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?

faster feminism · new year new plan · openness · women

Faster Feminism Redux: Welcome Back, Y’all

I am sitting at my new desk in my new office at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. If you missed my hello/goodbye announcement in the spring here is the short version: I have moved. I’m now in this lovely town for a 12-month limited term contract. I’m thinking about beginnings and I am thinking about changes. I am also — always — thinking about poetry…

You fit into me / like a hook into an eye

That is how Heather began our first post three years ago. If you’re a long-time reader you may recall that Hook & Eye began in part as a reaction to the CERC brew-ha-ha in which absolutely zero of the nineteen new Canada Excellence Research Chairs we women. We also began Hook & Eye as a means of fostering community. Where, we wondered, were women working in universities in Canada? How were they negotiating the quotidian and extraordinary challenges of their diverse work environments? How are our colleagues–old friends or yet-to-be met acquaintances–thinking about and living through their experiences as raced, gendered, classed, and situated people in today’s Canadian university? And what are they wearing?

You see, I find myself once again in a Janus-faced stance looking back at the original impetus for this blog, and looking forward towards the unknown of another semester. Fresh as a newly-cracked moleskine or foreboding as start of hurricane season? Only time will tell…

You fit into me / like a hook into an eye
A fish hook / an open eye

In the three years since the blog began we have addressed an incredible amount in inequity. We have had guest posts that deal with rape culture on Canadian university campuses. We have had pieces on job-place harassment. We had — and then stopped running — a monthly post called This Month In Sexism. We didn’t stop running the feature because we rant out of material, no. We stopped running it because readers requested that we stop because it was too disheartening. Fish hook to open eye, indeed. Or rather, here’s to the undeniable need to keep talking, thinking, teaching, and practicing faster feminism.

Of course, as Heather wrote in that first post Hook & Eye’s aim is a double one: it is both an intervention and an invitation. We envisioned this space as a place to talk politics, pressures, panics, and pleasures. And yes, we probably do want to know what you’re planning to wear for your first day of class. We also want to know how your feminist praxis is evolving. In short, we want to know what our readership cares about and we want to continue to bring a diverse set of topics to you for your consideration.

Oh yes, we. That trickiest of pronouns. Such an easy one to wield with blindness to the kinds of exclusions it can enact; such a wonderful work when one feels a part of that we. We have undergone shifts in who we are here at Hook & Eye. Heather has moved into the position of Editrix Emerita as she moved into her new office as Vice Dean of Arts. Aimee and I have welcomed Margrit into the roster of weekly editrix-writers. Last year we were fortunate to have a collective of regular writers (thank you Danielle, Liz, Jessica, Liza, and Melissa!) and this year Melissa will be joining us on a semi-regular basis. And as ever we are grateful to out guest posters who give of their own time and take the risk of thinking in public.

Perhaps to my eye the greatest shift in who makes up the collaborative writing we of Hook & Eye is the shift to the sheer number of precariously employed. We now have a disproportionate number of un- under- or precariously-employed writers. And while writing in public is always risky, writing in public while precariously employed carries its own unique challenges. As I have performed (again, and again, and again) with a mix of determination and complete sheepishness the number of precarious workers is on the rise. Writing publicly, creating a readerly collective, trying to create the conditions for solidarity: these are some of the possibilities afforded to us by social media. Of course, we — in that shifting collective of bodies that comprises the pronoun — need one another as much as we need our own political and social consciousness to keep us from forgetting the various ways in which these generative aims carry the potential for permeating inequity. Fish hook to open eye? Yes, that’s the risk, but I would like to suggest rather that these pernicious and diverse inequities offer us new ways of coming together. Faster feminism.

As we head into a new school year another section in the Hook & Eye archives opens. We would like to invite you to continue to read, comment, and heck, maybe even write a guest post for us. For now, though, how about inspiring us with some of your new year’s resolutions?

new year new plan · resolution

Be it resolved

If nothing else, being an academic allows one to indulge in New Year’s Resolutions at least twice a year–certainly, September brings about a strong desire to articulate new goals as surely as it prompts the purchase of new pencils with which to write them down, and January offers us a culturally sanctioned do-over if our resolve has wavered as the fall semester waned.

And so I find myself making all new resolutions, again. I don’t mind so much that I didn’t live up to all the plans and schemes and goals I hatched sometime around Labour Day. For me, the very impulse to even make resolutions is a cheering reminder of the fundamental optimism of the human spirit. What can be more life-affirming than an ever-renewing set of desires keyed toward self-improvement, even if these desires do not always lead us to the improvements we aim at. Isn’t is good for the soul to think that at least we want to … change? Improve? Optimize? In any case, it all feels very hopeful

My resolutions go as follows:

  • Lights out at 10:30
  • Get outside every day
  • Be kind to my family, but not at the cost of my own sense of self
  • Keep doing my yoga
  • Meditate more
  • More home cooked meals, featuring more green things
  • Clean up the kitchen before I go to bed
Mah kitchen! Tuesday night, 9:45 pm!
I’m basically trying to be healthy, right? For work, I’m thinking:
  • 20 minutes of writing on my book project every weekday
  • 20 minutes of reading on same
  • Remember the 30 minute miracle, and stop frittering time
  • Prepare in advance, but not too much
  • Answer my emails
  • Try to maintain the 40/40/20 balance of work
  • Respect deadlines
Which are all work-health goals. Clean living for everybody!
Probably the one thought I return to every New Year’s day is one my dear friend Lesley Peterson shared with me way back in grad school in Edmonton, to wit: “This is not a crisis. This is your life.” All my resolutions come back to this: each day brings what it brings, and I can approach it with grace, and humility, and a sense of being fully present. Or, I can run around like a chicken with my head cut off, utterly heedless and without agency. I prefer the former. It requires calendaring:
Is this not the cutest thing ever? My daughter’s agenda …
Have you made any fancy or prosaic goals for the new year? 
academic reorganization · faster feminism · global academy · new year new plan

Seeing Women: Reflections on a New Year

It has been an eventful few weeks, to say the least. When I signed off on behalf of my fellow H&E writers I was anticipating a quiet holiday with a little reading, a little visiting, and a lot of unplugging. Things didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, I found myself glued to the Internet keeping track of the news. More specifically, I found myself confronted once again with the ways in which women are systematically erased and effaced. I found myself thinking about how I might better address the quotidian nature of violence against women, and I found myself overwhelmed. What follows is an attempt to think through four disparate and yet interconnected and recent instances where women have been central news stories, and yet simultaneously and problematically absent.
In the last few weeks four women I have never met have been in the news. I can name two of them, the other two women’s name has been withheld from the media. The women I can name are Malala Yousafzai and Chief Theresa Spence. The women whose names I don’t know have both been in the news because they have been victims of violent sexual assault. One woman’s name is being withheld because of the laws in her country regarding naming victims of sexual assault. The other woman’s name is being withheld to protect her privacy.
If you have managed to miss the news since October, Malala is a fourteen-year-old Pakestani women’s rights activist. She is known for speaking about women’s right to education. She was shot in the head and neck for speaking out on behalf of women’s rights. Just a few days ago she was released from hospital in Britain where she has been recovering since the fall. Chief Theresa Spence first made national news in Canada in the fall of 2011 when she declared a state of emergency in Attawapiskat. Rather than address the issues in Attawapiskat, the Canadian government effectively ignored her requests for aid and, as Chelsea Vowels and others have noted, mainstream media continued to publish inaccurate egregious misrepresentations of First Nations communities and their relationship with the government and the Crown. On December 11th Chief Spence travelled to Ottawa to begin a hunger strike as a last-ditch effort to seize and arrogant government by the lapels and demand — wait for it! — a conversation with First Nations leaders. When Prime Minister Harper finally announced that he would meet with First Nations leaders he made no mention whatsoever of Chief Theresa Spence, who was on the twenty-fifth day of her hunger strike. 
I can’t speak the names of the other two women, because I don’t know them.  One woman was a twenty-three year old physiotherapist. She was gang-raped by six men on a public bus. She was tossed from the bus naked and bleeding. She died on December 29th. The other woman whose name I don’t know is from Thunder Bay. She was violently and sexually assaulted because of her race. Indeed, her assailants intimated that they were assaulting her as a kind of response to the peaceful, grassroots #IdleNoMore movement.
These four women have been in the news, but their presence in the news underscores — for me, at least — a pernicious and violent cycle of erasure. While all four of these women come from different contexts and are in the news for different reasons what strikes me as undeniable is the ways in which they have been erased by the media. What do I mean, besides the obvious lack of naming? Carol J. Adams has an evocative term for explaining the ways in which systematic violence covers its tracks. This happens through what she refers to as the function of the absent referent, which is a radical severing of the referent from view. Adams’ example comes from the ways in which the language around butchering renders an animal into an object, thus obfuscating the violence needed to render “cow” into “hamburger.” Patriarchal society works the same way, she argues. Gendered violence gets turned into a singular act. Atrocious? Yes. Lamentable? Definitely. But rather than look closely at the ways in which inequity and systematic gendered, raced, and classed violence are built into the fabric of social life these acts of violence are made singular anomalies. 
So what do we do?
While I certainly don’t have a singular and finite answer for these pernicious and systematic violences, I have found some important cues in the kinds of coalitions that have come from the #IdleNoMore movements. Here are a few things I have learned or been reminded of in the last month:
1)   Form coalitions and teach others about solidarity.
2)   Share knowledges
3)   Articulate clear aims, and clearly articulate your grievances and concerns
4)   Be preemptive, be public
5)   Stand firm against oppression, and stand with friends and allies.
So, after a holiday season that reactivated my activism outside the classroom, I am resolving to return to teaching with a renewed sense of purpose. Pedagogy is for me a site of profound possibility and responsibility, and the classroom is a site of potentially radical change. I am returning to the classroom with a renewed sense of resolve to articulate, address, and discuss difficult issues with my students.
Welcome back, y’all. Let’s make this a truly new year.

balance · best laid plans · day in the life · new year new plan

Welcome back: a back to school list

3 – 20 pound bags of dog food
3 – 40 pound boxes of cat litter
2 – 15 pound bags of cat food
4 – bottles each of econo-size shampoo and conditioner
6 – toothbrushes, adult and child
4 – tubes of toothpaste
3 – bottles of foaming hand soap
96 – loads of laundry we now have enough soap for
100 – pounds of salt for the water softener
10 – bars of Allenbury’s soap (for sensitive skin, natch)
18 – razors (five blades apiece! Lookout, leg hair!)
5 – pairs of new shoes, for three people
1 – batch of raspberry bran muffins
8 – little baggies of cut up red pepper and cucumber
3 – bottles of autumn-themed scent for the Lampe Berger
48 – unsweetened applesauce cups
8 – frozen single-serve microwave lunches (on sale!)
2 – batches of homemade soup stock, frozen
1- great big bag of size 8 kid clothes from Bonnie Togs

From where I’m standing (or, right now, sitting, exhausted) back-to-school is an all-out war on my peace of mind. My sabbatical is over, and I’m embarking on a new journey: a semester where instead of teaching, I’m preparing an online version of one of our core courses. And I’m now vice-president of our faculty association, which entails way more meetings than I thought it could. My daughter is starting first grade tomorrow morning, and she’s a little anxious. My husband, among many other tasks, is the guy who manages everyone’s SSHRC applications, so  this is the start of his INSANE BUSY SEASON.

Here’s how I cope.

I make lists. Then I run errands.

The idea is to lay in stock from all those far-flung big box stores I hate to have to drive to, so that we don’t have to drive there again until January. The heavy stuff, the annoying stuff, the essential stuff, the expensive stuff. The pet store. The softener salt. The heavy personal care items that prompt a crisis when you run out. The way I figure, we’re all going to be busy and stressed out enough without having to dash out on an hour-long back-and-forth to buy toilet paper.

I’m prepared for academic armageddon, whether it come in the form of elementary school crisis or administrative brouhaha or massive pedagogical/technical snafu. No matter what happens, we’ll have fresh sheets and enough toothbrushes. We’ll sleep well and smell good, at least.

I hope.

Other than all that reading and course prep and new pencil business, how do you gird your loins (metaphorically speaking) for the back to school crush? Or is the return to regular academic programming, perhaps, the end rather than the beginning of chaos in your year?

Welcome back, readers — let’s get this party started.

balance · best laid plans · community · day in the life · good things · new year new plan · saving my sanity

Variations on a theme: Quality Time

Several of my colleagues refer to this trough of the year as Jebuary, and it comes with its own set of challenges. Jebuary is a proper noun–the stretch of January and February that, in Canada at least, accounts for some of the most soul-challenging weather of the year. One can also have a case of the Jebuaries. It is hard to muster the momentum and enthusiasm necessary to perform solid, engaging lectures, write those conference papers and articles, and attend meetings with the civic-mindedness that seems a bit easier to tap into in September. One of the constant concerns I have about posting on a Monday is tone. I fear that my tone has a tendency toward the frantic, the frenzied, the exhausted, and the fearful, and let’s be frank, no one needs those tones on a Monday morning, however accurate they may be!

So here we are, in the midst of Jebuary, and it is a Monday no less. Obviously, I’m concerned about our collective and individual well being. And yet I am a month into a four-course teaching term that already has me begging for a little mercy. I wonder, as I write, about how to strike a balance between being frank about my experience as an LTA and the kinds of feelings I am having this term without dragging all y’all down.

What’s the solution? Well, for me it is returning to that one entry I’ve managed to make in my #Reverb11: Quality. How does one beg, steal, or borrow quality, not to mention quality time, when there seems to be no time at all? While I was trying to work this question out I remembered Aime’s post about how much can be accomplished in thirty minutes, and using it as a guide I’ve carved out thirty quality minutes for myself on a weekday morning. Friends, this term I live for Friday morning. On Friday mornings I teach an early class, this means I have no time to go home after my yoga practice. Instead of feeling guilty for leaving my partner with dog-walking duties, and rather than getting ahead on work for the coming week, I shower at the yoga studio and then walk to my favorite cafe and sit in the corner and read the local indy news. I drink fancy coffee, eat my breakfast, and buy another fancy coffee to go. All told I’m there for only about thirty or forty minutes, but they are some of the sweetest, calmest, and relaxing minutes of my week.

Here is a photo of me with my true blue pal and morning yoga partner Mia. We are in the lovely lobby of the yoga studio. If we look a bit smug it is because this photo is taken during the day as opposed to at the crack of dawn, which is when we are usually at the Shala.

I love hiding in the corner of The Smiling Goat, drinking amazing coffee, and reading The Coast on Friday mornings before I wade into the remains of the week.

 What about you? How do you carve out quality time just for you in the midst of the hectic and ennui-filled Jebuaries?

academic reorganization · job market · new year new plan · saving my sanity

Realistic Lists (& how I have not yet learned to write them)

I love lists. I am the kind of person who revels in writing down to do lists and relishes the bliss not only of crossing off accomplishments, but also adores the slightly skewed sense of satisfaction I get from looking at an impossibly long list. I use a digital calendar in my computer, a digital calendar on my phone that also synchs with my computer, I use Wunderlist, and I keep an analogue Moleskine day planner as well. I email lists. I write them on little pieces of paper. It isn’t just that I like writing lists, I suspect that writing down everything I have to do (or want to do…or feel I should be doing) allows me some modicum of control. I write lists that begin with something I have already crossed off in order to make them seem possible. Indeed I must admit that I have been known to write lists that look like this:

Today:
-go to yoga
-walk dogs
-prep class a, b, and c for the month of January
-lunch
-write article draft
-prep class d for month of January
-paper abstract
-coffee with friend I should see more often
-spin class
-cook dinner
-plan manuscript project
-watch movie
-spend quality time with loved one
-leisure reading
-start writing a journal again
-bed

Sure, some might call this delusional, I call it optimistic. Alright, I also call it delusional, but doesn’t it seem some days that these kind of lists that require time machines and clones are the only way that you’ll accomplish all your goals as well as everything that needs doing not to mention the Abstract But Looming Expectations of Others? Doesn’t it?

Last week as I sat down to write my New Year’s resolutions alongside my list for this term’s looming tasks I found myself unable to write either. I have been writing resolution lists that resemble my delusional to do lists for years now, and for some reason I couldn’t do it this year. Why? Part of the challenge, I suspect, is that I have been writing–and failing to complete–these impossible lists for many many years now. Another part of my challenge comes from an increasingly convoluted sense of what actually needs to be done. Sure, I know that papers need to be marked, and I have those upcoming conference papers scheduled, but after four years of teaching overloads and maintaining a relatively reasonable research profile, squeezing in service where I can, and yes, trying to cultivate a rich personal and social life I know that some things need to be jettisoned, but which ones?

So this year my resolutions are thus far just two: 1) be kinder to myself and 2) read more for pleasure

How do you do it, readers? Do you write resolutions? How do you keep your expectations of yourself both realistic and challenging?

advice · balance · job notes · new year new plan · reflection · sabbatical

Sabbatical: wide, open space

The desktop dictionary* on my Mac defines sabbatical as “a period of paid leave granted to a college teacher for study or travel, traditionally every seventh year: she’s away on sabbatical.” That’s nice they used a lady professor for their example, but isn’t it funny, the idea–the very definition!–that a sabbatical is for study or for travel? I absorbed through my thin academic skin very early that the sabbatical is the time that FEVERISH WRITING FOR PUBLICATION happens. If those professors on sabbaticals were often spotted in flip-flops and muumuus wandering dazed through the ValuMart, it wasn’t because they were just back from (an exploratory trip to an archive in) Hawaii, but rather that they didn’t have time to shower, so frantic were their intellectual labours. Study! Travel! Isn’t it really all about “getting the book finished and out to the publisher,” or “slamming all those research notes into several articles, pronto”?

And I like the leadoff phrase: “a period of paid leave,” again, as though one is absent from ‘work’ and getting paid for it. But that’s not quite right, is it? Usually, a sabbatical involves a pay reduction and a replacement of teaching work with other work.

So my definition, if I were to rewrite this, would be: “sabbatical (noun): a period free from teaching or internal service obligations, at reduced salary, granted to a college teacher to generate publishable research, traditionally for 12 months after six years of teaching, or for 6 months after three years of teaching.”

Still. A sabbatical is a pretty sweet thing, a shift in the routine, a break from what can sometimes feel like an unceasing hamster wheel of prep / teach / grade / meetings / more meetings / email / rinse / repeat. I’m on sabbatical, as of January 1st, and until June 30th.

Woohoo!

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You know what? On my last half-sabbatical, I actually did go to Hawaii (International Auto/Biography Association biennial conference, can I get a what-what?!), but it seems funnier to both acknowledge it here and leave it in the text above. It struck me at the time as funny enough that I took this photo on the beach at Waikiki:

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Everyone here was back in class, as of 8:30 Tuesday morning. I’m in … limbo. I’m wearing my writing clothes, but since my daughter is still on Christmas vacation until Monday of next week, I’m doing the stay-at-home mom thing until then. Which is a kind of neither/nor situation. It was jarring, driving to campus to pick up my husband after work on Tuesday, and to suddenly realize, hey, it’s on, and I’m not in it. But I’m not yet out of it either, in that all-research-all-the-time zone that the sabbatical is supposed to foster. Next week.

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During my last sabbatical, my husband and I were forced from our home by condo developers, selling and buying in a frantic sort of way. He was between jobs. Then we moved, right when he was starting a new job. Two new jobs, actually. Our daughter was about a year-and-a-half old, in that first year of catch-absolutely-everything germiness at daycare. She got pneumonia. I got four sinus infections, and was pretty sure my eardrums were going to explode on one research trip that involved flying to California with three hops along the way. I gripped my armrests and howled silently, willing my ears to stay intact, and wondering how I could talk to my real estate agent on the phone if I was deaf. I was terrified about everything: my house situation, our jobs situation (would I get tenure? would hubby get established in his new career?), my daughter in daycare, being sick sick sick for months on end, moving, all of it.

So I guess my Pavlovian reaction to thinking about the sabbatical is this: panic.

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What does a sabbatical mean now, now that I have tenure, and a research grant, never mind a stable housing situation and everyone in much better health?

What can drive me forward now, if not the panic of the last sabbatical, of the whole pre-tenure time generally? What do I want to do: to think about, to write, to read?

So far, I have no commitments. I want to find out what I can get done, when I’m at liberty to do it, but not driven by the lashings of someone else’s (book, conference, public talk) deadline snapping me in the ass.

I’ll let you know.

And of course, I both welcome and solicit any advice or stories about sabbaticals that you can share.

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* it’s funny to me to start out this essay like so many of our undergrads do, by recourse to the dictionary. It’s funny because, I suspect, I’m not teaching this semester and so won’t have to read any of those essays … does the sabbatical then have it’s own special brand of humour? I’ll keep you posted, dear readers.