advice · conferences · heavy-handed metaphors

Conference Papers Are Like Movie Trailers

It’s Congress. I’ve been to see a lot of conference papers. Some of them have been excellent and some of them have not; some of them have been inspiring and some have been boring and/or deeply frustrating. And I have an idea that I think can describe the essential quality that separates a really good conference paper from a poor one. It’s an analogy.

A conference paper is to academic research what a movie trailer is to a feature film.

Let’s just come out and admit it: it’s really hard to convey the nuance and weight of a big scholarly undertaking in a 15 or 20 minute paper. After all, most of us aspire to write books, 80 000 or 100 000 words long, and many of us produce one or two 6000-8000 word articles a year, and chafe at what the length restrictions do to our expression of our ideas. So if an a book isn’t always long enough, and an article is almost always too short for our liking, what of the conference paper? I’ve given something like 15 different conference papers in the last 10 years and I know for certain that 15 minutes is no more than 3000 words. Barely half an article!!!

Some oft-deployed strategies in light of this reality:

  • Pretend that you can read 6000 words aloud in 15 minutes
  • Hope the audience is so engrossed they just hand over all the panel to your talk
  • Pray that the moderator does not cut you off
  • Imagine you can cut words on the fly, while you talk, with an eye on the clock
  • Cut out most of the text to hit the requirements, but extemporize the ideas back in while you present
  • Curse the “time constraints” imposed by the format as the moderator drags you away from the podium

This is all foolish and annoying. If you read really fast, I can’t understand what you’re saying. If you are allowed to go overtime, I always resent that you are eating up the time belonging to the other panellists. Besides, I had mentally prepared myself to hear an argument that arced over 15 minutes. Go longer and I get confused and thrown off the pace. If the moderator won’t stop you, I get very fidgety, like a sheep dog who sees a sheep hop the fence. I can’t relax until order is restored. If you cut on the fly, you look disorganized. If you interrupt your own text to add in all the missing details it comes across pompous. And if you make a remark about how the “time constraints” are crushing you I get stabby, because you proposed a 15 minute paper and should hardly be surprised to only have 15 minutes to deliver that paper.

Why don’t we think of the conference paper like a movie trailer?

A movie trailer is meant to cover the gist of the thing, to draw your attention to a particular movie, to make you seek out the full-length thing. The way we give conference papers now, often, is akin to creating a movie trailer that is two hours of movie sped up into an incomprehensible and boring 2 minute clip. Or we just play the first two minutes of the movie, which is just the opening credits and one clever shot, and then bemoan that you can’t really “get” what the movie is about from that. Everyone knows a movie trailer is not the same thing–can’t do the same things–as a full-length movie. I think we should learn a similar lesson about the relationship between conference papers and full-length scholarship.

A really good conference paper, I think, presents your idea in such a way that everyone gets the gist … and everyone wants to know more. Hit the highlights: if you had one weird finding among ten others, that is leading you in a new direction, just talk about the one. Show the chase scene: some parts of your research are more amenable to delivery in 15 minute chunks and some are less–a close reading of one poem using a particular slant, say, rather than the literature review that undergirds your development of that slant. Simplify the plot: maybe the article you’re writing makes three main points–in a conference paper, you should just do one of them. Maybe you can do two more conference papers, devoted to the other points. Like a comedy/action/romance movie, you cut one trailer for air on Sportsnet, and another one for air during The View.

Maybe we’re all afraid people will think we’re dumb if we create engaging, comprehensible, well-paced, on-time conference papers. (Crazy, huh? But very true, no?) But when I do my conference papers like movie trailers, I find that people tell me instead that they want to know more: have I published something on this? Can they read it? Can we have lunch? What’s my Twitter? If they think I’ve skimmed over something important, they’ll ask about it during the question period–and when everyone sticks to time, we can actually HAVE a question period–and I can explain it more fully then, to someone who actually cares about that one point.

So that’s my pitch. Think of the conference paper like a movie trailer, because all the speed-reading and complaining about ‘time constraints’ has been continuing fruitlessly for the 15 years I’ve been giving papers, so we have to find a different solution, I think.

What do you think?

day in the life · health · heavy-handed metaphors


It has come to my attention recently that I hold my breath. What does this have to do with academia? Probably everything.

I hold my breath when I am nervous, when I am excited, when I am thinking, and when I am working. I hold my breath when I watch television. I especially hold my breath when I fret, and goodness knows this is a profession that facilitates fretting.

I may well have reached a new fretting-record in the last few months. Between teaching four courses, travelling to several conferences, attempting to write, and trying to keep my personal life afloat at home and with my friends I suspect I have held my breath for a sum total of about six weeks. Sometimes I feel kind of smug about being able to ‘handle’ the stress of the schedule I keep. Lately though, I have felt like lying on the floor and drinking wine through a straw while watching reruns of Mad Men. The end of the semester always leaves me feeling depleted and even more breathless than usual, and not in a Godard/Truffaut kind of way. My thought pattern goes something like this: I have accomplished so much! And there is so much more to do! So much! All of the things must be done! I will write a book! I will make bread from scratch! I will write a book while making bread from scratch and learning French and teaching a spring course!


I practice yoga pretty regularly and have just started working on drop-backs. Drop-backs require that you go from standing at the front of your mat to ending up in a backbend. The in-between bit is where the dropping comes in: to make it into a drop-back you have to have a balance between leaning forward from the waist down in order to counter gravity. You also have to lean waaaay back from the wait up and look toward the floor. Somewhere between upright and upside down your hands catch you and voila! You have dropped back. It looks a little like this:

Well, actually my drop-backs look nothing like this, but you get the picture. Here’s where the breathing comes in: if you hold your breath at any stage of this crazy set of moves things do not proceed well. I get tunnel vision, constriction in my chest, and find it hard to think straight and remember seemingly obvious actions such as ‘place hands on floor to save head.’

The third or fourth time through this morning–after having forgotten each time to breathe–I asked my teacher why it was so difficult. It was a rhetorical question, I did not expect him to answer, but he did. He told me that I was thinking too much. As I thought about that he tipped me backwards quickly. I had no time to think, I just popped my hand down and landed. He did this several times in a row. It felt like I was moving faster than a speeding metronome. And just like that I realized that I was breathing without thinking about it.

Huh. Heavy-handed metaphor for surviving academia? Yes. Compelling for me today? Yes.

faster feminism · good attitudes about crappy possibilities · heavy-handed metaphors

Another feminist metaphor involving bicycles …

You know how a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle? Well, I was riding into the office on my bicycle just yesterday, and I was thinking, instead, how riding a bicycle in traffic is like being a female academic. Consider it!

1. If you don’t occupy the space you are entitled to, you will be run over. 

I have one big left turn to make on my commute. From a a multilane road, across a three-lane one way road, and then over a sidewalk which is actually the way you are supposed to access the bike trail. It’s complicated. They’ve just repaved and redone that whole intersection, and one of the improvements was to extend the bike lane right into the left turn lane. But you have to be pretty ballsy to do the right thing, and move right into that big bike turning lane. The thing that makes it safe is to really occupy that space, not skooch off to the side. Take your right of way, don’t waffle at the cars that are looking to figure out what you’re going to do. 

Similarly in the academy: you can be in the academy, but if you don’t “occupy your lane” you might easily get run over.

2. We are a minority; we have to act as a group because we are being judged. 

At that intersection? Many, many, many cyclists suddenly become pedestrians. They’re scared or impatient, trying to act like cars, so they suddenly move out of car traffic and start riding through the crosswalks and over the sidewalks, to shimmy their way through that ‘left turn’. When they nearly get run over, they yell at the cars and I wince: cyclists! You are in the wrong! And you are making drivers hate ALL bicyclists, and I myself want to run you over right now. Similarly in the academy: in direct proportion to women’s underrepresentation, the individual woman is judged as the exemplar of all. It’s not fair, but it’s true.

3. You need a voice. 

It is insanity to cycle in the city without a bell. In traffic it can recall to pedestrians that you are a vehicle and they should not jaywalk in front of you. It can remind cars that you are near them. On a mixed-use trail, you need to warn slower people ahead that you are behind them and about to pass. It is literally dangerous to not have a bell: someone’s dog meanders across the trail and you wipe out. A pedestrian steps onto the roadway and you are both injured.

Similarly in the academy: we all need to speak up for what is right, because if we don’t it’s quite rare that anyone is going to come directly solicit us for our qualms. If you don’t assert yourself, you may find yourself teaching at 8am on Friday until the end of time. Ring the alarm! It’s dangerous not to!

 4. We are in a minority; we need to behave better than everyone else. The stakes are higher. 

Cyclists face innumerable dangers on the roads, many from clueless or inattentive or hostile drivers. It’s all fine and good to occupy the moral high ground (“but I am entitled to three feet of the roadway, and it is the law that the car must find a way to get safely around me!) but if a car hits you, you are the one who dies. Cyclists need to be mor attentive, more aware of the laws, more deferential to the giant death machines, because we ar smaller, fewer, more vulnerable.

Similarly in the academy: women serve on too many committees, for equity purposes. We shoulder a disproportionate share of service work. Sometimes students want us to be their mothers. Sometimes sexism happens to us. We need to be vigilant and above reproach. It’s more dangerous.

5. Sometimes, the rules are not as clear cut as they might seem, and “equal” is not “the same.” 

Have you heard of the Idaho stop? It allows cyclists to roll through a four-way stop if there’s no traffic. It’s a law that recognizes that four-way stops are usually traffic-calming rather than safety measures, and that bicylces are not the problem there, and also that stopping and staring bicycles requires human power, not a tap of the pedals. To treat cars and bikes equally here means to treat them differently, on the basis of their different realities.

Similarly in the academy. Parental leave can be shared by male and female parents, but men don’t require pregnancy leave or lactation accommodation. Faculty who are parents require different supports from faculy who are caring for parents. We all labour under individual circumstances, and what is fair for one person might not be fair for another. It’s hard to create workable policy around that.

So there you have it. Ring your bells and let those wheels roll: the weather is beautiful, and all things considered, being aon my bicycle, even in traffic, feels pretty damn good right now.

heavy-handed metaphors · job market

The Gambler: Notes from the Non-Tenure Stream

Lately, it seems that all of my conversations have to do with the job market. More specifically, most of my conversations have to do with knowing the difference between when to walk away from the dream of the tenure-track job and when to dig your heels in, put your head down, and keep working. It seems that if you’re on the job hunt life feels quite like that old Kenny Rogers song called “The Gambler.” Do you remember the chorus?

You got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run

First, some history: I finished my PhD in 2008 when the bottom fell out of most everything. For the first few years colleagues who were a generation or so older than me were commiserating. I often was comforted by their reminiscences of how bad things were in the 1990s. I have not had anyone refer to that time in a while. Regular readers of my post may remember that I am in a kind of a both/and/neither/nor situation. My first year as a PhD holder was a challenge, to be sure. I taught ten courses between September and June. I took a part-time retail job to bridge the summer when there was little to no sessional work, and I applied for everything for which I was qualified. Suddenly, I interviewed for and was offered a ten month limited term appointment at Dalhousie. That was nearly two and a half years ago. Since then, through my own hard work, departmental needs, and the advocacy of two Chairs I have had that ten month contract renewed for another ten months, and most recently for another twenty-two months. All of this to say that I know I occupy a position of relative security, where relative is a key word.

Two of my best friends are in Halifax, one is a sessional and one is a postdoctoral fellow. Try as we might to talk about other things, inevitably conversation always turns to the job market. We ask each when do you decide you have had enough of the stress of uncertainty? When do you decided to give up on the research and commit to making a life out of teaching sessionally? Or, as that is an equally uncertain life, when do you make the switch out of the academy?*

Let me be clear: I know there is no certainty in life, not really. Additionally, I don’t think that a switch out of the academy is a failure. On the contrary I am awed by the bravery and ingenuity of the people who choose to make this move. But beyond the individual soul-searching that is an important and inevitable part of every life change, at what point will the Academy (writ large) move beyond acknowledging that things are broken and move instead towards making some changes? If the PhD is the job and the LTA is maybe the next phase of the job, what then? What happens when you’re so busy during the term that you legitimately do not have time to consider other options? When your paycheque is only enough to make ends meet, not enough to put by while you take a break and plan next steps, how do you begin to imagine life beyond the Academy? Or, how do you help the Academy to reimagine itself?

*If you have not yet had a chance to look at the crowd sourced document that details sessional salaries per class, do so. You may want to make sure you’re sitting. Yes, most of these schools are in the States, but not all of them. We should be doing this in Canada too, shouldn’t we?

faster feminism · good things · having it all · heavy-handed metaphors · kid stuff

What I don’t have to miss

Saturday night, I took my daughter skating. There’s an outdoor rink in our town square, very close to home, but far enough to feel like an adventure to a little kid. It was magic: she’s so rarely out after dark, the moon was clear and nearly full, the rink was all lit up and full of teenagers and families and people on dates, with my five year old the only little kid wobbling around the undisturbed middle of the ice.

She’s a new skater, in the sense that she’s only figured it out this past week–and I know this precisely because she learned on a field trip with her kindergarden class that I attended. I’ve been on several of these “sorties éducatives” with her, ever since she started daycare actually. I figure I miss so many weeks to conferences, so many evenings to public lectures or job-candidate dinners, so many weekends lost to grading binges at crunch time, and every single year since 2006 I miss her birthday because I teach at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute in Victoria. In the face of all that not-around, I like to compensate by attending these mid-day, mid-week events that the professorial life affords.

It’s a balancing act, home versus work, daughter time and husband time and alone time, negotiated daily. Sometimes it doesn’t work so well when the borders between Professor and Mom/Wife are too porous–not three minutes ago I snapped at my darling husband because I’m trying to do too much at once. He’s bathing the girl and I said I’d take care of the post-supper mess, but he came downstairs to find me typing away at this post and I wasn’t too pleased he doubts I’ll do the dishes. He’s none too pleased with my tone. I’ll go up in a minute and apologize, and try to remember that work, even blogging work, is best handled during the day, when I’m all alone. I seem to have to learn that same lesson fairly frequently. But sometimes, as in the case of the field trips and the skating, the balance can work, the lesson is easy, the reward immediate.

When I’m on the field trip, my daughter formally introduces me to everyone; she licks my hand because she’s a kitten who loves me; she sits next to me on the bus; she tells everyone her mom is the best skating teacher in the world (I’m not), or the best french story reader (maybe true). She’s thrilled to bits to have me there. I wouldn’t miss this for the world, and, hallelujah, I don’t have to. There’s lots I have to miss, but at least I get this:

She’s been trying to skate for years. She has her mother’s athletic gifts (minimal) and violent impatience (in spades) but it finally–suddenly, completely–clicked. And I was there.

Which meant we could go out together Saturday, holding hands under the stars, on a mild, clear February night, singing skating songs in French. When I’m old, I know this is what’s going to matter most to me. The research trips, the articles, all of it? I’m proud of that work and I enjoy it, but what melts my heart are these times, something new and surprising, shared with my family, going around in circles maybe, but keeping our eyes on the stars.

heavy-handed metaphors · job notes · research · sabbatical · writing

Writing on spec

In a fit of deadline-produced procrastination, I was looking up the word ‘spec’ yesterday. Interestingly, it has some conflicting meanings in idiomatic use. “Spec” sometimes means “to specification,” as in “the contractor built the new porch to spec.” This meaning describes something planned and agreed in advance, contractual. Another meaning, though, arises in common usage: to do work “on spec” means, “on speculation”–to produce something complete and for a particular purpose without being contracted to do so, and hope to be paid. Both kinds of spec apply to academic research writing, I think.


Here’s a question for you: which of the two following scenarios prompts your best work? Please circle your answer below:

A) To specification: You commit in advance to a project / abstract / topic / argument / idea to be submitted in advance of a real deadline for inclusion in a conference / proceedings / special issue / book / collection.

B) On spec: An idea somehow comes to you, unprompted, and you follow it up with research and writing until such time (whenever such time might eventually come) you decide it’s well and truly Done, and you seek out a venue to which to submit it, and hope someone will take it.

This is really a vexed question for me. Like all undergraduates, I used to think I did my best work under very heavy deadline pressure: after all, all my essays were prepared the night before they were due, and I got A+ on everything, so that means it was the right way, right? That I need strong deadlines? Err, maybe not. Often, I was three-quarters through something (at 3am) and realized my main idea was wrong. I was, of course, unable to go back and start over, seeing as the paper would be at that point mostly written and due very soon. And the library would be closed. So I’d make the sentences nicer around a stinker of an idea.

The funny thing is, I have often thought as a tenure-review-fearing faculty member that deadlines might produce my best work. I would tell myself that if I committed to a conference paper on Topic X, I would surely be motivated to create something awesome. Or at least get my literature review done. But it turns out the same thing would happen as in my undergrad: I would back-end load a lot of the work, particularly during a teaching term. And worse, if I’d submitted a really detailed proposal or abstract, outlining my conclusions in advance, I was sort of committed to those conclusions, even if the research, as it advanced, was pulling me in a different, sometimes contrary direction. So … B?

Then again, in the year or so before I went up for tenure, those deadlines, some sought out by me and some being the result of direct invitations, actually lit a kind of productive fire under my rear end. I produced more and better work than I had managed before. So maybe those obligations, those firm external deadlines, made me do more than I would have made myself do otherwise. And maybe I thrived. Like how sometimes a yoga teacher can make you do a one-minute plank, or 15 sun salutations in a row, that you would never push yourself to do at home, and you discover your own strength? Hm. Maybe … A?

When I finally handed in my dissertation, I swore I was going to let my research breathe, give it air, let it take the time it took, until it was fully cooked. My discretion, my meandering scholarly path, my digressions and side projects, my integrity. I would let the ideas lead me. It would be great, organic, natural. Except my productivity slowed, and I procrastinated a lot, usually out of terror either that my ideas were terrible or that they were good. Yeah. Definitely … A.

Only, sometimes when I commit to something in advance, I change my mind on the whole fundamental idea, or the topic, or the theory, or my conclusion contradicts my initial aims. Sometimes, I just can’t get it done on time, and the guilt and panic prompt sleeplessness for months. Or maybe I can get it done but I really think it needs six more months and a different venue. I send it off and see it in print and think … no, that’s not quite right yet … so, B?

I think maybe that this last couple of years, with all of its B-prompted writing, I have seen how much I can get done when I apply myself. I’ve maybe learned not to be so afraid of my own ideas or my own inadequacies: with application, the work gets done and it’s usually pretty good. So maybe, left to the whims of A-prompts, I might not procrastinate so endlessly, revealing in the potential of something rather than the execution or completion of it.

Do I need hard deadlines to make me work to potential? I’m not sure. Do you? Do you write best on spec? Or to specification? Do tell.

heavy-handed metaphors · ideas for change · writing

The more she sleeps, the more she sleeps

When my daughter was an infant she and I both often sported the wild looks, red eyes, flailing movements, and terrible mood swings associated with chronic lack of sleep. Every day was a battle, both of us to try to stay awake, only one of us with reason. Sometimes, of an afternoon, I wandered glassy-eyed through the local grocery store with her staring glassy-eyed out of the sling. No morning nap, no afternoon nap, and oh dear lord the colic hours approaching. Well-meaning friends, strangers, and cashiers of all sorts would cluck and say, to comfort me, “Well, at least she’ll sleep tonight for sure!”

But here’s the thing: her worst nights for sleep were the ones that followed the days that she didn’t nap. And, those weird days where she’d get 2 hours of day-time sleep? She’d conk out at 7pm for 12 hours.

My husband and I developed a saying, repeated like a mantra to everyone who completely misunderstood her sleep cycle. The saying is this: The more she sleeps, the more she sleeps. And it was absolutely true.

Writing is like that, too, I’ve been recently thinking. Looking around at my friends and colleagues online and off, the conclusion I’ve come to is this:

The more you write, the more you write.

I’m thinking particularly about the relationship of informal, lower- or different-stakes writing to the much higher-stakes academic writing, the peer-reviewed articles, the dissertations, and the books. Extra-particularly, I’m thinking about the role that blogging plays in my practices and productivity as a writer.

I have written a ton more, in a ton more venues, and a ton more easily* since I began blogging. That’s the truth!

In the early days of academics blogging, many in the professoriate espoused the belief that time spent blogging was time away from research. It seemed to me that the view of “writing” was very narrow and very parsimonious. Certainly, blogs (and op-eds, and public talks) were held in much lower esteem than the gold standard represented by the peer-reviewed article. And that’s fine, as it goes. But there was something else, too, almost as though many in the academy believed that we had each only a finite lifetime allotment of usable words, and that it was a terrible waste to let these spill out onto the screens over the internet rather than pages through the library.

[You may develop your own quasi-religious metaphor involving masturbation and spilled seed here, if you wish. I’m not going to go there.]

But in my experience, words don’t work like that. Words are more like kittens: the more you have of them, the more you’re likely to get. If you nurture a couple of them, they’ll soon start to produce more and more of them without much conscious effort on your part to increase their number. And so it is with my words: I nurture a couple of small ones, and suddenly every computer I have has open documents full of jottings for a book project or an article or a syllabus or a blog post or an op-ed, a crazy crowded mishmash of self-multiplying words and ideas.


For me, first, blogging has developed the writing habit. I carry that mental pencil and pad with me all the time, always busy trying to convert my experience into blog bait. I’m pre-writing, that is, all the time. And this habit spills over to my research: I’m always busy trying to convert my reading into article-bait. This is a habit I did not have before blogging.

Second, the feedback I receive from blogging (and media appearances, and public talks) offers nearly immediate positive reinforcement, and that makes me write more. When people tell me they think an idea is great, I’m more likely to push harder to write something more substantial about it; when people tell me the like reading my writing, I know that the work is not solitary or without a point or audience. Writing starts to feel good.

Third, informal writing has clarified my voice and made me a more confident (and, I hope, effective) communicator. Blogging (etc.) does not tie me in compositional knots relating to disciplinary jargon (or, worse, interdisciplinary jargon). There’s no onerous citation requirement. I don’t have to tone down my metaphors for an imaginary international audience. I write to please myself, largely, and as a result the writing process is pleasant, and the results are more conversational. For high-stakes professional writing, jargon is necessary, adherence to strict rules of citation is necessary, and (I think) some of the enforced clunkiness of writing style is a historical artifact that I can only chip away at one little piece at a time. But that’s all very tiring. High-stakes writing is an 800m butterfly swim in a tech-suit at the Olympics; low-stakes writing is skinny dipping from the paddle-boat at 11pm at the cottage. It’s fun, but I’m probably still building muscle and endurance.

I know that many of you have digital lives or write in public as well. I would be very, very interested to hear how you think your own “low-stakes**” writing has an impact on your “high-stakes” work. We could maybe change the prevailing narrative!

Maybe we’ll start worrying about the productivity of people who don’t fart around writing stuff on teh intertubes 😉

* “easily” is relative. I still really hate writing. It’s just that the hating part is so much less debilitating than it was before.

** the degree of stakeness is relative to your perspective, of course: in my JOB, articles count more than blogging or public appearances, but this month I’ve had a) an article appear in a big journal and b) a five minute appearance on national radio and I leave it to you to guess which of these events prompted more hallway talk and productive debate about digital culture, more emails from friends and relatives, more phone calls, more Facebook posts, more debates, more Twitter RTs, and more “Wow, I’m impressed.”

bad academics · going public · heavy-handed metaphors · outreach · writing

Reduce, reuse, recycle?

I’m in Maryland (well, when you read this I’ll be in Maryland. Right now I’m at the airport in Cincinnati, of course) for a conference. We’ll be Theorizing the Web all day on Saturday, and my contribution is a paper on the privacy practices of personal mommy bloggers.

I’ve been joking that what I’ve been creating this week, in preparation, is a “Frankenpaper”: parts of Saturday’s 15 minute conference paper is built from text I created for a public talk in the Digital Media Series at Stratford, reworked for a lecture celebrating 50 years of the Faculty of Arts at UW, and then reframed in a minor way for an invited lecture hosted by the MA in Humanities at Laurentian University in Sudbury. Incidentally, those talks all revisited ideas and prose I first considered and wrote in 2005, for the Reader’s Forum of English Studies in Canada. Still with me? Okay. My conference paper is also built from an article I’ve recently submitted to Biography–which was written from the ideas I pulled together for a different conference paper for last summer’s International Auto/Biography Association conference in Sussex. Oops, I did pull stuff right from the conference paper, too, that I had removed from the article version of that research.

The Keynote slides draw from the Stratford/Arts/Sudbury presentation, as well as from the IABA presentation.

Basically, the only strictly-speaking new writing in Saturday’s conference paper is in the transition sentences between the ideas. (Although, arguably, those are the places that evidence is turned into argument.)

What I’ve been really thinking about lately is this: how much reusing and recycling of our work is appropriate here?

I used to build absolutely everything from scratch every time. Have a look at my CV: one article on 80s video game movies. One article on email in romantic comedy. One article on mid-1990s rhetorical posturings in Internet manifestos. One book chapter on blogging in literary studies. It is exhilarating and exhausting to write like that.

Lately, I’ve changed practice: I’ve got one article published, one forthcoming, and one submitted, all on personal mommy blogging. I’ve given three public lectures this year, on largely the same thing, but to very different audiences. I’m giving two conference papers reporting on one survey, to two different academic communities.

Is this ‘cheating’ somehow? Or is this what depth of engagement looks like? Is this purely strategic maximization of lines on the CV? Or is it better dissemination of research results in an interdisciplinary field?

Basically, is this reduce (effort), reuse (the same materials), recycle (my ideas)? Or is it, to switch metaphors, back to yoga, deepen (my knowledge by repeated trials), broaden (my scope by bringing different theories to bear on one set of practices), and open (by sharing my work more widely and frequently)?

How much reuse is good? Or is it all bad?

What do you do?

heavy-handed metaphors · january blues

Snowed under

There is only one thing on everybody’s mind here in Edmonton, and that’s the snow. It has snowed, and snowed and snowed and snowed and snowed and snowed, virtually nonstop since New Year’s. Half a metre in the last ten days, more snow in 24 hours that we got in all of [name your month]: all it does is snow. As snow goes, it’s beautiful – light and fluffy, not your east coast cement – but it is undeniably plentiful. Not only is it hard to keep on top of the (ever-diminishing) pathways to the door, but we’re increasingly running out of places to put the stuff we shovel. To clear a little here is to pile a little more over there, until boom: avalanche.

Am I the only one who feels like this is a heavy-handed metaphor? We’re snowed under outdoors and, chez Dr Zwicker at least, snowed under indoors. There is a tunnel on my desk to match the tunnels to my house. I remember the days of smooth clear surfaces with a kind of disbelief, the same sensation I have when I look at my ranks of capri pants and short-sleeved blouses (why…?). The new normal is that every day you shovel and shovel, and as the newly-shoveled backslides onto the newly-cleared, you realize that the only real solution for this state of affairs is to have started shoveling way, way back – in August, say, or June – when you knew a storm like this was inevitable and you could at least have read the book you have to review, or started that dissertation chapter, or, or, or…

The consolation is that everybody’s in the same straits, and if facebook can be believed (and, really, when can’t it?), there is a kind of pleasure in sharing this particular misery. Don’t think snowed under. Think snowed in.