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.

Culling Our Metaphors

I find it appalling that people still use words like “lame” as pejorative epithets. I’ve heard people whom I know otherwise to espouse egalitarian values on a large range of topics—people who would cringe at other kinds of discriminatory language—throw it around in regular conversation. This thoughtless, casual habit has to stop.
Allow me to get off my soapbox for a moment, and confess that I heard myself liberally pepper my lecture on the use of APA style with words like “crazy” and “insane.” In my defense, they were not used to describe directly the citation style in question, but rather to underscore to students the expectations around correct citation, e.g., “Nobody expects you to remember exactly how to cite every single source. That would be [insert casual insensitive word pejoratively describing mental illness here]! Instead, you have to know what categories of information you need to produce a correct citation, bla bla bla.” That is an accurate rendition of what I heard in my head after that appalling use of “crazy.” Why is it still ok to use these metaphors, when we have perfectly good adjectives to convey “terrible,” “awful,” “appalling,” or “incredible” situations?

The insidiousness of the concept of “political correctness”still haunts any attempt at ridding everyday language of discriminatory terminology. I do not mean to rehash the critique here, but only to underscore the power of this “straw man” argument, its endurance, and the ways in which it can hinder opening up our conversations on these entrenched uses of language that continue to hurt, render invisible, marginalize, and oppress people. In that moment in my class, as my mouth-and-vocal-chords assemblage was uttering the words, my brain jumped ahead to realize the harm I was perpetuating, but not quickly enough to prevent me.
I do hope it will stop me in future. I have become aware of other metaphors I was using in my teaching to underscore the foundational nature of a teaching-and-learning moment such as how to do a critical reading. I would casually say “this is the meat and potatoes of critical thinking,” before—again with my brain lagging behind a beat—apologizing to vegetarians and vegans, indeed to the diverse group of people in my class, for whom “meat and potatoes” does not evoke a stereotypical staple meal. Of course, it was also a good teaching moment for the application of critical thinking in examining our own personal and culturally-derived biases and assumptions. Who am I kidding?

In all seriousness, however, the use of “crazy” and “insane” as synonyms for “wrong,” “terrible,” “unusual,” etc. strikes me as even more problematic, because of how it serves to bury mental illness under a deeper discursive darkness. In spite of all the clever campaigns, we still have so much trouble accepting mental illness as a regular and legitimate aspect of our—everybody’s—lives that the least we can do is eradicate the casual use of these adjectives and others that do the similar work of marginalization and oppression.
body · language · pedagogy · yoga

Jargon, expertise, exclusion

My last twenty-hour yoga teacher training weekend intensive featured a full day of anatomy lessons. It was great! Jesse Enright came, with a bag full of variously sized bones and skeletons, and some other props, and we all worked on learning some of the technical terms for bones and how they move.

We stood up and practiced a kind of anatomy-dork “Simon says”: flex your left shoulder! pronate your right wrist! extend your right knee! invert your right foot! both feet dorsiflexion! adduct your left forearm! It was embodied pedagogy of the best kind.

But here’s what knocked my socks off: you know that what we call ‘the hip socket’ is just the colloquial term? The joint in question is referred to, medically, as the “acetabulum.” All the bones have Latin names. It’s all very precise and sciency and much more objective and important and learned than our analogic or metaphoric terms like “knee cap” or “collar bone” or “shoulder socket.” Doctors and scientists use the real words, the science words, right?

You know what “acetabulum” means, in Latin?

It means “small vinegar bowl.” Because the joint looks, to a vinegar-bowl-using anatomist who devised the term, like a a small vinegar bowl.

Wikimedia Commons


There’s another bone, inside the whole shoulder apparatus, a little knobby pointy thing. It’s called the “coracoid process”. Want to know what that is in English? “Like a raven’s beak.” See?

Wikimedia Common

As a culture, we’re so very quick to draw hard lines between objective, scientific domains and squishy, subjective humanities domains. Even those of us who might decry the hierarchy this creates sometime even forget that this is a forced and ideological distinction in many ways. This is disingenuous. Anatomy is metaphorical, and, as my teacher suggests, speculative.

Speculative? Yes. Did you know that until a couple of months ago, humans only had four ligaments in our knees, but now we have five? Yeah. I’m going to guess that fifth ligament was there the whole time, but anatomists and doctors and other scientists just learned not to see it because they were told there was nothing there. Hm.

I’m going to let you assemble your own conclusion from this. Maybe it’s about how becoming a student in a new domain of knowledge can really add zip to your day job. Maybe it’s about the inevitability of metaphoric thinking. Maybe it’s about how jargon serves sometimes to clarify, but often to mark the boundaries of a community of knowledge and exclude outsiders. And maybe it’s about how sometimes the stories we tell ourselves turn out to be really wrong, and yet somehow persist in the face of a million knee surgeries that might daily correct the record. Maybe it’s about why we’re so invested in the difference between objective and subjective even when this distinction keeps collapsing in on itself. Huh.

appreciation · language · writing

In praise of copyeditors, and editors, and reviewers …

Copyeditors. I love them. Actually, I love all editors who engage in a sustained way with my writing (so that leaves you out, rejection editors!). I guess I have to admit I even like peer reviewers too. (But only the ones that accept, or at least revise-and-resubmit me my work.)

As you know, I hate writing. Writing is the means by which I discover what I am thinking, and thus the type-laden screen is the medium wherein I almost immediately thereafter come to see that most of those ideas are half-baked, malformed, inadequate, too scary, derivative, under-theorized, over-theorized, too jokey, or just garden-variety awful. Naturally, I seek to avoid this. However, the writing eventually must and does get done, little by little, day by day, until either a requisitioning editor or a fed-up husband demands that it must be sent off. For review.

[months pass]

Why I love peer reviewers: they catch my errors of thinking, of reading, of citation, of methodology. This is invaluable. On those occasions where I think their suggestions are wrong, my writing and thinking get sharper in the act of defending my own stance. Usually they’re right: I’ve been immoderate here, slap-dash there, pulled a punch on my main point, hidden my conclusion in the middle of the third-to-last paragraph, not stated my Big Idea loud enough or soon enough. It might seem paradoxical, but knowing that reviewers are going to catch most issues of substance makes it easier for me to first put .docx file to email attachment: if my deepest fear is that my inadequacies as a writer and thinker will be exposed to the world, it is in fact reassuring to know that two or three people stand at the edge of the precipice, ready to arrest my hurtling dash over the side. They only sometimes seem to stick their feet out to hasten my flight to oblivion, and sometimes … they’re right.

Why I love editors: they allow me to turn writing into a conversation. I’m revising a big, mainstream, legacy writing handbook, with the mandate to liven up the tone and to bring the research and writing sections into the Internet age. My managing editor answers all my questions about why something needs to be there twice, or if I dare to end a sentence with a preposition at. She catches my booboos (and rampant informality). I don’t feel alone, because she not only demands that my drafts appear with regular frequency, but also indulges me in author-editor conversation. This boosts my confidence immeasurably: she’d tell me I’m a total doofus well before I get all 500 pages done, right? RIGHT???

Why I love copy-editors: they see the verbal tics I don’t realize I have; they find the ideal writer-me in the dross of my overworked prose. That is, they clean up my writing of repetitions of phrasing, idea, grammar, and more. That is, they save me from the blindness I have around my own writing, as a practice of setting particular words on a page in a particular order. (See what I did there? Can you guess my tic?). Just tonight I got a copy-edited version of an article back from an editor. It was gorgeous; it was all the copy-editor. Sentences deklunked! Tics softened! Ambiguities eliminated! He probably made 40 small interventions in an MS of 8000 words. I accepted every damn one of them. Thank God: I like this new version so much better, even though it still sounds completely like me. Only without so many semicolons, and without so very many ‘that is’.

All writing is collaborative, even our sole-authored projects. I would be sunk without reviewers and editors. The genius in the garret without these supports is a rambling loon; with these supports, she is a published writer.


language · student engagement · teaching

Ten-cent budget

My grade 9 homeroom teacher, the fearsome Mr Uzwyshyn, taught me to eschew obfuscation. Actually, that’s not exactly true, because he taught me never to use a ten-dollar word where a ten-cent word would do.

(Also, he taught me to avoid cliche, so I should probably reword that last sentence.)

The point is: Mr Uzwyshyn, may he rest in peace, would have a stroke if he worked at the university today. And by “university” I mean mine and, I’m willing to wager, yours too.

For one thing, Mr Uzwyshyn did not believe in actioning things. In those days, we barely accessed things, and we certainly didn’t incentivize behavior. I cannot imagine what would he make of trending toward research constellations (a group of stars?) instead of hiding in our traditional silos. We did not blue-sky in grade nine homeroom. Low-hanging fruit was an insult, not an easy win. A win-win in Mr Uzwyshyn’s class meant explicitly not ramping it up, since taking things to the next level meant a visit to the principal’s office. (You can bet we hit the ground running.) He would not have understood the concept of synergy nor the constituency “stakeholders”; he was entirely uninterested in cultivating success on the bleeding or any other edge. His idea of competency was to teach us to speak in a way that did not cause anyone to shudder unpleasantly. That was, you might say, his vision and his mission.

Mr Uzwyshyn explicitly taught me to distrust the verb enhance. I can still hear him. He’d call one person up to his desk to read their essay aloud (sorry, Mr U, but non-sexist simplicity trumps noun-pronoun agreement) while the rest of us beavered away at grammar exercises on our own – yes, you read that right: no deliverables, just quiet grammatical work. In the midst of this silent toil, his impactful voice: “Say what you mean!,” he would boom at some luckless classmate. “How does the diction ‘enhance’ the meaning of the poem? Does it make the meaning clear? Say so! Does it make the poem stronger? How? Does it improve the quality of the writing? Demonstrate! Enhance is an empty word. Go back to your desk and rewrite your essay from the beginning!”

Good ole Mr Uzwyshyn. Never big on student engagement. But a helluva teacher.