mental health · resolution

Maintaining Momentum in … Serenity

You know that moment when you’re on vacation and it finally sinks in that you can relax, that life is not so bad, that, whatever happens around you and outside of your control, you’ve still got your health, your relationships, your friends, your family, your something or other? I know I’m making huge assumptions and generalizations here, and those things I’ve just enumerated and taken for granted amount to an enormous privilege, but–and it’s a big “but”–they’re not unheard of, nor impossible. Yes, that moment is what I want to think about more: perspective, serenity, optimism. How do you hang on to them if you’ve been so lucky to achieve them?

Anger at the current situation, righteous indignation at inflammatory rhetoric, and the chaos of regular work life: we’ve experienced them, exposed them, talked about them at length. They are productive affects for a period of time, but can we live with them in perpetuity? I know I can’t. I almost buckled under them and the pressures of a long, unrelenting Edmonton winter. Then I was lucky enough to go on vacation, where I managed to avoid email (gasp), shun Facebook (yes, it can be done), and circumvent Twitter (not a peep). And then came a day–the third one, more precisely–when I was completely and utterly happy, serene, and optimistic. I had it: perspective! And that was the peak, because the very next day? I began to worry. It was a meta-worry at first: a worry that anxiety will eventually begin to pile up again, take hold of my chest and constrict my airways. Needless to say, the fourth day was not the best. I lurched on Facebook, checked my email, and looked on Twitter. Not a good idea. That’s when the question struck me: how do I bottle the feeling of being at peace that I experienced on that third day, and bring it back with me? Hold on to it? Feed it, take care of it, and grow it?

I’ve heard–mostly in advertisements–that people make resolutions for new years. I make them on vacation, and they’re always the same: to maintain the momentum of my serenity; to remember to indulge in the unconditional love of my family; to keep in mind the important things, and to rejoice in their existence; to revel in optimism, in spite of its occasional cruelty. To breathe.

If you’re not like me, you can probably keep your perspective on you while immersed in your regular activities. Me? Routine kills my perspective. What I mean by “routine” is not really doing the same thing day after day, but staying in the same place, going to work, taking the kids to daycare and back. In brief: the daily grind. I need literal distance to gain perspective, and not just metaphorical one. But that literal distance is not always achievable, and not by everybody. So, how do you gain metaphorical distance? Or better yet, how do you maintain perspective, serenity, or whatever you want to call it, at the same time as living through the daily grind?

Some time ago, I had decided that I cannot live with in-betweenness for protracted periods of time. So, when I undertook to do my PhD, I decided that I will regard it as my job. Work at it more or less as a Monday-to-Friday nine-to-five occupation. It will be something I do, not who I am. As we were driving back home on Tuesday night on a sleepy and darkened Edmonton highway, kids asleep in their carseats, I realized I need to do the same for being on the job market. People say being on the job market is a full-time job, and they are right. So I will treat it as a job. I have been gaining experience, too, and that makes it easier. I will perform the tasks associated with applications as part of my duties, as part of my job, and hopefully it will make it easier. More detached. More serene.

resolution · self made homework

Dealing with February

I don’t know about you, but I am getting pretty tired of winter.

 I know that it is important to muster up the courage to try to enjoy the cold, the frozen fingers, the stiff cars, but as a commuter, the horrible road conditions and slippery parking lots are an extra cause of anxiety and frustration as I tend to arrive later to things that I plan. I am not outside as much, and you better believe I have not been on top of taking my Vitamin D. Like many others, I feel my resolve to become a better, stronger, smarter, more engaged and interesting person slip by the wayside as I feel my way through the fog of winter.

This is where I try to work out a system to keep my resolutions for 2013 fresh, interesting and achievable. On a wickedly cold night over the Christmas holidays, I sat myself down and crafted a vision board of what I wanted 2013 to look like. Some things on my list is to finally learn how to use the fancy camera I received a couple Christmas’s ago, to read more for pleasure, to run a marathon, etc.

A little patch of my board – the rip was caused by my car accident over the holidays and I felt compelled to leave it there to leave a dark overcast of possible doom looming over my plans. 

As I enter the second month of resolutions, I found I needed to make them quantifiable. Each month, I take a brief look at what I have done and make a plan for what I want to accomplish in February. Harnessing my slightly OCD compulsion for organization, I make a list of what I want to be done by the end of each month. [Nothing like self made homework].

Regardless, setting a system in place to achieve my goals helps me deal with winter monotony and reminds me that warmer months are ahead.

What are you doing to keep your goals in sight?

feminism · politics · resolution · saving my sanity

Remind me I’m a feminist

A few weeks ago, I completely forgot about the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. My forgetting was of course short lived as my numerous social media feeds started trending with memorial posts, but the point is, for a very brief few moments, I completely forgot about the anniversary, about the event, about violence against women…

In discussing this with friends, a few of them joked that what every good feminist needs is an email reminder that they are a feminist. Maybe an online service [www.remind_me_i’] that would compile all of the important dates and events and send out email alerts and news digests.

The darkly comical element here is that one shouldn’t need reminding. Our feminist consciousness should never be that far away. And yet, sometimes we will it into the background. I am sure I am not the only feminist out there that has had her friends complain about a propensity to make every social event/pub night/movie outing into some kind of “feminist thing.” My powers of feminist observation are never far from being unleashed at any given time and place. However, I have also learnt to choose my battles, and that not every event welcomes such politics. This has been a hard lesson to learn, and I’ve definitely alienated a few friends and family members who – for their own reasons – are not particularly enthused by feminist politics.

What I am trying to come to terms with is the difference between “choosing my battles” and forgetting them. There is a certain social convenience that comes with overlooking our feminist politics. What dates like December 6th (or horrific events like the shooting of Malala, or protests like Chief Spence’s hunger strike) reinforce is that the personal needed to become political for very good reasons. Our feminist foremothers knew what they were on about. It may seem easiest at times to push aside our politics for the sake of our everyday sanity, but it is in the everyday that these politics are most profound – in the fight to go to school, to walk the streets unharassed, and  to live with dignity in a safe, warm, and permanent home.

I’m resolving to re-engage with my everyday feminist politics. To remember more forcefully that the personal is political.

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? 
feminist win · openness · resolution · sexist fail

The Month in Review

If I recall what I learned in elementary school March is fabled to come in like a lion and out like a lamb. While I have vaguely fond memories of making construction paper lions and cotton ball covered lambs to adorn our class bulletin board, I also remember fretting: what if March came in like a lamb and left like a lion? Worse, what if March came in like a lion and left like one too?

Perhaps my grade-four self was already preparing for the academic life, where March in Canada equals not March break but mid-terms, final papers, and the downhill screaming roller coaster ride that takes us to the end of the semester. Or, possibly, I was just showing early signs of being a worry-wart.

March makes big, lovely promises. One step forward into spring. But March is difficult. Two steps back. Today’s post is a partial review of the month of March.

Last week ended on a high note. It is no secret that Stephen Harper has been no ally of the women of Canada. Among his administrations most egregious actions is the attempt to silence Sisters in Spirit. Inform yourself, and make the effort to get out and vote.

Mid-month we had a guest post by Shannon Dea that was picked up by and garnered Shannon’s post and this site more than 10,000 views in a day. Unfortunately Shannon’s post is about the lack of institutional attention given to a hate campaign that is being waged agains the women of U Waterloo.

There’ve been submissions to This Month In Sexism’s email account as well. Here are some of them:

-Recently the University Librarian at McMaster organized an important agenda setting symposium on the “Future of Academic Libraries.” Of a possible 21 speakers, in the initial lineup 3 were women – the rest men. Egregious in any context, but particularly insulting given that, according to CAUT statistics, a walloping 73% of Canadian academic librarians are women. Adding insult to injury, librarian bloggers who called out the organizers on the omission were accused of being disingenuous, “rattling the cage” and reverse sexism. You can read blog entries about it here and here (note the comments).

At a required professional development conference, one of our reader watched a male administrator cut off, completely misunderstand, and then talk over a female instructor who was trying to ask a legitimate question. The morning of the conference thing was devoted to administrators (predominantly male) telling us about their jobs and what they are doing to supposedly help us (but really, it was about how we needed to do better), and then the afternoon was devoted to the (mostly) female instructors (all instructors, not one of us on the tenure-track) talking about what we did in the classroom. Not one administrator stayed for our presentations. Not. One.

On the other hand, Heather has been writing about her experience of applying for promotion on the basis of teaching excellence. Read her posts closely, they offer templates for crucial, positive institutional change.

Further, some readers have found a moment to share some really positive personal accomplishments!

But then, as guest poster Katherine Binhammer documents, some things haven’t changed.

So where does that leave us? Putting one foot in front of the other purposefully, I’d say. Onward with a roar!
copper-bottomed bitch · intolerant shrew · reflection · resolution · skeptical feminist

And a Happy New Year, Too

As always, my husband read over the draft of my post before I put it in queue to be published. “Um, Aimée?” he began, delicately, “I think people are going to fight with you.”

It might surprise you to know that I have actually written an article on conflict management in personal blogging (under review! At New Media and Society! October 2010!) and that I’m an expert on the building and maintenance of trust relationships online (Volume 4, Issue 2! Cyberpsychology: A Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace!). Because, inadvertently, I started a minor flame war. Now, in the new year, I don’t want to rehash or re-light, but to consider the process of how we frame our ideas, and how we can disagree with each other with goodwill.

In hindsight, I can see that including the phrase “wanna make something of it?” in a post title is obviously a little combative, but I imagined that readers would see me as I saw myself, comically swinging my oversized red mittens in useless little circles and saying ‘pow! pow!’ while dancing about on my tiptoes. And commenters who know me in real life picked up this tone, probably because they know me in real life: that’s how I speak, and they have the context for that. (In this category, please include SC, Joanne Wallace, and Claire, as well as, of course, Heather.) To others I can see that the text may read aggressive. That’s my bad. Arianna’s comment helped clarify that for me, and I appreciate the holiday wishes with which she closed her comment–thank you, Arianna.

Some commenters prompted me to become more subtle in my thinking. Geetabix offered a useful and interesting personal story: thank you for that. Jana distinguishes between individual and institutional practices, in a way I didn’t do, and she’s right: thanks, Jana. I feel that I have benefited from the thoughtfulness each of you exhibited, and I’m grateful.

Other people outright disagreed with me, but not unpleasantly. SC supports my own practice, while articulating one totally different from it: I appreciate the care that you have used in respecting my position, SC, while disagreeing with it! Thank you, also, to those other readers who couched their negative comments in careful wording: thank you jroselkin for noting that what you read in the post might not be what I have intended, and for noting as well that you mostly like the blog. Jordana did this too. You all modeled a generosity of spirit I want to bring with me into the new year.

Heather, using conflict management strategies I discourse on at some length in my article, deflates the conflict with humour: how do I find time to bake? (Easy: my sister and I do it together–multiple batches of 7 recipes, over one 12 hour day, where her oldest kid minds my only kid.) Claire, too, focused on the baking, probably to cool things down. Humour and re-direction are time-honoured mommy-blogging conflict containment strategies, you should know! We must be becoming a community! Joanne just offered hearty well-wishes, probably to raise my spirits. From my hear, I appreciate the emotional labour you each expended to raise my morale, to maintain relationships and to build community here.

A couple of comments, though, attacked me personally. I have received emails from my friends, commiserating, and asking after my feelings. Let me be perfectly honest here: these comments made me cry. After a couple of weeks of dread whenever a comment popped up in my email, I’ve regained my equanimity and can only say: ad hominem is a logical fallacy. I would let this go unremarked but this space is really important to me so I ask: does vituperation maybe prevent other readers, perhaps more marginally situated than I am, but members of this community nevertheless, from feeling safe to participate if participating might mean disagreeing with a prevailing view?

In any case, let me close with this: Happy new year to all of you, and best wishes for a continued, various, multivocal conversation here at Hook and Eye. I hope we all feel safe and respected in articulating our ideas and our beliefs: I do. We may not always agree with each other–God, I hope we don’t always all agree with each other–but this blog has by and large been a very positive experience for me, and, I hope, for you.