academic work · after the LTA · new year new plan · Uncategorized

Repetition with a Difference

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A funny thing happened this weekend when I stopped by my office to drop off some books and art. As I got out of the car my partner reminded me to have some identification as well as my keys in case I had to call security to let me in. In the past several years we’ve both had trouble getting in on weekends because, I think, of how part-time and contract faculty cards are programmed. As I walked up to the security doors on Saturday they clicked open before I could even pull my card form my pocket. They didn’t quite swing open, roll out a red carpet, and hand me champagne as I passed through them, but the difference was palpable: I have a tenure-track job now. I am legible to the institution.

It is a very strange feeling indeed to return to an institution as a tenure-track faculty. Much of my public-facing work in the last decade has been about precarity, and now I am no longer precarious. My feelings are complicated: I don’t feel guilty about landing a job, not really, but I do feel acutely aware of how very hard the hustle has been. I know I deserve my position, and I am also acutely aware of how many others—my loved ones, my colleagues, my peers—deserve the stability and legibility I’ve been granted.

When I received the call that I got the job several months ago, I burst into tears. I cried (a lot). Then I took a three-hour nap. I slept in a way I hadn’t in who-knows-how-long. My body relaxed in ways I still don’t have the words for. And yet, I’m also more attuned to and more attentive to the ways in which stability is such a privilege. The more I calm, the more I focus, the more time and space I have for carefully plotting out my five- and ten-year research plans, the more I am also aware of how completely precarity is woven into so very much of one’s life.

And so, as I head into a new school year, I’ll be here writing and thinking about the shifting experience of working and teaching within the institution, rather than on its periphery. I’ll be working to structure my time here with the aim and intent of making and holding space for myself and others who are and have been so marked by our precarious times. And, I’ll be doing my very best to strike a balance between having a critical attention and a joyful heart. For, a feminist killjoy’s work is never done.

best laid plans · new year new plan · teaching · twitter

Draining & Sustaining: My Relationship With Social Media

I like to think of myself as a pretty dependable correspondent. Email, text, social media: I’m on it. And if I’m not responding then I am there, listening. I know the conversations, the key talking points, the hot takes and the thorough think-pieces. I can point you to a dozen “important” conversations in my field (which is, cough cough, Canadian literature…)  At the very least, regardless of the length of my to-do list, I get the emails sent on time. I tweet back. I message. I respond. I engage. I try and listen. But today when I signed in to schedule my post and found two dozen emails, a few direct messages on Twitter, eighteen notifications on Facebook, and read Aimée’s piece on Lindy West’s departure from Twitter for the first time (she published it four days ago) I finally had to admit what other people have known for a while: I’m dropping some balls.

Or rather, I am tired. Existentially. Politically. Poetically, even, if you count the gorgeous one-liners I think up in the liminal space between waking and sleeping. What has tired me out, I think, is not social media per se, but rather what my friend Sue Goyette identified the other day as the slippage between impact and intent. Let me break it down: I love Facebook for the news. It keeps me in contact with people I would otherwise have long lost touch with. Sure, we don’t write to one another daily, but seeing photos and thoughts and comments from far-flung friends and acquaintances has broadened my access to other people’s lives and perspectives. It isn’t a stretch to say I feel enriched by the connections of many people I know and “know” on Facebook. I like Twitter too. I like the speed of conversation, the way that information and ideas and writing and news travels. It feeds the impatient part of me (a big part of me…)

But for about two years now social media has felt at least equal parts draining and sustaining. I have been trying to mark a moment when that shift started happening, and I think there are, for me, two. The first was when Chief Theresa Spence was on her hunger strike in Ottawa, and the second was was when Emma Healey published her brave, necessary, and gutting “Stories Like Passwords” on The Hairpin. There have been many many more moments since these two, but for me those events mark moments in my digital life when it was made clear to me that hate–in the form of racism and misogyny and rape culture–was so clearly fed and fanned by the conditions of social media.

I’m fortunate: I’ve not been cyber-bullied. I’ve only had a handful of rape threats on Twitter. I am not a lightening rod for charged conversation. I have friends, mentors, and acquaintances who are, and while I am so grateful to them and in awe of their energy, I worry for them. I can see the toll it takes, being constantly accessible. Feeling, I suspect, constantly responsible.

And so, as we head into this new year with its uncertainties and ruptures I find myself wanting not resolutions but reorientations. I aim to reorient my relationship with speedy responses. Yes, I’ll respond to students and colleagues on time. But perhaps I won’t keep Facebook on my phone. Maybe I will schedule time for social media and when that time is up it is up. Maybe I won’t do any of this and bring it to my students as a case study for letting ourselves fail and learning from our failures. Who knows. What I do know is this: I’m working to be more generous in my engagements with others–online, in the classroom, in my home, and with myself. And sometimes being generous means taking a moment and a step back.

So here’s to a new term, dear readers. Here’s to another Monday, another opportunity to take a tiny moment for ourselves to reorient how we’re moving through the worlds and with and alongside others. And here’s to writing and reading feminist work. We need it, we’re going to need it.

academic work · best laid plans · CWILA · new year new plan · reflection

Resolutions and Being Good Enough

Its that time again. You know, the thrice-annual academic moment for the making of resolutions: September, January, and May. September has its crisp leaves and new school supplies kind of optimism. Resolutions made then tend to focus on positive aspirations. January not so much. If my social media feeds are to be trusted January’s resolutions have all the cold self-reprimand of a wicked Victorian school master. And May? Well, as much as I love May it seems to me that the academic resolutions one tends to make in May are filled with a mix of helium and gin: effusive, gravity-defying, and likely to give you a headache in three months time.

Now that our infant is seven months old and I feel smug and secure  more comfortable in my new role as a parent I am starting to think of these academic moments as trimesters. Things grow, you change, something new (and possibly horrifying or astonishing or humiliating) is around the corner and you just keep resolving to notice and to take stock and to take it in stride and to keep watch and keep thinking about how to be a better and better human. Or you try to do those things. You try to be the right balance of grounded and amazed that things just keep happening. You try to keep up and keep your wonder intact without tripping over yourself.

Or, if that analogy doesn’t work for you, how about Antonio Gramsci’s amazing essay on why he hates New Year’s Day? Here’s a particularly poignant excerpt:

Every morning, when I wake again under the pall of the sky, I feel that for me it is New Year’s Day.

That’s why I hate these New Year’s that fall like fixed maturities, which turn life and human spirit into a commercial concern with its neat final balance, its outstanding amounts, its budget for the new management. They make us lose the continuity of life and spirit. You end up seriously thinking that between one year and the next there is a break, that a new history is beginning; you make resolutions, and you regret your irresolution, and so on, and so forth. This is generally what’s wrong with dates.


Let’s imagine that these moments of reflection in an academic worker’s life are not dates but opportunities. Not a wrestling and reckoning with past accounts, but rather neat little reminders to see how you’re growing? What if we collectively worked to refuse the disproportionate aspirations of May (I will grade my papers, get a job, go to all the conferences, finish three articles, work on the grant, go on vacation, relax and refuel, plan my fall classes by June, and WRITE A WHOLE BOOK)? What if we embraced the optimism and energy of September in…February? What if we took stock and set intentions in March? What I wonder is this: what if we circled back, re-read, and re-introduced ourselves to ideas that we have encountered, bookmarked for a later time, and forgotten? 
I did just this as I sat down to write this. 
I was, as I often do, scrolling through the Hook & Eye archives and I came across Lily’s first post called The Good Enough Professor. Do you remember it? In this piece Lily thinks through Winnicot’s notion of the Good Enough Mother to imagine what it might look like to apply these principles to her own work. Being Good Enough is, in Lily’s reading, a form of radical self-care and, I daresay, a radical paradigm shift for academics. Being Good Enough isn’t dropping the ball or dialling it in, not in the deeply negative sense. Rather, being Good Enough is a careful negotiation of what is possible, practical, and pleasurable. Being Good Enough means taking into account the gendered paradigms in which we live and operate (Winnicot, as Lily points out, is talking about heteronormative mothering. We could extend and complicate this to think about race and sexuality, I think).
So my resolution for today is to recognize that I am a Good Enough Professor. Let me explain:

Today I will be walking into the classroom — two classrooms, to be precise — for the fortieth time. What I mean is that today I will be teaching my thirty-ninth and fortieth class. I’m not counting the in depended reading courses I have taught, nor am I counting any guest lectures. Nope, just this: I’ve taught forty classes. I’ve written forty syllabi. I have planned forty different classroom arcs for forty different groups of students. This is both a big and small accomplishment. On the one hand, teaching is what I do. While I pack research and writing and blogging and working with CWILA and sitting on Boards for various projects and associations into other moments of my day, teaching is what I get paid for, not the other stuff. So in that way, the fact that I have taught for score classes is just (forgive me) par for the course.

On the other hand, of the forty classes I have taught I would say about a quarter of them are squarely in my very specific area of training. I did my candidacy examinations at the University of Calgary, and at the time PhD students had to write three lists: a major field, a minor field, and an area of specialization. My major field was in writing by women of the 19th and 20th century. No kidding. All genres, all over the world. My minor field was in contemporary critical theory. My area of specialization? Avant-garde and experimental Canadian poetry and poetics.  While I have taught a number of theory courses and general surveys of Canadian literature, I have only taught two courses on contemporary Canadian poetry and poetics. The reason for this is pretty simple: as a precariously employed academic faculty member I rarely have the luxury to reteach the same course. Like so many of my peers I often am hired a few weeks before the class begins, and often of late, because the hires are emergency hires, these are classes that are very large and very generalized.

I have learned–and am continuing to learn–to be a Good Enough teacher. I still get nervous walking into an auditorium in front of students, whether there are ten or (like today) two hundred. I still wonder if a lecture is going well, if the students like me/the material/my teaching style. I still brace myself for the inevitable comments on my wardrobe or my voice or my verve. But I realize something has shifted in the years since I began teaching. I know how to write a syllabus. I trust my ability to both write and deliver content. I (mostly) know when and how to go off script and respect or manage those moments in the classroom when things do not go quite as I planned.

Now, I am not talking about the myriad power dynamics that happen in a classroom, not here, not today in this post. I’m not talking about the vulnerabilities I often feel, either. Not today. Today, on this first teaching day of January 2016 I am talking about being Good Enough as a mode of self-reflection and renewal. Today, on this first teaching day of 2016, I’m urging you to conjure up a little of Gramsci’s resolve to keep reflecting and renewing throughout this year.  

advice · from the archives · grad school · ideas for change · new year new plan · slow academy

Going Rogue

Hallo from London, Canada! So happy to be back with you for my third year of writing for H&E. In September, we think about new beginnings, setting new academic and personal goals. Melissa has already shared about the benefits and challenges of transitioning into the new AY on the #altac path (no shame hangover!), and Erin has given a big high five to the blog and offered some thoughts about slow academe. Since I happen currently to be in England for a bit ‘o manuscripts research, I want to share a little bit about my history with the archives, and my love of libraries, and hopefully use some of my story to inspire you, dear readers, to take a few more risks in your own research paths.

I first registered as a British Library Reader when I was 23, a young Masters’ student sent over to the UK by myself for three months of research. It was a strange trip: I spent much of it sequestered in my tiny flat in Leeds, a city where I knew no one, though I met once with an advisor, a major scholar in a different field, who seemed visibly concerned about my ability to function in this new country. I  rifled through boxes of loose seventeenth-century papers at the Brotherton Library, knowing I was supposed to be looking for something, but never quite grasping what it was. I didn’t know how to differentiate between which materials were important and relevant for the large research project I was part of, and which were just *cool* because they were old and rare. So I would amass long catalogues of books and papers, complete with photographs and descriptions and scribal analyses and research questions, which I would then send back to my advisors back in Calgary, letting them be the ones to identify whether something was interesting, or supposed to be finding and reporting back on.

 My time in London was different: I needed a personal topic for my Masters thesis, separate from the larger collaborative research project which sent me over in the first place. Somehow I was both more unmoored and more focused in this quest–I would search manuscripts catalogues for medieval devotional manuscripts that seemed remotely interesting and understudied, and then call them up willy-nilly, energized by the now-faded mystique surrounding handling materials hundreds of years old (the rustic smell, the withered parchment, the stains and fingerprints and signs of love). My excitable bouncing around between manuscripts proved lucrative, and I found a small illustrated volume that had only been touched upon by scholars in a couple articles and books which then formed the basis of my MA thesis and my first published essay.

This trip taught me the value of taking risks in my research–of taking time to make mistakes and search around through unfamiliar and unknown material, and of doing so independently, without express guidance from one’s advisors or higher-ups. My MA advisors trusted me, and gave me much more intellectual license than I’ve found to be the norm for MA supervision, especially in the States. Maybe they trusted me too much, but I think it worked out.

Occasionally throughout my career, I have been told that I have a roguish attitude toward the established program, and need to stick to normal procedures and rely upon official consultation before planning any major trips. This is true in general, of course–we can’t just do whatever we want within an academic institution. But I’m back here now, in the British Library, having planned yet another (albeit short) trip before telling my advisors (they’re okay with it this time), and I’m more hopeful at this late stage in my dissertation. I work better in the BL, feel safer and more academically secure here, than anywhere else in the world. Even when the research itself proves frustrating and hard, I love the transactional exchange of materials, old books for seat number and Reader’s card. I love (if occasionally resent) the fastidiousness of detail here, how the primary materials are treated with such respect and proprietorship. I love how conversations overheard in the local Peyton & Byrne cafes are consistently interesting, engaging, smart. And I love the familiar faces–librarians whom I recognize from over the years, who never seem to change hairstyles or fleece vests, as well as strange patrons of the library who seem by all appearances simply to live here. I love that sometimes, when you peer over a noted academic’s shoulder, you see that while they have a stack of valuable materials sitting next to them, in reality they are covertly poking around on Facebook or Twitter like the rest of us.

I guess what I’m trying to say with this post is: figure out the work environments that make you happy, that motivate you to think your best thoughts and do your best work, and do whatever is in your power to make those environments happen (not everyone has the resources to take overseas research trips on a regular basis, I understand). And while this is not a post promoting pure individualism–ie. a neoliberal bootstraps narrative about setting out on your own and taking hold of your own future–I would encourage you to take some risks this year, to do things for yourselves that (perhaps?) your superiors might disapprove of, because they don’t know you as well as you do. Try to absent yourself from the usual, and you might be surprised at what happens.

In fact, why not grab a pen right now and jot down two out-of-the-ordinary things you plan to do in the next week?

#alt-ac · #alt-ac 101 · best laid plans · new year new plan

Back to School for #alt-academics

This Labour Day marks my third fall of going back to school as an #alt-academic, although it’s the first year when I’m not actually working in a school. Still, I work in a teaching hospital, and our annual rhythms are much the same–we’re still gearing up for an influx of new undergraduate and graduate students joining us for their first year of doing research with one of our faculty, we’re still getting ready for the fall funding rush, and I’m still wrapped up in my usual rounds of reviewing postdoc applications and prepping for Writing a Winning Research Proposal 101 sessions. And I’m so glad.

It may seem like a little thing to be worried about giving up, but my life has been ruled by the academic calendar since I was four years old. I’ve spent just one year of my adult life working outside of the structures of a school or university, and that was at Oxford University Press, where we still largely observed the academic calendar because all of our writers and buyers did too. Labour Day is my New Year’s Day, the marker of the beginning of a fresh new year with no mistakes in it (as Anne Shirley would say). And being in an #altac position where–even if there’s no back to school for me–the spirit of back to school still reigns is such a comfort. Some things don’t have to change.

But some things do change. And the transition from summer to fall brings some extra challenges for #altac folks who are trying to maintain a semi-active research profile while working full-time jobs. My collaborative projects mostly went dormant over the summer, as everyone turned their attention to large-scale writing projects, research trips, and holidays, but they’re all ramping up again. Hook & Eye is back, and I’ve also got a dissertation chapter, plus some other writing/editing/teaching projects all requiring lots of attention (and completion) in the next couple of months. I’m lucky, though, that I’ve moved from a position that saw me supporting research funding and professional development programs for 6,000 students and postdocs to one that sees me doing the same for about 1, 200–I can do more for fewer people, and my job doesn’t spill over into the rest of my time the way it once did. Like Erin, I’m deliberately moving away from the fastness and hyperproductivity that neoliberalism so loves towards a slowness that that lets me “have intellectual fulfillment as well as a home [I] love coming home to.” 

Still, mine is affective labour–I work the job I do because it lets me help grad students and postdocs more easily make their way through, and out of, the academy. So too is my research and writing affective labour. Because I care, I work to make unheard voices heard, whether it’s the voice of a poet silenced by sexism and rumour, or graduate students, postdocs, and contract academic faculty silenced by those who don’t want to believe that the academy is failing its most vulnerable. If I was looking for an easier time of it, I could scale back or call it quits on my research, but so long as I feel like I have the opportunity to do some good, I’m not willing to give it up. I also need the balance of the 9-5 and my academic work to keep me happy. It turns out that having one to turn to when I need respite from the other is exactly what suits me, and what keeps me productive. It’s what keeps me from falling back into the writing paralysis I described in my “I Quit” letter, and what lets me have that intellectual fulfillment I want.

My transition into the new year isn’t as abrupt as it is for some. I didn’t have the “normal” academic summer (i.e. the summer of those with the privilege of a well-paying tenure-track job or graduate stipend) of setting aside the usual routines of the school year for four months of all research all the time. I took a week off work to finish up a dissertation chapter and get some projects done around the house, and another to visit family and research sites in London and Copenhagen. Most days, I did what I do every weekday–wrote from 6-8, walked to work, worked from 9-12, wrote from 12-1, worked from 1-5, walked home, made dinner, did household or fun or social things, went to bed, and did it again. Turns out that this routine, at least for me, is the prescription for avoiding summer guilt and the end of summer hangover. My summers as a full-time academic were clouded by guilt–either that I wasn’t working enough, or that I wasn’t enjoying downtime because I felt guilty about not working enough–and capped off by an orgy of shame about the distance between my beginning of summer goals and my end of summer accomplishments. My goals for this summer were minimal–get my writing routines completely embedded so that they were automatic. And I did that, no shame hangover required. It’s a good way to start the new year.

I’m featured in the October University Affairs cover story, and it paints a rosier picture of #altac careers than I think really exists. They’re not the cure-all for the ills of the academic job market, nor a reason to keep PhD enrollments high. But even so, I’ll be damned if I can’t help as many people as possible make their way onto the #altac track. It is such a good place to be for those of us who don’t want the tenure track, but don’t want to leave the rhythms and routines (and research) of the academic life behind. For that reason, I’ll pick back up with the #altac 101 series shortly, and I’ll talk more about how to succeed off the tenure track, about the gendered aspects of job searching, and about how scientists, social scientists, and humanists are in precisely the same boat when it comes to the ills that plague academia. I’m so looking forward to another year of H&E, and of you.

Happy new year, dear readers, and see you soon.

image credit: death to the stock photo // cc

balance · new year new plan

Pace Yourself

Welcome back to the new term! Were *your* holidays refreshing? Did you manage to take time to yourself without guilt-tripping yourself every two seconds? Or did you spend the break fretting about not working, and missing out on responding to that CFP or procrastinating from writing your Major-Conference-That-Shall-Remain-Nameless paper? No matter where you fit on the spectrum, we all know the promise of freshness in the New Year/New Term combo does not  materialize in our bodies, and that we inherit the fatigue of both the Fall term and the holidays (family! travelling! all the food!). My take? Better be realistic about it, and stop pretending mountains will be moved by sheer willpower and perilously low energy levels (it’s cold. it’s dark a lot of the time. it’s January, *then* February before any colour comes back into the world).

Grey January skies over Lake Ontario

So, what is there to do? I’m not one for sports metaphors in general, but it looks like the running one is a refrain here at H&E, so I’ll just re-iterate it. We’re in it for the long haul, so we might as well pace ourselves. The Winter term has only just started, so I know it feels like if you don’t write that proposal, you’ll be written out of that Conference, which is so germane to your larger research project that missing it will cause an irreparable gap in your CV, and potential questions from your doctoral committee, hiring committee, peers, etc. But really? Chill! Unless you’re on the organizing committee, nobody will question your absence, especially these days. Why not take that time that you’d frantically put to inking yet another argument to letting your brain do some unguided rambling? Take the resources you’d put into going to that conference (money, time, physical effort, missed sleep) into translating your brain’s free ramblings into writing. No, I mean it literally: how long would the travel take you? Translate that into writing time over multiple days. Actually sleep the sleep you’d otherwise miss by going to the airport at ungodly hours because you can only afford the 7 am flight. Take it easier on yourself, the environment, and the academic ecosystem.

Try ditching one of the major academic events that you engage in per year, and do the accounting on it, bank those resources, and use them elsewhere. Then do the tally. [I know economic metaphors are not much better than sports ones, but that’s all I got just now, when the lesson plan for the class that starts in two hours, for the course I’d never taught before, beckons. See how I’m pacing myself here?] If there’s one thing I wish we could do more is turn inwardly, and actually understand what it is we want to do. As researchers, we spend so much time trying to make sure we’re abreast of what everyone else in the field is saying. As teachers, not only do we have to prepare the material, we also expend an immeasurable amount of emotional labour ensuring our classes are open and our students feel welcome and engaged in the process.

So, at this begging of term, instead of resolving to work more, be more productive, write more, do more grading, please ask yourself “What’s the healthiest way to accomplish what *I* really want?”

grad school · mental health · new year new plan · productivity · spirit animal

New Leaf September

I’m not one for giving advice, not really–not when it comes to time management, at least. My cobloggers have already offered some excellent pointers regarding how to whip ourselves into shape for the new school year. How to manage life as a flexible academic, how to squeeze in daily writing time, how to adjust to a new program as a newbie graduate student, figuring out our responsibility to new students as contract professors, and, most recently, training ourselves to pay attention and structure our own time in the absence of externally enforced structure.

But I repeat. I am not one for giving advice–at least not in bullet points, at least not at this stage in my career. I work very hard, to be sure, but I do it in very nonconventional, nonstructured ways. I have always been an avid daydreamer with an overly active imagination (oh hey, I’m writing a dissertation on dream visions! Work and life FTW). Sometimes my head rests so far in the midst of the clouds that, for example, the other day I got on the wrong train, then got off on the wrong stop of the wrong train, and then found myself wandering through some random midtown street, so enthralled in the music I was listening to that I actually had to remind myself to keep my eyes open. (I. Know.)  I sometimes forget to eat, I often wake up at 9 or 10 am, I often stay up working until 2 or 3, I have a very bad habit of hanging out in the Dark Playground.

(“The Dark Playground is a place every procrastinator knows well. It’s a place where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the Dark Playground isn’t actually fun because it’s completely unearned and the air is filled with guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and dread.”)

Perhaps we all feel this way, all us bloggers, and I always admire our collective ability to admit we’ve failed, we continue to fail, we will inevitably fail more in the future. But readers, please–be gracious to yourselves. Accept that the goals we set are often unreasonable, worsened by a metrics-based system of output that demands that we make the maximum use of our time and work. So I think the best advice I can give, from my very humble and relatively privileged position as a funded graduate student with very few daily administrative or professional duties, is to be fair to yourself, and fair to your own natural rhythms when sussing out a work regime. Are you a night owl, like me? Respect that about yourself–don’t be night-shamed by those eager beaver morning risers! If you have the luxury of not having to be somewhere at 9 am every day, or not having to drop your kid off at daycare, embrace your night-owl-ness, while being sure to allot yourself a few hours each day for self-care and/or mental rest, be it alone or with a few close supportive friends. I cherish those quiet hours after midnight. While I’m at it, I just want to call upon an essay by Anne Fadiman for a moment:

Something amazing happens when the rest of the world is sleeping. I am glued to my chair. I forget that I ever wanted to do anything but write. The crowded city, the crowded apartment, and the crowded calendar suddenly seem spacious. Three or four hours pass in a moment; I have no idea what time it is, because I never check the clock. If I chose to listen, I could hear the swish of taxis bound for downtown bars or the soft saxophone rifts that drift from a neighbor’s window, but nothing gets through. I am suspended in a sensory deprivation tank, and the very lack of sensation is delicious. (“Night Owl,” The Norton Reader 67)

[^Ok, this doesn’t always happen to me, but sometimes. It’s a beautiful thing.]

Currently, I’m returning to the classroom after an 8-month break (thanks, SSHRC!), so am trying to reinstall structure and focus into my previously seamless schedule.  At the risk of sounding contradictory, but responding to Erin’s call for focusing techniques from yesterday, I do have a few personal strategies and goals that I’ve set for myself this month, and maybe my experience will give you some good ideas as well. Maybe not. Either way, I’m using this blog as a means of keeping myself accountable to my goals during this self-proclaimed, momentous “New Leaf September.”

1. I’ve temporarily deactivated my Facebook account.
It was hard, guys. I think I’ve deactivated it once in the 8 years since I’ve joined, and that lasted about, maybe, a day. I’m slightly addicted to social interaction and the digital community that Facebook establishes just has not been helping with that lately. Now, instead of scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and wondering why this or that person hasn’t liked my latest photo or responded to my fb chat, blah blah blah, stupid social media anxiety, I’m relying on Twitter to supply me with news and ideas and an electronic friend circle, and I’m trying to redirect my mental energy into other, more creative things. I even finished a book today! I’m on Day 2. We’ll see how this goes (it’s possible that by the time you’re reading this, I’ve reactivated; don’t judge.).

2. I’m slotting my various responsibilities into various spaces around the city. 
Teaching stuff? Either campus or my office at home. Dissertation stuff? Coffee shops or libraries. I have been fortunate enough to become a member of the Wertheim Study program at NYPL, which means I have access to a scholars-only room with designated shelf space and other important-looking studious scholars who make me feel like I need to be important-looking and studious too. When I’m there, I have to be working on my dissertation: I’m not allowed to grade or respond to student emails or text my friends (*cough*). Trying to maintain designated spaces for different tasks will help me feel like I’m off-duty when I head home every day.

3. I keep a daily research journal where I sketch out my accomplishments and note what needs to be done next. Not only does this help me celebrate what I’ve done, but it helps me pick back up again whenever I sit down to my dissertation, minimizing the paralysis that sometimes occurs when transitioning between very different tasks. I keep this journal specific and realistic and allow myself to freak out in it a little bit too, screaming silently when things go wrong or when I haven’t met my goals. Freak out in your research journals, people.

While I know I’ll fail as I turn over a new leaf this year, I want to be gracious to my own strengths and weaknesses as a person, and allow myself micro-celebrations when things go right. I guess that’s what this entire blog is about, in a way. I’m barreling into this new year after a summer that, well, wasn’t the best from a feminist perspective, feeling strong and energized, ready to “put words out into the world that do something,” as Erin so eloquently reminded us to do last week. 

In a sense, I want to barrel into the new academic year like this amazing dog named Walter who dashes into the Ionian sea with a camera strapped to his back.

Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to share that video.

academic reorganization · new year new plan

Labour and Change

Four years ago Hook & Eye launched its first post. You fit into me / like a hook into an eye, says the poet Atwood. And our first blogger and co-founder, Heather Zwicker, rejoined, “like oxfords under brown corduroy cuffs, like a Bic pen in the coil of an unsullied scribbler, like Labour Day and despair.” 

There is so much pressure put upon the new year in academia. Some of that pressure is welcome (new stationary! new pens! new classes!) Some of it is not (one million meetings! fighting the scanner!) But unless we take the time to look at the macro and micro shifts in culture we might mistakenly think that the start of each school year is the same. It isn’t

In the four years since Hook & Eye began the shape of labour in the academy has continued to change dramatically. In the last four years we have seen memes circulate as harbingers of the pop-culture denigration of Humanities labour. We have seen a rise in rape culture on campuses. We have seen reason after reason why feminism matters in academia and in the world. Each time I start thinking about another year of writing blog posts I am reminded of the necessity of trying to put words out into the world that do something. I am reminded of the reasons we started Hook & Eye in the first place: to create an accessible feminist community of people working in academia in Canada. To articulate challenges and to call out injustices. To talk about the minutia and the mess of working and living as feminist scholars. To take responsibility. To create a community of care. To listen. 

The reasons for this blog haven’t changed. The climate in which the bloggers work has, however. When we started back in 2010 there were three of us. Here is how Heather described she, Aimée, and I then:

Conveniently, writing collaboratively builds in a range of perspectives. The three of us bloggers share a worrying commitment to punctuality and a reassuring addiction to wit, but that’s about it. We do not agree on everything; we do not write with a single institutional affiliation; and we sign our stuff. (We want you to, too.) One of us is an assistant professor on the brink of tenure, one of usis an assistant professor on a limited-term appointment, one of us is an associate dean. We live in Halifax, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Edmonton; we come from francophone Ontario, renegade Alberta and central Canada. We range in age from 31 to 44 and earned our PhDs in 1993, 2004 and 2008. One of us is a mom; one of us is a lesbian; at least two of us have tattoos.

Whelp, guess what? The rise of precarious labour, the increasing pressures on tenured and tenure-track faculty, and the ongoing neoliberalization of universities is having a fundamental effect on education and labour in Canada. It is changing the shape of Hook & Eye as well. 

Last year our most-read post was Melissa’s “I Quit” letter detailing her shift into the alt-ac sphere. Runners-up included Margrit’s lament for Alberta’s universities after governmental cuts, Aimée’s tips for giving a keynote to a packed audience. Jana’s repost on mental health and the PhD, and my series of posts on the empathy trap. There’s a trend here. Do you see it? First, the only member of our weekly blogging team to have a tenured (never mind tenure-track!) position is Aimée. Our demographic of writers has shifted dramatically. Second, the work of the work is building. It is no secret that the work you do is building, whether as a contract academic faculty or a tenured or tenure-track faculty member. The work is building for everyone, but it isn’t building in the same ways. We seem to discuss less the fact that if you are in the academy and a woman, a person of colour, or early-to-mid-way through your career those pressures and labour inequities are massive and unequal as well. Unless universities start playing the long-game for sustainability of education, culture, and their own reputations, those disproportionate and unfair workloads are only going to increase.

Labour Day indeed. 

In order to address the changing structure of both academia and our blogging make-up we are changing the structure of Hook & Eye slightly. I’ll be posting on Mondays, as per, and readers can contact me if you’d like to pitch a guest post. Ah, the time afforded by under-employment. Jana and Boyda will continue to split Tuesdays, Aimée will post Wednesdays, Melissa is taking the Thursday slot, and Margrit will write on Fridays. We are thrilled to welcome Lily Cho who will be writing for us bi-monthly. Welcome, Lily! For each guest post we have, several of the regular writers will craft response posts in hopes of both creating dialogue for the guests and a sense of conversation for the readers. 

We’re looking forward to another year of writing, thinking, and discussion. And I, for one, am going to continue to be thinking about the changing nature of labour for people trained as scholars who are working in- and outside the academy. 

balance · boast post · grad school · new year new plan

A Canadian in America; or, Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Hello hello! I’ve been a H&E follower for years, and I am very happy to announce that I’ll be alternating Tuesdays with Jana as a new regular contributor. In November, Aimée blogged about imposter syndrome after she secured a tenure track job. I suppose, on a much smaller scale, I’m now dealing with my own form of imposter syndrome, as I’ll be Hook & Eye’s first American correspondent, a Canadian blogger in America (oh yes, I can just speak for All Of The States!). I did my undergrad and MA degrees at the University of Calgary, but after having been at Fordham U in New York City for 3.5 years, I feel quite detached from the Canadian system, so bear with me as I take my time catching up.

I’m going to start by talking about SSHRC, which has also, in some ways, made me feel alienated and displaced, as immensely grateful as I am to hold a Doctoral Fellowship (which ends this year). I’m here in America, but I’m funded from there; I’m working alongside my peers, but I’m somehow different from them, with a different employment and pay deal worked out, from a distant and alien country (kidding!). Because I tend to gauge my own self-worth in relation to those around me, and have a strong community here of peers working toward similar goals, it has been difficult to deal with the fact that I hold this prestigious scholarship; meanwhile, peers whom I love as friends and respect as scholars have to take on extra jobs throughout the summer and academic year in order to support the staggering cost of living in New York City. I often find myself downplaying this scholarship (“oh, you know, it’s my Canada money LOL…”; as though Canada just divvies out cash to everyone seeking to study in the States), or even secretly wishing I didn’t hold it, so that I could be on equal financial footing with those around me. In this sense, however, I’m afraid I’ve fallen prey to my own form of shrinking, and I need to learn to accept the fact that on some level I deserve this money, while still recognizing that the system is broken, and other scholars and peers would deserve it too, if given the chance. Unfortunately there is nothing quite comparable to SSHRC in the American system, though there are other great things like NEH and Fulbright. 

While internally dealing with the guilt of holding this scholarship, institutionally speaking I have had to perform the role of someone who deserves it: I have had to waltz over to the administration building on campus (so to speak) and demand more systematic recognition for something that, in Canada, comes with a flurry of accolades and congratulations. It has been a slog indeed for me to get my administration to recognize that yes, I have money coming from elsewhere, and yes, it’s awesome and I should be rewardedand four years in, I’m finally content with the deal Fordham’s worked out for me.

Perhaps this is a lesson in the power of performance and performative utterances, in acting-is-believing; we as feminists working within a struggling institution may feel inadequate and want to apologize for our individual successes, but sometimes we have to stand up and demand recognition, which is especially the case if we realize we’re acting in the service of a larger cause. I’ve felt this on the relatively rare occasion that I’ve participated in protests: am I the type of person to shout, chant, and/or wave signs? Nooo….and perhaps few people are. But can I become that person in those situations? Yes! In recognizing and addressing larger inequalities, we can learn to expand ourselves rather than shrink, and celebrate our own triumphs while seeking to rectify the larger system, so that other triumphs can become recognized and celebrated as well. In performing such actionsin speaking our achievements out loud, perhaps even before we’ve internally accepted them, and in looking with clear eyes to the triumphs of otherswe may, perhaps, begin to internalize our identities. Think of it as academic method acting…we can, dear readers, become the roles we perform. 

Just like Daniel Day Lewis.
(recognizing the irony of including a video clip with no women…)

So, yes! In the noble tradition of boast posts and method acting, I’m here to say that I have a SSHRC! I’m smart and capable and proud to be a blogger for Hook & Eye! I think I’ll be a valuable addition to this blog! Ok…I don’t really know about all that, but imma just own this pride right now, hoping that these words can help me become what I speak. This is one of the ways I’m setting up for what may be a very difficult semester, with no teaching responsibilities, no externally imposed structure, and a lot of dissertation-work. I need to get over my imposter syndrome and act myself into becoming the student who SSHRC thinks I am .

And you, readers do you have similar anxieties and goals? What kinds of roles do you need to perform & become this semester?

balance · new year new plan

Ready? Set?

In the last few weeks, my 2-year old has been learning how much fun it is to count up before doing, well, anything. 1, 2, 3, Throw a snowball! Ready, set, go down the slide! “Count!,” she’ll exclaim, when I want her to put on her jacket or jump into bed. “Say 1, 2, 3!” On occasion, she’ll forget that she’s only supposed to go to the number three, and the numbers will reach into the teens before she stops and realizes she’s counted higher.

Today I’m finding myself wishing the numbers would keep counting up.

Instead, I’m feeling a little bit like I’ve skipped ahead.

Whither art thou, 2013? Have we really already finished the fall semester? Is the holiday season truly over? Wait, I’m not holidaying in Jasper anymore? Am I really about to start teaching my first ever university course?

When I have moments like these, I’m reminded how important it is to stop, pause, and let myself set for the semester. Often, it only takes a brief mental break: a full stop, a minute to let myself breathe, the space to count up and lose track before letting go. At other times it’s a complete accounting, a careful tally of goals and responsibilities and the budgeting of time to forget about both.

This time of year is particularly amenable to the latter. As we start the New Year, we’re encouraged to stop and reflect, to pause, to set, to take account of the life we’ve lived in the past year and consider how we might do things differently in a new season.

So, without further ado, here is how I’m setting myself up for what I hope will be a productive and successful semester:

1. Writing Group: I’ve set aside two days a week to write, and I meet up with people to do it. We usually do pomodoros, or writing for set lengths of time, usually 25-45 minutes, which we intersperse with short breaks. Doing this twice a week has been a boon for my productivity in the past, and I’m hoping it will continue to be this semester as I teach for the first time.

2. Teaching Prep only on Teaching Days: I’ve been lucky to get a two-day a week afternoon teaching schedule, and I’m taking advantage of it. Though I realize I’ll have weeks where this is impossible, I’m trying very hard to keep the majority of my teaching prep to these days.

3. Family Time: I check out from academic work daily from the hours of 5-8pm to spend time with my family, and on the weekends during my daughter’s waking hours. My partner and I try to plan fun, family-oriented things to do with her, and also use the time to get things done around the house.

How are you setting up for the semester?