movement · risk · Uncategorized · writing

Trying Things that Scare Me


Have any of you read Carol Dweck’s MindsetIt’s not a new book, and its basic points (or a corrupted version of them) have pretty well sunk into the popular consciousness, so you likely know about it even if you haven’t read it. Dweck argues that people bring two basic mindsets to the things they do (and often a combination of the two): a growth mindset that says that talent and skill are built over time and we can get better and smarter with practice, and a fixed mindset that says that intelligence and skill are innate and cannot be changed or improved with effort.

Tons of academics have a fixed mindset about their intelligence and their work. (It me, at least sometimes.) We’ve tied our identities to being smart, to being good at our jobs. Instead of trying radically new things, risking being bad at something, we can get stuck in the trap of doing what we know that we can do well. If I think that my intelligence and skill are fixed, I’m going to be more concerned about protecting my identity as a smart person (i.e. doing easy things that make me look smart) than doing new things that are going to help me grow (i.e. the hard things that I’m going to be bad at to start and might make me look less competent or skilled).

I’m trying to develop my growth mindset. While a fixed mindset is comfortable and safe, it’s boring. And, I know, false. There are lots of things I’ve gotten better at over time, things I value a lot like cooking, and writing, and friendship, and feminism. I just hate the being bad at things part, and I wanted to challenge myself to embrace the suckitude, to learn to get comfortable with being a beginner. To take pleasure in the process and not the product.

So, I threw myself into a bunch of things that I knew were going to challenge my fixed mindset. I started biking to work, which was something I was afraid of because the stakes for doing it wrong can be really high (Toronto drivers, amirite?). I’m teaching myself how to do Tunisian crochet. And I’m taking a creative non-fiction class where I have to write things pretty far out of my usual academic/blog/advice writing wheelhouse and read them aloud to strangers for critique. Yipes.

And so far, it’s pretty okay! I bike to and from work every day and I’m very comfortable being a city cyclist now. (It helps that the Bike Share bikes, which are what I ride most often, are tanks and I don’t ever have to worry about my bike being stolen.) My first creative non-fiction class was on Tuesday and I really liked being forced to write something fast without time to think or self-critique. Writing “growth mindset” in big letters at the top of the page was actually helpful in terms of reminding me that it’s okay to not be good at this. And the thing that’s the lowest stakes is proving the most challenging–I’ve started and ripped out my crochet project a half-dozen times now, and have put it aside because I’m finding that level of not-goodness challenging to deal with. I’m going to try again tonight, and remind myself that even if my scarf looks nothing like this, there’s enjoyment to be had in playing with beautiful fibres and, hopefully, in slowly getting better at something.

I might not like being bad at things, but I like the person I am when I let myself be.





academic reorganization · kinaesthetic thinking · movement · play · women

Moving, Thinking, Playful Thinking

Where does it start? Muscles tense. One leg a pillar, holding the body upright between the earth and sky. The other a pendulum, swinging from behind. Heel touches down. The whole weight of the body rolls forward onto the ball of the foot. The big toe pushes off, and the delicately balanced weight of the body shifts again. The legs reverse position. It starts with a step and then another step and then another that add up like taps on a drum to a rhythm, the rhythm of walking. The most obvious and the most obscure thing in the world, this walking that wanders so readily into religion, philosophy, landscape, urban policy, anatomy, allegory, and heartbreak.
That’s Rebecca Solnit, from Wanderlust: A History of Walking. I often think of Solnit’s work as I am walking. Walking to work. Walking the dog. Walking with the baby. Walking to think. Walking to breathe. When I am fortunate enough to be in a new place my favourite way of sketching it into my memory is to move through it at street level.


At my childhood home.
I come from a family of walkers. We are somewhat notorious for our devotion to travelling by foot. Indeed, my partner sometimes teases me when we are in the airport, and I head straight for the stairs despite carrying a bag, baby, and dragging a suitcase. Last year, I was seven months pregnant when there was eight inches of ice on the sidewalks and roads in Halifax and it was impossible to walk. I crept along at a snail’s pace, making the dog nervous. I crept along anyway.
I have always been a kinaesthetic thinker. Movement, whether through play, sport, or merely going form one spot to another, thrills me. I’ll go out of my way to make movement happen. When I was going my MA in Montreal, I would set my alarm for the early morning, wrench myself out of bed before the sun was up, and trudge across Parc La Fontaine to go swim laps at the pool. The monotony of the black line at the bottom facilitated all kinds of wonderful thinking. The dull splash splash of the water focused my mind. By the time I returned to my computer to work on my thesis I was, if not inspired, physically tired enough to not fidget.
Mar the Dog. Not amused by my exhortations of “do downward dog!”


The much-missed Felix. My first dog and constant walking companion
When I moved to Calgary to begin my PhD I ran, badly. I am not a born runner. Nonetheless, I would lace up my shoes, put the dog on his leash, and head down to the Bow River trail system and galumph my way along the gorgeous river. I tried yoga for the first time that year, too. I remember how hard it was to stand on my rubber mat on one foot. I can remember, too, laughing out loud in front of strangers after falling flat on my face during an attempt at a handstand.
My bike, 5:45 am, outside the yoga studio.
Later, when I moved to the East Coast, I returned to the early morning movement. This time, I set my alarm clock and met a friend, and together we would sleepily make our way to the yoga studio for practice. Have you ever been in a yoga studio at 5:30am on a Monday? Most people aren’t laughing. But for whatever reason M and I were. Always. Often. After we finished our practice I would drop her off and go home to get ready for work. As I sat at my desk through the day I could feel the physicality of what I had done that morning. Is it an exaggeration to say that it fed or facilitated the work I did at school? For me, it isn’t. For me, it did.
M. and me, early, laughing.
I’ve been thinking for a while now about how women — able bodied or differently abled, straight or queer, cis or trans — think about and experience movement in relation to their work in academic settings. Does movement, or sport, or play fit into other academic women’s lives? What might that look like for them? How does movement or sport or play affect their academic work, their sense of self, their sense of fun?
Over the coming weeks, starting tomorrow, there are going to be a series of guest posts under the heading “Women, Academia, Play, Movement, Sport” that offer some snapshots of some ways people have taken up these questions. If you’d like to add your voice please contact me to pitch a post.
Happy last week of February. May you find some play in your day and generative movement in your thoughts.