emotional labour · outreach · possibility

Showing Up: A Manifesta

Guest post by the fabulous Sydney Tran!

Last year, I was at a conference where many of us lamented the state of the world in presentations, roundtables, and those deeply honest late night conversations that feed your soul. It was a conference with lots of scholars who work in the humanities, and so we theorized about problems and solutions with overuse of words like “neoliberalism” and “utopia” and spoke a language so many other people wouldn’t understand. We did a lot of talking.

There was one session, though, that wasn’t about talking and more about doing. We were offered a workshop about how to handle sexual violence on campus, led by a Facilitator who works with survivors and those who have done harm within university communities. We covered the nuances of consent, how to handle disclosure of harm, and how to think through policies of sexual violence. No one said the word “neoliberal” or the word “utopia”, but also very few people showed up. And one year later, I’m still trying to work out why.

There’s no question that thinking and theorizing and talking are hard work. But what does it really mean to “show up”? When I was teaching and researching as a graduate student, I thought about my role as a curator of new ideas. The beauty of a university, for me, was the new knowledge students received and created in a classroom—knowledge about the state of a world that often blows their minds. The hope for so many of us, of course, is that a post-secondary education is not just informative, but transformative; we want to shift a social consciousness by sharing the gorgeous, complex, and mystifying structures of cultures. We want help students think through that darker underbelly of a society to in turn, make it better.

In my own undergraduate education, I took my first cultural studies class in the winter semester of my second year. At the end of the term, I sat in my professor’s office asking “So now that you’ve exploded my idea of the world, am I just supposed to go home for the summer like everything is fine?” He looked at me shrugging and said, “Sydney, I’m not your therapist.”  I continue to hear echoes of this all the time: faculty members reminding each other and other university staff that they aren’t trained to do care work. And they’re right, most faculty aren’t trained that way—but when offered a training session on how to care for a student in an acute situation (like disclosure of sexual violence), these are often the faculty members who don’t show up. And even when we do carve out a minute to attend, we are as distracted by devices as our students are—emails that can’t wait, projects that have deadlines—we “multi-task.” In other words, academics are choosing not to be trained with these skills, instead choosing to do something else (another conference session, a grant proposal, etc…). The critical act of “showing up” is not simply in being present though, it is making the choice to go in the first place.

Naturally it’s more complicated than I’m making it out to be. With competing demands on time and energy in academia, no one can do it all. But then I have to wonder whose responsibility it is to take care of students who are suffering, specifically students whose suffering is often connected to their studies or related to campus culture? University counselling services are buckling under the volume of students requesting support, disability services offices are chronically understaffed, and campus sexual violence centres are increasingly trying to function beyond their capacity. The faculty I see engaging in any type of student support are often those who are already over-committed to service work and are desperately exhausted. To be frank, I’m exhausted from watching the disproportionately high number of women and queer folks do the majority of the care work in the university—and still be asked to do more (but that’s for another blog post).

Instead of simply thinking about epidemics of anxiety and having looping conversations about trigger warnings, I wonder what we can start doing to create a stronger community of support for our students. As we see increasing numbers of students who enter university suffering with mental health, and others who experience the first onset of a mental health condition while enrolled, we might try showing up in a different way than we have in the past. We may consider that there could be value in learning what we don’t know, or gaining skills we haven’t already mastered, to create a stronger network for our students—and each other.


Sydney Tran is a learning and transition specialist, with a current focus on accessible, post-secondary education. She manages a variety of initiatives, projects, and programs for students and faculty.  She spent many of her own school days in the hallway rather than the classroom, after teachers removed her from their class because her talking was disruptive: Sydney is someone who likes to “talk to think.” Collaborative by nature, she finds herself on wonderful teams of people supporting individuals that require nuanced forms of care. In her few solitary moments, she continues to work toward a Ph.D. in English Literature studying feminism, theatre, and asking why the world is the way it is.








#post-ac · administration · change · dissertation · flexible academic · grad school · PhD · possibility · research · research planning · September · writing

Firsts and Lasts

This post marks a big last and a significant first for me. While I’ve been Hook & Eye’s de-facto alt-ac voice for the last few years, I’ve also continued, along with Boyda and Jana, to write about the trials and tribulations of grad school. My last trial–the big one, the defense–is happening tomorrow, and so this is my last post as a graduate student.

It’s been a long road since my “I quit” post back in the fall of 2013, when I took my first full-time academic administrative job. I’m in a different job now, one that has given me the time and mental space I needed to finish my dissertation. After a long period of uncertainty about the value of finishing my PhD, I’m still having a hard time believing that I’ve done it. I’m nervous about tomorrow, despite the many reassurances of friends and committee members. I spend most of my time developing professional skills curriculum, administering research funding, and writing policy, not reading theory or publishing articles. In doing my job, I’ve learned how to explain my research to people far outside my field. I’ve learned to feel confident walking into a room and sharing what I know regardless of who is in it. I’ve learned to identify what my research can tell us about the persistent gendered inequalities of Canadian academic and literary communities and how we might address them. But I’m nervous about being questioned by a room full of people who are full-time academics, who swim in those intellectual currents in a way that I no longer do. I’m also looking forward to spending time talking about a project that I care deeply about with smart people who care about my work, and about me. Now that the day is almost here, that alone seems like a pretty great reason to have committed to finishing my dissertation. The added credibility I’ll have at work is a nice bonus.

My defense tomorrow also means that this fall is a first for me.  It’s the first fall since I was four years old that I’m not going back to school. If I wasn’t already three years down a career path that I anticipate staying on, I might find facing this new beginning scary. But I went through the difficult transition that many PhDs who move into alt-ac and post-ac careers face back when I took my first administrative job. I’m instead looking forward to this first fall, and the year that follows, as a time to experiment with what life as a scholar-administrator could look like now that I can shape my research trajectory however I please.

I’m not really a new breed of researcher, although it sometimes feels like I am. Ever since the academy began producing more PhDs than it could employ–since always, basically–there have been those of us who have moved outside of the professoriate and yet continued to pursue research. The increasing casualization of the professoriate means that there are fewer and fewer people whose job it is to research, and more and more people like me who pursue research but make our money in other ways. We have the desire, the expertise, and the time to remain active researchers while we work in other careers. There’s great freedom in that, for the quest for tenure and grant funding as often blights research creativity and experimentation as it enhances it. I’m going to be using the blog this year to write through the process of crafting a research practice outside of the professoriate. At the same time, I’ll be writing through the process of crafting a life that makes space for multiple identities as administrator, researcher, creative writer, consultant, editor, cook, partner, and more.

Later this month I’ll be starting a new series of posts on transforming my dissertation into a book and live-blogging the process of getting it published. I’ll be continuing the alt-ac 101 series for people who are looking to move into non-professorial jobs or who advise people who are. I’ll also be writing about equity issues in and out of the academy, especially those relating to graduate studies and postdoctoral work. I’m also going to practice what I preach to my students about working to share our research beyond the bounds of the academy by blogging about my dissertation, especially the parts that look at gender bias and rape culture in Canadian literary and academic communities in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.

If you’ve just found us, welcome! And if you’re an old friend, welcome back. It’s good to be back here with you.

possibility · slow academy

Addicted to thinking

If you’re an academic, how often do you reminisce about what brought you to grad school? My story starts with a longing for the kind of deep, analytical thinking I was lucky to experience in some university seminars, which entailed sitting down for a few hours to discuss great literature–in English and in German–and the ideas around it. You know, things like what’s in there, but also where it was coming from historically, ideologically, and how it led to other places, other people, other times. Things like how Goethe’s Romantic young hero Werther initiated a string of copy-cats, in fashion and in action, in spite of his ghastly outfit and drastic denouement. I came back to school for more of that kind of thinking, which, in spite of having had sworn off school forever after undergrad, proved too enticing to renounce.

It’s kind of the same if you’ve ever had to be a caregiver for an infant. Even if you haven’t, you know adults in that situation crave less baby-talk and more adult conversation. To my mind, it comes back to the same issue: a desire to think more deeply about meaningful ideas, and thus surround yourself with a life of the mind that can enrich the repetitiveness of an infant’s routine. Not to mention drown out inevitable screaming matches, and possibly enliven the dull fuzziness of sleep deprivation.

As Aimée pointed out yesterday, carving out time for thinking can be a challenge in spite of the best planning and organization you can devise. However, a drearier situation takes shape when that plan is out of the scope of your activities altogether. So, here it is: I miss my research. I miss planning and making sure I carve out time for deep thinking about one focused issue. I miss looking for connections, sleuth-like, and I miss the thrill of identifying them. As much as I congratulated myself on being able to say no to going to a conference last week, I experienced the pain of withdrawal, of the inability of taking a couple of days to think through other people’s arguments, contentions, and discoveries. What a luxury!

Well, kick in the behind, meet the step forward! As my students have embarked on the path of their own research projects, which I will have the opportunity to immerse myself in a few weeks, I have come to face my old yearning again, and to understand that I need this type of labour as I need air to breathe (not to be dramatic or anything); that it’s not about love, but more about need. Just like with many other longings, we can debate whether it’s inborn or whether it has been drilled into me by my background–what else does grad school, or post-secondary education more generally, do than teach you how to think, in a way that is irreversible? Irrespective of its origins, this need for thinking is intrinsic, and its lack manifests with all the power of withdrawal. Conversely, it signals its presence with the same tingling sensation of the first sip of wine seemingly coursing through every single artery down to the farthest capillary.

At the end of the breather that has been Reading Week, this is my resolve: to make time and find space for thinking consciously and systematically. And here’s the clincher: unlike grad school days, when the aim was the writing, the dissertation, the end of the program, I have no other goal than allowing my mind to wander, and my thoughts to run wherever they would. I do not aim to be productive. I want to heed my visceral need for thinking without having to show anyone else the result. Hell, there might not be any. And that’s it: time and space for my mind to wander. Oops, did some of young Werther’s sorrows rub onto me, too?

empowerment · possibility · running

Feels like starting over …

I went for a run yesterday. This was my first run since mid-November, when I got banned from running because of a knee injury that needed several months of zero high-impact activity to heal itself. In mid-November, I was gleefully running 7k at a steady pace, floating on endorphins, listening to albums, melting snow on my eyelashes and filling my lungs full of fresh air, smiling all the way. Yesterday, I ran for one minute, then walked for 90 seconds, then did that seven more times. Yup, I’m back on my couch to 5K app, the one I gritted my way through last year.

I’m starting over but I’m not back to zero.

When I started running last year, it was hard. I was nervous and insecure and unsure. I didn’t know how to pace myself. I didn’t know if I would ever start to like running, instead of liking to bask in the glow after I stopped. I didn’t know if I would ever be a “real” runner. I sometimes got too hungry mid-run. I sometimes drank too much beforehand and had to pee. But by mid-November, running in the snow with my nice neckwarmer and my Young Galaxy and my new app, I had mostly solved those problems.

So yesterday, running those 1 minute intervals made my heart pound harder than those 7k runs did. And today, my quads are burning more than I would like. But I do know, now, that I’ll improve pretty rapidly. I already have the right socks and the right sports bar. I know when and what to eat and how much to drink. I am a real runner–I’m just training up again.

It might look like I’m back at the starting line, but there’s something different and better that comes from my earlier experiences.

Writing is like this, too. Every new project–every new class, even–feels like starting over. Feels like getting winded going up the stairs, an embarrassing kind of weakness. But at least for me, I’m finally starting to learn the patterns. We all already know enough to be suspicious of teleologies, right? That progress narrative by which successful persons move from strength to ever greater strength, to the summit of their potential? Sometimes our narratives are more like spirals, looping back on themselves while still expanding: starting a new research project, a new grant application, a new conference paper, a new curriculum revision puts me back, in many ways, to zero. But in other ways, not. Things are maybe not getting easier in the sense that I no longer feel helpless and overwhelmed by the wide open expanse of a new writing project. But they are getting easier in the sense that I know some good ways to move past the helplessness without too much emotional difficulty, and that I know this is a regular part of my research cycle. That’s progress, I think.

So I’ll do my nine weeks of running and walking, moving back off the couch and into 5k, benefitting from my experiences and showing myself some compassion along the way. I hope I’ll be able to do more of this in my academic work in the coming year as well.

job market · possibility · work

It’s spring (and job hunting season)

Yesterday marked the first day of spring. As the snow continues to pile up around southern Ontario, and many other parts of the country are still experiencing winter storms, it probably isn’t that obvious to most observers that spring is indeed upon us. Fortunately, I don’t need flowers, or rain showers, or even calendars to know that spring is here. I know it, most of all, because the spring round of job postings are starting to seep out onto the listservs.

While the norm still seems to be for schools to post in the fall, the schools where I would most like to work tend to post jobs in the spring. I already know this, and so I have been watching carefully, waiting for the perfect job to pop up. They’re like daffodils. Terrifying, anxiety inspiring daffodils. Okay, they aren’t anything like daffodils.

This spring, there are jobs. There are even a few jobs in my research area. My intent was to work on an application this week, but somehow I wasn’t able to bring myself to start writing. As much as I have been looking forward to this round of job postings, it is also a very anxious time. Co-blogger Margrit Talpalaru very eloquently wrote about this issue in her post last november, The cruelty of job applications. Job applications are indeed cruel. I remember the first perfect job I ever applied for. I spent countless hours looking over my application, the department webpage, the city map, the MLS listings, the jogging trails…everything. I believed that I could live and work in that place. As Margrit said last fall, “I simply have to be excited for a job that I apply for, not only for the mercenary reason of conveying it in a letter, but for the reality of having to move my family to a new location. I have to be able to imagine my kids growing up in that place, and I have to love it for this possibility.”

Which brings me to this season’s job applications. You see, I have gone and done something that is pretty much impossible to reconcile with academic life. It goes against every recommendation I have ever received and radically diminishes the likelihood that I will end up with one of those very few, very special, tenure track jobs. I’ve decided where I am going to live. I live here now. My partner has a good job. We’re buying a house (a real fixer-upper). My employment status (and employability) may be precarious, but my daily existence will not. I refuse. I’m drawing a line in the sand. Well, actually, it’s an imaginary line around a region on a map where I think I could work. The thing is, the “will go anywhere for work” model might be reasonable if you finish your PhD super young, have no partner or children, and get a job immediately upon completion, but if you’re a straggler or, god forbid, actually have a family and responsibilities that can’t just be moved across the country, or can’t stand the thought of wandering from teaching contract to teaching contract – well what then?

I will apply for those jobs. I will try as hard as I can to make myself appear relevant, interesting, and above all else, the best candidate for the position. It really would be wonderful to get the job, but I know the odds are stacked firmly against me. Sometimes, job or no job, you have to just keep on living your life.

Here’s to another job hunting season. May your applications be electronic more often than not, your reference letters glowing and on time, and your “perfect fit” just around the corner.

appreciation · going public · possibility

Academic Travel

It’s that time of year when I begin to look longingly at the delicate contrails in the skies, and at the collapsible toothbrushes at Shoppers. It’s that time of year when this academic’s fancy turns to travel. I’ve got a conference at the University of Maryland in six weeks, and then six weeks after that I’ll be in Victoria. I might be going to England, but that wouldn’t be until October. I’m just beginning to buy plane tickets and book hotel rooms and organize to meet friends and colleagues. I’m getting nostalgic for the 10 Minute Manicure booth at Pearson’s Terminal Two. I can’t wait to get back to Rebar in Victoria, or have the wonderful bartender at UVic’s Faculty club make me my once-a-year martini, enjoyed with digital humanists and turtles on the patio. And, oh, the hotel rooms. Those blank, anonymous, heavy-blanketed, blackout-curtained, TV-in-bed, all-to-myself havens of quiet and solitude. I am looking forward to the hotel rooms.

Oh, and I guess I’m excited, too, about sharing my research about Facebook, about computer keyboards, about social media and the role of design in academic practice. I’ll write papers and curricula and it certainly always happens that the intellectual work of this travel both pushes me to produce something in the face of a real deadline and prompts a lot of new ideas in all the interaction. But honestly, I’m mostly thinking about the travel right now.

For me, this wanderlust is cyclical. It builds from the late winter and peaks in early summer. I do most of my traveling, and sometimes quite a lot of traveling, in the period between early March and early July. Last year, I did six trips in the eight weeks in that timeframe. When I got back, I swore that I was never getting on another plane ever again. (My husband made a similar vow, after a heroic run of solo-parenting while working his own full-time, demanding job. And then, don’t you know, all three of us made an unexpected family trip to Edmonton the very next month.) I was seriously jet lagged, feeling gross from travel food, had had my luggage lost once, had stayed in a terrible hotel during a children’s hockey tournament (tip! Don’t do that!), and flown through some gruesome weather. I missed my family a lot, my routines, our routines. My bed.

But those memories have receded now. And I’m looking forward to laying out outfits on the bed in the guest room, trying to game the weather while packing enough variety to give me stylish options that will, nevertheless, all fit in a carry-on (cf earlier discussion of lost luggage. I’m looking at you, Air Canada). I’m buying this year’s collapsible toothbrush, and sample sizes of my favourite Aveda hair products. My trusty Samsonite roly-bag is coming down from the attic, with my travel yoga mat already folded neatly within it. I’m cheerfully booking airport shuttles in other countries, and checking the exchange rates. It’s going to be great: I head out in the world by myself, my purse and my carry-on and my ideas, on an adventure to share my research and learn from others and eat the kinds of foods I like when I feel like eating them. I miss my family, really I do, when I’m gone, but it’s so nice to have these brief interludes of only thinking of myself. Of throwing myself right into it. Seeing old friends and making new ones. Learning stuff.

When I was a single graduate student, travel felt different. It felt like a brief entrée into a world of adulthood: wearing suits and eating in restaurants and explaining my work to customs agents as though I were a professional of some sort. Now it feels different, almost like a return to something less “grown-up,” freer, with fewer and more-focused responsibilities.

But always, from my staying in dorm days to the quiet hotel rooms now, the travel has been one of the perks of being an academic. I love it, this shift into new places with new people and new routines. (It’s always the same coffee and inedible honeydew melon slices, though …) What about you? How do you feel about academic travel?

good things · possibility

Faster Feminism Spotlight: Actually, the Future Looks Bright

Many of us who are in teaching or administrative positions worry often and worry vocally about the future of the profession. On Friday when I had the distinct privilege of chairing a panel at the Honours Colloquium I received a lovely gift: reprieve from worry.

Meet Kaarina Mikalson, Katherine Wooler, and Kristen Flood.

All three of these women will finish their BA degrees this year. On Friday they each presented twenty-minute conference papers on one of the several concurrent sessions of the Undergraduate Honours Colloquium. Kristen’s paper, entitled “Re-Writing Systems of Communication,” which performs a close critical reading of Erin Moure’s O Resplandor, considers the role of translation as a readerly role. In ““Reaching to the Very Corners of the Night,” Kaarina read’s Anne Carson’s Nox as a critical edition of grief. In her presentation, “evolve” Katherine demonstrated her inventive, non-linear editing strategy, which she employed to create a mini digital critical edition of some of bpNichol’s poetry. After their presentations every question the audience posed was prefaced with an acknowledgement of the incredibly high-caliber of critical thinking in all of the papers. As the panelists answered questions they engaged each other’s papers as well as discussing their own.

I left the panel feeling proud, excited, and a wee bit better about the future. When I reached the atrium where all the Colloquium participants and faculty were gathered to celebrate I heard from my colleagues that this intellectual generosity was present in each of the sessions. Bravo students!

This past Friday Aiméeasked what your sugarplum visions entail. Take a peek in the comments section, you will see that some readers are pragmatic, others are fantastic, and still others mesh the ‘will’ with the ‘wish’ and imagine wild, wonderful, and restful breaks. I found myself thinking about my own sugarplum vision, especially after the lively conversations we have been having here at Hook & Eye regarding the future of the profession. I have imagined jobs for everyone! Academic freedom! Curricular and administrative reform! I have imagined how wonderful it would be if we could stop worrying about breaking hearts and breaking banks and just start living the life of the mind. I didn’t come up with any solutions—I’m tired too—but it was fun to let my mind wander enthusiastically down the aisles of idealism without pulling on its little leash and dragging it back to the land of reality, pragmatism, and grading. I thought about my wish list for the profession all day on Friday, all day until I went to chair a panel at the Dalhousie English Undergraduate Honours Colloquium, that is. Sure, the profession needs a mighty intervention and a great deal of work, but after seeing these students present their work and share their incredible ideas I was reminded again that this is work worth doing, not only for the present, but also—especially—for the future.
academy · age · appreciation · change · good things · possibility · reflection

University life in all its stages

Time is collapsing all around me.

I am grading first year papers, and as I sometimes do, I dug out one of my papers from first year–from, holy crap, 1992! And I read it. And was transported back into that smart aleck self I was then, all piss and vinegar and not much knowledge at all. It was a paper on “To His Coy Mistress” wherein I expressed surprise that literature could be witty. (Yeah. I was that kid. Let me just apologize to all my teachers …) The paper both sounded like me and did not sound like me … and was in Courier font, because my prof didn’t like computers. When I put the paper down and blinked up at the sunshine in my campus office I was totally discombobulated. The shift from 1992 to 2011 happened in that glance up from the paper. How did this happen to me?

We are hiring a new junior colleague in my field (digital media studies! Please apply!) and all of a sudden it occurred to me that I am not, actually, junior any more. I’ve been here seven and a half years; I got my PhD in 2004. I was imagining that we would be hiring … I don’t know, someone from my cohort? But I won’t even be a generational peer of my new colleague. I’m not the fresh thinking any more; I am one of those who will benefit from the infusion of someone else’s fresh blood into the body of the department. Amazing!

In my digital life writing class, my grad students have all had to produce personal blogs. As I read through those, the lives they articulate are both startlingly familiar and achingly remote. Grad student experiences are eternal and timeless, and while those experiences are part of my experiences, my history, it’s not really my story any more. I’m mostly through my existential crises, my big moves to new cities, my basement apartments and groaning bookshelves whose tomes were assigned to me by others. How did 1998 get so far away from me without my really knowing it? Most of my friends are closer to 50 than they are to 30.

My oldest nephew is in grade 11: his mother and I are taking him back to our alma mater this weekend, for campus day. He spent the first two years of his life on that campus. We’re going to retrace our steps, only this time instead of handing him in his slippery nylon snowsuit back and forth as we try to find a spot to eat that’s not in the smoking section, he’ll be busy fending off the hugs of my five year old daughter while his mother and I can’t stop remarking on the things that have changed, and the things that haven’t. My nephew is full of excitement, amazed to discover that university classes don’t run every day, from 9:00 until 3:00, and that he gets to pick them all himself. That there will be classes with hundreds of people in them. The freedom and the responsibility.

One of my colleagues is retiring. There’s going to be a party, with speeches. His kids have moved away, and he and his wife have sold their big old house with the beautiful gardens and the pocket doors and are renting something, until they figure out what they want to do next. He seems quite happy to be walking away. Amazing.

This is my twentieth year in university. More and more of my life is anchored to these places, these schedules, these routines. Orange and brown decor, brutalist architecture, the rhythms of academic semesters. Meal plans, parking woes, and backpacks. Thousands of 18 year olds, bookshelves everywhere, and hyper-literate conversation. This has all stayed mostly the same, but I guess I’ve been changing all along, right?

This is not a lament, no. I’m happier now and here than, really, I’ve ever been. I guess it’s just that circumstances lately have brought home to me that even if I’m not going anywhere, everything is still moving forward. Amazing.

boast post · body · outreach · possibility · you're awesome

Boast Post!

Today, the English Department celebrated the accomplishments of its students, in a ceremony with certificates and sandwiches and sunshine and applause. I had the opportunity both to judge entries in two categories and to present one award, with suitable encomiums for the lauded student. It was the best part of my week so far.

It was just so cheering to celebrate the accomplishments in our department. I’ve still got a real spring in my step (spring–ha! We got 26cm of snow yesterday) just from rubbing shoulders with these students.

So why don’t we do a Boast Post now, as term drains to its very dregs: are you pinned beneath towering piles of grading? Or are you producing towering piles of writing in your coursework or dissertation? Are you eagerly or cringe-ingly awaiting results from SSHRC Standard Research Grant, Doctoral Fellowship, Canada Graduate Scholarship, or Postdoctoral Fellowship competitions? Dragging yourself through to the end of the traditional ‘hiring season’ or wondering what happens after you graduate?

Pause. Centre yourself.

Now: tell me–tell us, readers and bloggers and all of us–one of your recent successes, big or small. A triumph personal or academic that makes you stand a little taller. Look us all right in the eye and say, in a clear voice, “Here is something that I accomplished. Yay for me!”

Perhaps ridiculously, I’m most cheered by the fact that this past weekend I managed King Pigeon Pose. Damnit, I’ve been working on this for years. I needed an assist, but I did it.

“People may smile, but I don’t mind …”

Bert starts dancing around 1:15 — it’ll get you in the mood for celebrating your own awesome self.

Yoga video with Sesame Street characters not sufficiently inspiring? Well, how about my friend Laura Davis, whose new course on Hockey in Canadian Literature is featured in Thursday’s Red Deer Advocate? AWESOME!

So let’s hear about you now!

body · day in the life · grad school · health · positive thoughts as I fill out grant applications · possibility

Guest Post: A Day in the Life of a Grad Student

Let me start by saying that I am thoroughly delighted to be doing a guest post for Hook & Eye. I am a first year grad student in Concordia’s Creative Writing program and am finding the transition from student to teacher quite challenging but thoroughly fascinating. I am exactly where I want to be: I will graduate next year with a Master’s in Creative Writing and a written novel, my thesis. I will be twenty-six. I am excited to be approaching a life in the academy and was thrilled when my professor assigned the Hook & Eye blog for our “Pedagogy in and of Canadian Literature” course. As a result of my research over the last month, my rose-tinted glasses have slipped down my nose a little and I have glimpsed the realities that await me as a woman entering the academy. I have been compiling my musings in a blog I created for the project which you are all welcome to read here if you like. For the moment, however, I offer you a glimpse into my life as a first year grad student.

Friday 18th February 2011
I wake to my cellphone’s horrifying alarm (the phone vaguely resembles a car and therefore my alarm resembles race track sounds) at 7:00am. I am still riding the high of pride and pleasant surprise from last night. I had a symposium presentation that went very well, a poetry/fiction reading with most of Concordia’s English department immediately after that was a total delight and an e-mail from Heather Zwicker in my inbox upon arriving home filled with such lovely compliments that I went to sleep smiling. This morning, it’s back to business. I have to write my letter of intent for my TA application, which is due later on today. I’ve done everything else for it: my letters of reference were sent directly, the English admin takes care of our transcripts and all we have to do is explain why we want to teach, what our areas of interest are, a brief word on any awards, publications or relevant experience we have with teaching, any ideas for classes etc.

Now, I should interject here. No one tells us what precisely the letter should include. I asked my classmates and friends in second year and the answers I received were varied: “it’s a formality”, “it’s a summary of you”, “it’s an advertisement”, “an elaboration on your resume” and so on. Cover letters are bloody hard: I hate promoting myself. It makes me feel sick if I do it in a way that comes off as arrogant or desperate. So, I find that if I can now write a letter of intent without sounding saccharine, self-aggrandizing or cocky, and make it somehow filled with personality instead, then I’m happy, or at least a little more comfortable with it. And I would like to think that is what might get me the grants and jobs that will prove necessary this new academic life of mine: personality and honesty.

I am out of bed by 7:30 and in work-mode by 8:00 with a mug of jasmine green tea and toast at hand. My little downtown apartment is quiet in the mornings and being on the ninth floor means it is flooded with sunlight. I spend twenty minutes responding to e-mails about Headlight, the magazine I am an editor for, about my sister’s wedding and about my potential summer job. That done, I open my application Word document and spend the next hour and fifteen minutes letting my tea go cold and the page fill up with my reasons for applying. Influential teachers, my love of communication and creative exploration. It comes slowly.

I would love an extra day or two to work on this. I turned twenty-five on Valentine’s Day and the weekend prior was thoroughly unproductive. Today is going to be busy for a Friday; no classes but we have a meeting for the Colloquium I am helping to organize and my boyfriend has to have an X-ray done. I recently started writing what is turning into a novella about voodoo and the secret lives of names and I would love to work on it at some point today, but I am not optimistic. My boyfriend wakes and joins me at 9: 20, makes more tea and struggles with his own application for a while. We eat granola and brood. Neither of us has teaching experience or much that we feel is relevant to a Teaching Assistantship and we contemplate our CVs of summer jobs and slender editing positions. He leaves for his X-ray at 10:00, in pain and annoyed. This has been a year of unprecedented medical drama for us. Long story short: damaged tongue, excruciating sciatica and issues with scoliosis for him while I have been having recurring back and hip issues from the two car accidents I was in a few years ago. I also may or may not have Crohn’s Disease. Eight pills a day and more visits to the hospital than I care for, no alcohol or coffee and frequent nausea and pain. Not how I wanted to enter grad school.

While my boyfriend is at the doctor’s office I eat a cold slice of vegan pizza from the night before as I complete my application. The pizza is succulent. My application isn’t. I’m not thrilled with the results but before I know it, my boyfriend arrives and brings 2:30 with him. I want tea but there isn’t time. We head to the Library building and spend the next few hours narrowing the Colloquium abstracts down from thirty-three to eighteen. The program lineup is going to be awesome but many of the choices are brutal and I can’t help but notice that things are going to get very busy, very soon. We manage to whittle it down to twenty-one and agree to read them over at home and decide on panels and line-up and such over the weekend. I meet with one of the Colloquium’s head organizers after the meeting has adjourned to discuss the poetry/fiction reading that I am co-planning that will be the conference’s big finish. I am blown away with how much I am responsible for and I feel a twinge of panic. I add that to-do list to my other ones.

It is 5:30 by the time we get back home, and I’m starving and sleepy. Our applications are in. We make a delicious pesto-pasta-tofu-swiss-chard dish and write for a while, me checking and writing email in regard to my job this summer, both of us picking away at essays-in-progress and drafts of our theses. I have yet to meet with my adviser this semester and I’m worried. I’ve barely managed to get submissions that I’m not ashamed of in on time for my fiction workshop, much less add to and work on the lone chapter that is my thesis project. Two friends of mine from the CW undergrad have been boasting via Facebook statuses that they’re half-way done of their novels so far. Christ. HOW? I close my windows and work for another hour or so.

I have to remind myself that I have written a few stories this year that I’m quite proud of and I’ve been published in two different Concordia publications. I’ve celebrated two and a half years with a man that I am more in love with than I ever thought possible, I’ve got a 3.8 GPA and still manage to see friends and maintain relationships. I’m getting my disease under control. This, I think, is massively important: to put the effort into making a life out of what you love, but also not treating every occurrence of pleasure as an indulgence, something to feel guilty for. For these reasons I let my boyfriend convince me to watch “Back to the Future” instead of delving into my “Reading Week To Do” list that will dominate the upcoming seven class-free days. Life is too short not to cuddle with the man you love and count how many times Michael J. Fox says “That’s heavy” or runs his hand through his hair. At 1:15 I curl up with the only book I am reading for pleasure this semester. I started it over Christmas and am only half way through, averaging two or three pages a week, if I’m lucky. I get through two before I feel the book slip through my hands and I give in to the compelling arguments of sleep. My alarm is set for 7:00. I’ll tackle those to do lists tomorrow.

Kathryn Pobjoy
Montreal, Quebec