareness—not of the body, per se, but of ideas, which are always extensions of the body and markers of its growth. When we send out ideas for review, we are experimenting with our ideas in space—identifying their extensions and limitations, but most importantly, realizing their capacity for growth and change. This both humbles and opens the self as much as falling out of Eagle pose and getting right back in, with a new awareness of where you are at in the present.
Yoga is about experimentation. There are many parallels to draw between repeating asanas, experimenting with movement not for the pursuit of perfection but for progress, and academic revision, the reorienting and shifting of ideas to adapt to newly discovered contexts and ideas. I think we sometimes forget that academia, like yoga, is a practice. When we revise our ideas, when we consider other viewpoints and angles and incorporate them in our own work, we are being present and mindful. We are also confirming the humanity of the work, the organic community of people coming together in pursuit of knowledge not as dogma but as practice.
Because what is academia, the pursuit of knowledge, if not the art of beginning again?
So, as I roll out my mat in this balmy room, I don’t know what the next hour and a half holds for me and my practice. I also don’t know what the result of my hundred visions and revisions beyond the mat will amount to. All I know is that I can be present and patient with what emerges; if I lose grasp of my breath, I can get it back again.

If you make mistakes, you are an academic. If you revise and resubmit, you are human.

Kate Siklosi lives in Toronto and is a PhD Candidate in English at York University. Her research interests centre upon the intersections of Canadian and American avant-garde poetry and poetics, post-structuralism, and spatial theory. She is currently co-editor of Pivot: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies and Thought.
academic reorganization · feminist health · gradgrind · guest post

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

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

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

 

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

academic work · feminism · guest post

Guest Post: Bad Faith and Bad Habits

A few years ago I outed myself as a church-goer to some graduate students and colleagues over drinks at our campus pub. My students reacted with a predictable mixture of shock, bewilderment, and thinly-veiled contempt. Confessing to my church habit was like admitting I had an addiction, with a twelve-step program that included weekly church attendance and a cannibalistic ritual of eating a dying man’s flesh and drinking his blood.

One of my colleagues tried to salvage my reputation as a reasoning post-humanist by informing me and everyone who was listening that my church habit was “more cultural than religious, right?” In other words, the only way to explain the anomaly of a church-going academic in a Humanities department in the twenty-first century was through the safety valve of “culture” –colourful foods and folkways that fulfill the “ethnic heritage” requirement and are somehow okay to want to preserve. The problem is that the ethnic culture I belong to is also and inescapably a religious culture, rooted in the church.
A long time ago, in graduate school, I mentioned my religious/ethnic identity to another student who jokingly responded, “Well, you’re doing a good job of hiding it.” Either I was being accused of hypocrisy, or I didn’t match their stereotype, or I was being complimented for concealing something shameful or at least distasteful. Or maybe it was none of these, but I came away feeling that a significant part of who I am was something to withhold. No one wants to hear about it.
It’s hard to be a professing, feminist Christian in a secular institution whose modern history goes hand in glove with the rise of liberal individualism. It’s hard, but not for the reasons you might think. I don’t suffer from the delusion that I am persecuted because we have a holiday party in our department every December. It doesn’t bother me when colleagues or students openly criticize the church, or the Christian tradition. I do it myself in lectures all the time. My specialization in Victorian literature means I’m constantly teaching texts that were authorized by discourses of Christian imperialism and the civilizing mission and I make sure my students recognize this and have language to critique it. The thought of using the classroom as a place to profess my religious beliefs practically gives me hives. I have never tried to “save” anyone. I have never tried to fool myself that my faith gives me some kind of special glow.
But the main reason I don’t talk about church when I’m at work is because our lives outside of work are irrelevant there. I know this because of feminism. In the same way that the work of social reproduction done by women on the second shift is hidden when we are at our “real jobs,” so too is my secret life as a church-goer. Just as the hours I spend raising my children “don’t count” (and are an impediment to my productivity at work), neither does the work I do for the church. And I’ve done a lot. In the past ten years I have served on numerous church committees, taught faith formation classes to children and adults, been appointed as the church librarian, attended countless evening meetings in other people’s homes, written articles for my local church newsletter and our denomination’s national paper, planned and led worship services, delivered sermons (or whatever you’d call them), organized women’s retreats, cooked meals for congregants who are ill or facing death, and a bunch of other things. I have taken on this unpaid work willingly and even joyfully. I have spent most Sunday mornings in church when I might have been writing articles and book chapters. I have sacrificed work time (evenings and weekends) to Sabbath time.
At work I often feel guilty about my modest research record. At church I feel proud to talk about my teaching and research. Calling myself an academic at church brings me social capital; calling myself a church-goer at work diminishes it. So much of what I do at church (teaching, writing, committee work, organizing, community building) are skills that I transfer from my job, but investing those skills at church isn’t recognized by my job. In fact some of my colleagues would see it as a contemptible waste of time that could be better spent being “productive” at work. So I do a good job of hiding it. If I try to make visible the work I do for the church, I am in danger of being branded a lunatic–of being, quite literally, a bad faithacademic feminist.
 And while my feminist colleagues make visible the kinds of socially reproductive labour we do as women (through blogs like Hook and Eye), there is very little room for talking about—confessing to—the other kinds of work we do when we’re not being productive in the narrow sense of fulfilling tenure and promotion requirements and achieving metrical excellence.
It feels scary to admit this because of the pressure to “love” my work—to sacrifice my leisure time, and often my family’s time—to work time. The Do What You Love mantra has been thoroughly internalized by academics; we have put our faith in our work because we believe in it; we believe it is worth doing even when the rest of the world doesn’t recognize its importance, and even when many of us don’t receive a living wage, job security, or the respect of our employers. Our emotional vocabulary about our work—love, sacrifice, faith, belief—is the same vocabulary we use in church.
But the difference between unpaid academic work and unpaid church work is that while my employer can invite me to leave at any time if I don’t conform at least minimally to the market-driven academy’s ever-increasing demands on my time and my love, (or even if I do), my religious faith and the church that gives it expression and coherence will never ask me to leave. My employer is not interested in me or my family, only in the value it can extract from me. It wants only my excellence. Church is interested in all of me, and will take as much or as little as I give it. It sees even my faults and failings—my bad habits—as something to be loved. At its core, church is a rejection of precarity.
Jan Schroeder goes to church in Ottawa and works at Carleton University.
academic work · guest post · kinaesthetic thinking · play · women and sport

Women, Academia, Sport: Finding My Light Switch in the Dark

When the first post of this series popped up on my Facebook feed, I thought: “now THIS is something I can get behind.” Full disclosure: I spend a fair bit of my non-work time moving—biking, running, or walking to and from work; playing recreational hockey (emphasis on the recreational, but for a fabulous team named the Booby Orrs—or the boobs for short); honing my basement soccer, wrestling, and pull-up skills with two very special 9 and 6 year-old friends; skiing when there is enough snow to do so, which there hasn’t been of late; coaching rugby for a fierce and talented group of young twenty-somethings; walking with my 8-lb sporty-diva dog who is a better hiker than I am; and of course, lots and lots of stretching (apparently I am pretty stiff—go figure).

Note sporty-diva dog in backpack!

Most days I choose movement over social activity, not because I don’t adore my friends, or crave human connection, but because most socializing involves sitting still. When planning a trip, I often consider what opportunities for movement there will be, even before checking into local options for food or coffee. When traveling to a new city, I routinely opt for a bike rental over a car. And so on and so forth. I am somewhat maniacal when it comes to moving and movement, and until my early 30s I hadn’t really stopped to consider why (probably because I hadn’t really ever stopped).

Part of me never questioned my need for movement because I was a sporty kid. When I was first on skates, I sprinted (toe picks in ice and off I went). My summer camps were always sports camps. Gym and recess were my favourite ‘subjects’ in school (yes, I was that kid). And by about the age of 10, I was barred from playing driveway basketball with my older (less kinesthetically-minded) brother because I made him look bad. As a then tomboy and now butch identified person, my sportiness has been one of the ways I make sense (to myself and to others) in the world. I understand now that statements like “she’s sporty” stood in for “I know she’s not a normal little girl” (whatever that might be). I also recognize that my “rambunctiousness” and “excessive energy” served simultaneously to excuse and negate as well as to honour and acknowledge my masculinity—and in some contexts it still does.

I began my university path in sport studies because I assumed that’s where maniacal movement people like me went (and to a large degree they do). As an undergraduate student in sport studies, I learned that our kinesthetic sense is that which enables us to find the light switch in the dark. From the Greek word kin, meaning to move or set in motion, our kinesthetic awareness is the sensation of moving in space. In a physical and philosophical sense, it is the way in which our bodies come to know. While I eventually migrated from sport to health studies, I took the lessons of movement (and the analogy of the light switch in the dark) with me.

The summer after my first year in undergrad, my father died. It was also the same summer I took up outdoor running. Until this point, my running had only involved chasing a ball, avoiding a defender, circling a track, or, as previously explained, on skates. At 20, I had neither the emotional wherewithal or environment to talk through the impact of that tragedy, but running helped me come to terms with his loss in my own way. I ran carrying confusion, anger, guilt and sadness, and in learning to jog, I also learned to take these emotions in and let them go, one winded breath at a time.

Fast forward about a decade and I find myself struggling (as many do) in the often exceedingly slow, generally physically still moments of dissertation writing. In an opposite way of what Hannah writes—that some parts of academia gave her body back to her—I’m convinced that my body in movement gave me academia. Not only did I enter the academy through movement studies (the thing I knew and loved most), but my compulsion to move provided me the advice I needed to get through—and sit through—the stillest parts of my PhD. In 2007 I tried my first Bikram yoga class. Warranted critiques of Bikram yoga aside, for the next two and a half years as a chipped away at my dissertation I was reminded to sit through discomfort, without trying to relieve it. This lesson has continuing resonance in my intellectual labours.

With the finish line of my defense in sight, I received the news that my supervisor’s cancer had metastasized. I received this news away from home in Prince Edward County, with a rented bike in hand, a small (sporty-diva) dog in tow, and a local trail map. Unsure of what to do, I pushed, peddled, and rode in 25 degree heat. 50 kilometers later, reconnected with my beating heart, the news had sunk in.

As I approach 40, I still find movement one of the most reliable forms of care I have available to me. It has been one of the most stable and consistent presences in my life. I move because, quite literally, it keeps me together. And while I feel things deeply, I don’t always need to (or want to) talk them through—it’s just not how my body has learned to be in space. Instead, I move through space, and continue to fumble (as many do) for my light switch in moments of darkness.

That, and I continue to stretch.
Alissa Overend is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta. Her research and teaching are in the sociology of health and illness; food studies; contemporary social theory; intersectional feminism; media and discourse analysis. She and her sporty-diva dog are often out on adventures.
guest post · self care · theory and praxis · women and sport

Women, Academia, Sport: Lake Theory and Sweaty Praxis

In the summer of 2012 my friend L and I packed up our laptops and our books and her dog and a four-week supply of nutritional yeast and headed to the lake to write our dissertations.
L’s family owns a cabin in the country north of Belleville, “lakeland rockland and hill country.” You travel to it by driving north a ways, and then getting into an old motor boat, riding low in the water with the weight of your food and your books and your dog, and navigating some depths and some shallows until you arrive at the cantilevered dock (a new dock, still a topic of conversation around the lake) and walk your things up the hill to the cabin bag by bag. You have to bring your water in, too, because the lake water’s no good for drinking, though it’s fine for dishes if you boil it first. The cabin has electricity to charge the laptops, enough cell reception for emergencies if you stand at the end of the dock and hold your phone over your head, a hot plate and a barbeque and endless spells of perfect silence. It has everything you need to write a dissertation.
This is how our days went: whenever the sun woke us up, we’d head downhill to the lake in a towel for the first swim of the day. Swimsuits weren’t really necessary on weekdays, when the lake was ours. Once we were both up, we’d put on shorts and sports bras, plug an iPod into a mini battery-powered speaker we could bring down to the dock, set up our yoga mats, and prepare for our morning two-person gym class. We took turns leading warm ups, core, legs, arms, pushing each other harder, laughing at the absurdity of our lunges and high kicks on a long dock jutting serenely into the smooth lake, sometimes waving at bewildered boaters or ignoring the questions of curious swimmers. When the workout was over and we’d cooled down with another plunge into the lake, the writing day would begin, on the dock if the weather was fine, in the cabin if it was too blustery.
I have never written so happily in my life, there in the woods, when I cured writer’s block not by checking my email but by jumping in the lake for a few minutes, feeling the water on my skin, swimming out far enough that I could float on my back and not see the shore. There, in the woods, in the lake, the solitariness of writing felt not isolating but exactly right.
It’s harder, these days, to get to the lake. For one thing, I live in Alberta now, where lakes are few and far between. For another thing, I’m a half country away from L and R, the women with whom I joyfully sweated my way through my PhD. I’m a full-time instructor now, and the days are longer and less my own, and sometimes it feels like doing my job well means doing everything else poorly, my relationships as much as my self-care, however loaded and compromised and commodified a term that is.  
This is a common refrain: how academia takes us away from our bodies, takes us out of our bodies.
But, as hard as this particular moment is, I stand behind the claim that academia—that some parts of academia—gave my body back to me.
I have been more or less fat my entire life, and like many high-achieving fat girls, threw myself into schoolwork out of an awareness that this was a venue in which my aberrant, undisciplined body would be, if not accepted, then tacitly ignored. And ignore it I did, through my undergrad and masters, with the exception of a few depressing diets and the occasional stint at solitary, disciplinary gym-going. But the deep dive into academic living that was the PhD brought me two discoveries.
First, fat theory, via feminist and queer theory, gave me the conceptual tools to reclaim the pleasures of my fat body. Theory became a foundation upon which I could build both my joy and my furious resistance, something that could ground me back into myself as a body, writing. Second, the isolation and monotony of the dissertation pushed me to build a community of women with whom to enact that pleasure, to make that theory into a sweaty praxis.

I miss the lake. I miss the community I left behind. But I get to carry with me the body those years gave back to me. It’s not always going to be a strong or fit body, it’s not always going to be a “well” body, but it will always be my body, so long as I can feel the lake water on my skin.
 
Hannah McGregor  makes a Harry Potter podcast called Witch, Please, sings in an all women’s barbershop chorus, and has a cat named Al Purrdy. In her spare time, she’s an instructor in English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta and director of Modern Magazines Project Canada. Her research focuses on Canadian literature and culture with an emphasis on middlebrow literary production, periodical studies, and digital humanities. 
guest post · self care · shifting perspectives · women and sport

Women, Academia, Sport: Why I Do This

It’s 4 am, and I have been lying on a cot in the aid station for the last 90 minutes.

A thick wool blanket is pulled over my head for warmth, my right hand clutches a slice from a still-fresh French baguette, and my left holds a water bottle filled with what I can only describe as stomach-turningly sweet liquid.

I am 22 hours into this ultramarathon through Alps (53.5 miles, I remind myself for encouragement), and I calculate that the remaining 21 miles are likely to take me around 9 hours.
I don’t think that I have it in me.

Ultramarathons (or “ultras,” as we call them) are not for the faint of heart. Defined as any footrace longer than a marathon (which is 26.2 miles), ultras are everywhere these days—on roads, on trails, in the desert, and, in my case, through the mountains.
My race is part of a weeklong festival of races around Mont Blanc, all of which end in iconic Chamonix. Mine, called the Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (or TDS for short), starts in Courmayeur, Italy, traveling through the statuesque French Alps to finish at the foot of Mont Blanc. A 75-mile race, TDS also boasts 7300 meters of climbing (and 7300 meters of descending) over technical terrain, which have slowed me to a near crawl.

 

When I tell my work friends about the race, one of the most common replies is “75 miles?! I don’t even drive that far!” Quickly followed by, “why in the world would you want to do this?”
I usually chuckle. And then I start explaining about how I love the mountains and how I love that feeling of being part of them. I love the feeling of strength I get from the training, like I can tackle anything that comes before me. I love the silence in my mind and the space from my worries. I love the metronome of my late afternoon runs—slipping away from my perch on the 20th floor of the SickKids research tower and from my pursuit to decipher the intricate workings of the cell; sliding through the rush-hour crowds as I make my way north on Bay; cresting the final hill in the Brickworks to look back to downtown Toronto, alight with the setting sun. I love coming back to my lab on the dark, now-quiet streets, and how my thoughts, effervescent, now skip and dance beside me.
I love the humility races like this demand. I love the challenge. And I love that I have to prove myself each time, that nothing is guaranteed.
What I don’t tell my friends is that, however hard they think ultras are, it doesn’t come close to the reality. The drip, drip, drip of your thoughts betraying you. Your legs begging you to stop. The hours and miles stretching before you, seemingly endless. Each race, each time you push the body for this long, is a new struggle with your mind. Ultras can strip away all of those superficial reasons for running, penetrating to the very core of your being. With every mile,—and, later, with every tenth of a mile,—races like TDS demand the real answer to the question of why.
At some point, if you’re going to finish, you need to speak to the demons.
But, as I lie in my cot, if I’m entirely honest with myself, even with three years of ultra-running experience, even though I’ve finished TDS before, this is the very question I’m asking myself. Why should I keep going? The excuses start running again. It’s going to be hours until I finish. I’ve already done over 50 miles. I’m tired. My blister hurts. I’ve been nauseous for the entire night. I want to brush my teeth! I want my pyjamas! I would stamp my foot in frustration if I could. I have so far to go. So many more hours of pain. This is hard. I don’t want to.
That’s it, though, that’s the rub. I don’t want to, but I know that I can.
There are no fireworks in this thought, no epic narratives. It’s just the simple knowledge that I can still put one foot in front of the other. That there is still enough time to finish.
How can I meet the eyes of my husband, my mom, my friends if I stop when I could have kept going? How can I repay all of their support—their emails and texts and far-flung love—by just failing to get out of a warm cot? After all, isn’t running 75 miles in the Alps supposed to be hard? Isn’t that the point?
A half-hour has passed. Still foggy, I sit up and gingerly put on my pack. I stand. My legs ache.
“Better?” the nurse asks.
“A bit,” I reply. I try to smile. “Enough.”
“Bravo, Olivia. Courage.”
I walk out the tent. The mountains behind me are silent, and their dark silhouettes mysterious against the star-filled sky.
Turning on my headlamp, I walk into the night.

Olivia S. Rissland is a Scientist at the SickKids Research Institute and Assistant Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto. Her lab works on understanding how cells decode their genomes. A recent transplant to Canada, she enjoys exploring the ravines in Toronto and taking photos of her cat.