good things · perpetual crush · self care · style matters · you're awesome

Jump in!

jumping

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(with huge thanks to Leigh and Michele for agreeing to let me write about our conversation)

Last week, I went to an amazing conference and I admit that one of the many, many highlights was a moment of sartorial sisterhood between one of my totally fabulous co-panelists, Leigh, and me. The panel was done and we stood up, looked at each other, and she said something like, “Nice jumpsuit.” I don’t really know exactly what she said because I had been so busy admiring her jumpsuit. We were in on the same not-so-secret secret: jumpsuits are awesome.

Hers was blue. Mine was black. Hers was more structured. Mine was a little more flowy. Hers didn’t have a belt. Mine did. But, really, it was the ways in which they were the same that mattered. The top was attached to the bottom. Somewhere (in a place usually apparent only to the wearer) there is a zipper. It’s never all that obvious how one gets into one of these things and that, I think, is just one of their many advantages.

More on the advantages in a sec. Let me first get right into what you – if you are not already a jumpsuit convert – are probably already thinking. What about when you need to go the bathroom? Isn’t it a huge bother?

I know. I thought that too. It was the main reason why I resisted for so long. But here’s the thing. It’s not a bad thing to be forced to think ahead a little about when you might need to go. I know you’ve been there. You’re in office hours and the students are lined up down the hall and all of a sudden you have to run to teach or go to a meeting, or you’re writing and you don’t want to stop, or you’re at a conference and listening to mind-blowing papers and you can’t imagine slipping out of the room and missing anything you think you’ll just wait till the break but then the break comes and you end up talking to people you really like and then it’s time for the plenary…  and you remember, too late, that you actually really needed two, three, four, heck maybe even five minutes for yourself somewhere in all of that rushing around. Leigh described actually hopping on one foot by the time she got home at the end of the day because what had been discomfort had verged into crisis. She tells me her husband says, Why do you do this to yourself?

How many days have you had where you were so busy that you didn’t have time to find a bathroom? Let’s not do this to ourselves.

Leigh put it perfectly when she told me that the jumpsuit has taught her a kind of self-care. It forces her to stop and check in with herself about some pretty basic needs. It forces her not to wait until discomfort becomes crisis. It forces her not to do this to herself.

Michele, another conference attendee, overheard this conversation and immediately pulled out her phone to show us a picture of a jumpsuit that her partner bought for her at the very same moment that she had liked it on insta. We paused to celebrate how all these jumpsuit-stars were aligning and Michele pointed out that she likes jumpsuits because they reminded her of a kind of futurism (think: astronauts, star trek). Okay, yes!

Here’s my vote for the jumpsuit as the uniform of feminist futurism. Jump on in. The future is fine.

 

advice · book · dissertation · self care · writing

From Dissertation to Book – Part I: The Break

It’s been about a month since I submitted the final, revised version of my dissertation, and I haven’t looked at it since. My committee and I talked a lot about what my plans were for the dissertation prior to the defence: what presses I should think about pitching it to, if I should go trade or academic, who we know at the various presses and how that might be an advantage in crafting a proposal. But since submission? Nada. My cursor hasn’t even strayed toward the file.

I’ve done plenty else in the meantime. As Catherine Ayres notes, at the bottom of the PhD cliff lies all the stuff you’ve been putting off in the dash to submission, and oh man is that true. I’ve submitted the manuscript for a book of poetry I’m editing, started laying the groundwork for a new advice column series for another publication, ordered new business cards with my new title on them, and registered for CAGS. I’ve taken off the dissertation blinders and made a looooong list of all of the projects I’ve been putting off that are going to keep me busy this winter around our very old and very high-maintenance house.

After five years of thinking and writing about a single project every day, purposefully ignoring my dissertation feels wrong. It is, however, precisely the right thing to do right now. I have zero chill when it comes to my dissertation. I am both its biggest cheerleader and its biggest critic. Neither of those perspectives are conducive to frankly and honestly assessing its flaws and strengths with an aim to revision, nor are they useful for doing the kind of strategic assessment that is necessary in order to convince a press that this is a book they want to publish because it fills a market need, might make them some money, and will help burnish their reputation.

But because not doing something I feel like I should be doing is the surest road to amping up my anxiety levels, I’ve made “take a productive break” the official first step in my dissertation-to-book process. I’ve also tried to plan a break that is purposeful, productive, and prescribed in length. I’m giving myself a full term, until the end of 2016, and then I’m back at it. I’m also doing things in the meantime to help me move forward in the monograph publishing process even as I don’t properly start it, things like:

  • getting to work on another long writing project (fiction this time!) so that I’m maintaining my writing schedule, continuing to refine my style, practicing my ability to write engaging and accessible prose, and continually reinforcing those hard-won pathways in my brain that connect writing and revising with feeling good and accomplished
  • doing some preliminary market research — what presses are publishing work similar to mine? what professors are teaching books like mine? Is there a significant non-academic audience? Who do I know who has a BookNet account and can run me sales reports on similar titles?
  • starting to collect resources on the dissertation-to-book process so that I have a trove of advice at my fingertips whenever I need it
  • pulling together a bunch of successful book proposals that I’ve either worked on in my freelance life or have solicited from friends and colleagues so that I have a model to work from when it comes time to write my own
  • reading and rereading books that are similar to what mine will become–Sandra Djwa’s Journey with No Maps, Rosemary Sullivan’s Stalin’s Daughter, Frank Davey’s aka bpNichol–so that I can start teasing apart what makes them work and what ideas I can borrow when it comes time to craft a plan for revisions
But mostly I’m doing other things–cooking, running, spending time with my people–in an effort to relax, reset, and get some perspective. It feels good. I’m hopeful that if nothing else, by the end of the year it will have sunk in that I did indeed finish, defend, and submit a dissertation. That would be a good start!
guest post · self care · theory and praxis · women and sport

Women, Academia, Sport: Lake Theory and Sweaty Praxis

In the summer of 2012 my friend L and I packed up our laptops and our books and her dog and a four-week supply of nutritional yeast and headed to the lake to write our dissertations.
L’s family owns a cabin in the country north of Belleville, “lakeland rockland and hill country.” You travel to it by driving north a ways, and then getting into an old motor boat, riding low in the water with the weight of your food and your books and your dog, and navigating some depths and some shallows until you arrive at the cantilevered dock (a new dock, still a topic of conversation around the lake) and walk your things up the hill to the cabin bag by bag. You have to bring your water in, too, because the lake water’s no good for drinking, though it’s fine for dishes if you boil it first. The cabin has electricity to charge the laptops, enough cell reception for emergencies if you stand at the end of the dock and hold your phone over your head, a hot plate and a barbeque and endless spells of perfect silence. It has everything you need to write a dissertation.
This is how our days went: whenever the sun woke us up, we’d head downhill to the lake in a towel for the first swim of the day. Swimsuits weren’t really necessary on weekdays, when the lake was ours. Once we were both up, we’d put on shorts and sports bras, plug an iPod into a mini battery-powered speaker we could bring down to the dock, set up our yoga mats, and prepare for our morning two-person gym class. We took turns leading warm ups, core, legs, arms, pushing each other harder, laughing at the absurdity of our lunges and high kicks on a long dock jutting serenely into the smooth lake, sometimes waving at bewildered boaters or ignoring the questions of curious swimmers. When the workout was over and we’d cooled down with another plunge into the lake, the writing day would begin, on the dock if the weather was fine, in the cabin if it was too blustery.
I have never written so happily in my life, there in the woods, when I cured writer’s block not by checking my email but by jumping in the lake for a few minutes, feeling the water on my skin, swimming out far enough that I could float on my back and not see the shore. There, in the woods, in the lake, the solitariness of writing felt not isolating but exactly right.
It’s harder, these days, to get to the lake. For one thing, I live in Alberta now, where lakes are few and far between. For another thing, I’m a half country away from L and R, the women with whom I joyfully sweated my way through my PhD. I’m a full-time instructor now, and the days are longer and less my own, and sometimes it feels like doing my job well means doing everything else poorly, my relationships as much as my self-care, however loaded and compromised and commodified a term that is.  
This is a common refrain: how academia takes us away from our bodies, takes us out of our bodies.
But, as hard as this particular moment is, I stand behind the claim that academia—that some parts of academia—gave my body back to me.
I have been more or less fat my entire life, and like many high-achieving fat girls, threw myself into schoolwork out of an awareness that this was a venue in which my aberrant, undisciplined body would be, if not accepted, then tacitly ignored. And ignore it I did, through my undergrad and masters, with the exception of a few depressing diets and the occasional stint at solitary, disciplinary gym-going. But the deep dive into academic living that was the PhD brought me two discoveries.
First, fat theory, via feminist and queer theory, gave me the conceptual tools to reclaim the pleasures of my fat body. Theory became a foundation upon which I could build both my joy and my furious resistance, something that could ground me back into myself as a body, writing. Second, the isolation and monotony of the dissertation pushed me to build a community of women with whom to enact that pleasure, to make that theory into a sweaty praxis.

I miss the lake. I miss the community I left behind. But I get to carry with me the body those years gave back to me. It’s not always going to be a strong or fit body, it’s not always going to be a “well” body, but it will always be my body, so long as I can feel the lake water on my skin.
 
Hannah McGregor  makes a Harry Potter podcast called Witch, Please, sings in an all women’s barbershop chorus, and has a cat named Al Purrdy. In her spare time, she’s an instructor in English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta and director of Modern Magazines Project Canada. Her research focuses on Canadian literature and culture with an emphasis on middlebrow literary production, periodical studies, and digital humanities. 
guest post · self care · shifting perspectives · women and sport

Women, Academia, Sport: Why I Do This

It’s 4 am, and I have been lying on a cot in the aid station for the last 90 minutes.

A thick wool blanket is pulled over my head for warmth, my right hand clutches a slice from a still-fresh French baguette, and my left holds a water bottle filled with what I can only describe as stomach-turningly sweet liquid.

I am 22 hours into this ultramarathon through Alps (53.5 miles, I remind myself for encouragement), and I calculate that the remaining 21 miles are likely to take me around 9 hours.
I don’t think that I have it in me.

Ultramarathons (or “ultras,” as we call them) are not for the faint of heart. Defined as any footrace longer than a marathon (which is 26.2 miles), ultras are everywhere these days—on roads, on trails, in the desert, and, in my case, through the mountains.
My race is part of a weeklong festival of races around Mont Blanc, all of which end in iconic Chamonix. Mine, called the Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (or TDS for short), starts in Courmayeur, Italy, traveling through the statuesque French Alps to finish at the foot of Mont Blanc. A 75-mile race, TDS also boasts 7300 meters of climbing (and 7300 meters of descending) over technical terrain, which have slowed me to a near crawl.

 

When I tell my work friends about the race, one of the most common replies is “75 miles?! I don’t even drive that far!” Quickly followed by, “why in the world would you want to do this?”
I usually chuckle. And then I start explaining about how I love the mountains and how I love that feeling of being part of them. I love the feeling of strength I get from the training, like I can tackle anything that comes before me. I love the silence in my mind and the space from my worries. I love the metronome of my late afternoon runs—slipping away from my perch on the 20th floor of the SickKids research tower and from my pursuit to decipher the intricate workings of the cell; sliding through the rush-hour crowds as I make my way north on Bay; cresting the final hill in the Brickworks to look back to downtown Toronto, alight with the setting sun. I love coming back to my lab on the dark, now-quiet streets, and how my thoughts, effervescent, now skip and dance beside me.
I love the humility races like this demand. I love the challenge. And I love that I have to prove myself each time, that nothing is guaranteed.
What I don’t tell my friends is that, however hard they think ultras are, it doesn’t come close to the reality. The drip, drip, drip of your thoughts betraying you. Your legs begging you to stop. The hours and miles stretching before you, seemingly endless. Each race, each time you push the body for this long, is a new struggle with your mind. Ultras can strip away all of those superficial reasons for running, penetrating to the very core of your being. With every mile,—and, later, with every tenth of a mile,—races like TDS demand the real answer to the question of why.
At some point, if you’re going to finish, you need to speak to the demons.
But, as I lie in my cot, if I’m entirely honest with myself, even with three years of ultra-running experience, even though I’ve finished TDS before, this is the very question I’m asking myself. Why should I keep going? The excuses start running again. It’s going to be hours until I finish. I’ve already done over 50 miles. I’m tired. My blister hurts. I’ve been nauseous for the entire night. I want to brush my teeth! I want my pyjamas! I would stamp my foot in frustration if I could. I have so far to go. So many more hours of pain. This is hard. I don’t want to.
That’s it, though, that’s the rub. I don’t want to, but I know that I can.
There are no fireworks in this thought, no epic narratives. It’s just the simple knowledge that I can still put one foot in front of the other. That there is still enough time to finish.
How can I meet the eyes of my husband, my mom, my friends if I stop when I could have kept going? How can I repay all of their support—their emails and texts and far-flung love—by just failing to get out of a warm cot? After all, isn’t running 75 miles in the Alps supposed to be hard? Isn’t that the point?
A half-hour has passed. Still foggy, I sit up and gingerly put on my pack. I stand. My legs ache.
“Better?” the nurse asks.
“A bit,” I reply. I try to smile. “Enough.”
“Bravo, Olivia. Courage.”
I walk out the tent. The mountains behind me are silent, and their dark silhouettes mysterious against the star-filled sky.
Turning on my headlamp, I walk into the night.

Olivia S. Rissland is a Scientist at the SickKids Research Institute and Assistant Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto. Her lab works on understanding how cells decode their genomes. A recent transplant to Canada, she enjoys exploring the ravines in Toronto and taking photos of her cat.
academic reorganization · kinaesthetic thinking · self care · women and sport

Women, Academia, Sport: I Dance Therefore I Am

The famed ballet choreographer George Balanchine once said, “I don’t want dancers who want to dance. I want dancers who have to dance.”
I have to dance. I do not think I could manage school, or much of anything else in fact, without dance. Unlike Erin, who calls herself a kinaesthetic thinker, I dance to get away from my thoughts and out of my head. Dance is the only thing I have ever found – except perhaps film – that allows me this reprieve. And as someone who struggles with anxiety, depression, and perfectionism, it is both a welcome and necessary reprieve.

I said I would dance anywhere. That includes near Parliament Hill!

When I talk about dance, unless I am referring specifically to my time inside a studio rehearsing a piece or working on my technique, I am usually speaking about improvisation. Though I enjoy these other aspects of dance, and recognize they are necessary to expanding my control over my body, and consequently, my ability to express myself as limitlessly as possible, I find the most solace in improvisation. Give me a dark room and some music, and my body takes care of the rest.

I will dance just about anywhere – from airports to parking lots, to between bookshelves in the library, in my room, and, of course, at dance studios. When I begin to panic and feel like my world is spiralling out of control, getting up and starting to move, with or without music, in any space, grounds me in my body. As someone whose mind is usually either stuck ruminating on the past, or else is speeding off into the future, dance draws me back into the present. I have been filled by some of the purest joy while dancing, but have also turned to dance when I am too numb to feel anything else. I often process my emotions, or at least allow myself room to feel them, through dance.
Ironically, I have both school and my perfectionism to thank for my years of training. Upon realizing that dance classes were perhaps the only things that would keep me from studying, over time, my parents gradually gave in to more classes, more workshops, and more competitions – anything to get me away from my textbooks. It was even thanks to my grade eight math teacher that I ended up at my high school where I studied dance. My parents were anxious to get his advice during a parent-teacher interview on where I might thrive most after middle school. As the story goes, he ignored their questions about IB and gifted programs, and instead asked if they had considered letting me go to an arts high school for dance. I have felt indebted to him ever since.
I have on occasion attempted to bring my love of dance into the classroom, and not infrequently use it as a frame of reference when trying to grasp new concepts. When we talk about gender roles, my mind inevitably turns to the tradition of ballet, which firmly relegates males and females to different choreographic parts[1]. When we discuss sexualisation, my thoughts turn to the alarming sexualisation of young children – mainly female – at dance competitions. When my sociology of education classes feel hopeless, I try to think back to my experiences of attending an arts high school, and I am reminded that there are alternative ways of approaching education.
I had a field day with my first aesthetics class in philosophy. I leaped at the opportunity to relate every assignment back to dance, which eventually led to me taking on an independent study on the aesthetics of dance. Though I enjoyed the independent study, I quickly realized that dance for me exists outside of the realm of the written word. My professor pointed out that my papers were riddled with unsubstantiated claims – but everyone can dance! We are born dancers! – and I learned that having the privilege to experience dance is enough for me. I do not want to try to capture something so elusive, magical in its nebulousness. Scrutiny can undermine sanctity. 
This summer my psychologist told me to make a list of all of my commitments I had signed up for during the school year. She instructed me to choose three to keep for certain, and to rank the rest in order of how much they would increase my stress and decrease the quality of my work. I tried to argue that my dance classes should not count as one of the three guaranteed commitments, because, like Gillian, who makes time for roller derby despite her packed schedule, dance is a given in my life. I simply don’t function without it. I take as many dance classes as I can, and have taught and choreographed dance for years. When I am asked what I do for fun (the list is scant), I sometimes forget to list dance because it is such an integral part of my life and identity that I do not see it as a hobby.
When I improvise, I feel seen, known, and understood. Improvising leaves no room to premeditate, no time to plan, curate, or refine the image you want to portray. This stands in stark contrast to my imposter syndrome and general insecurity, both of which cause me to feel like I am constantly “faking it”, and have yet to be found out for the (inadequate, terrible) person I really am. Being able to return to my body and know that embedded within it is an authentic version of myself is a blessing. Further, no one has ever been able to figure out why I approach everything in my life but dance with unceasing perfectionism. Somehow I have managed to reserve this one space in which I am allowed to simply be, and to enjoy myself. Though this is not the case for many dancers, especially those attempting to make a professional career out of dance and often those studying ballet, I am thankful to say my dance remains perfectionism-free.

Throwback to high school.
If you read this, and thought to yourself, “I wish I could dance,” please know that you can. Everyone can dance. I truly believe it is only socialized inhibitions, and perhaps in some cases, the limits and abilities of our bodies, that prevent us from dancing as we age. So turn off the lights and turn on your favourite song. And if you have a child and the means to do so, consider enrolling them in a dance class. You never know, you or they might just be someone who has to dance too.
 
My dance playlist is always evolving, but here are some songs that have stuck with me over the years (as well as a few that I am enjoying too much right now not to include).
Caroline Kovesi is a fourth year student at Mount Allison University. She is pursuing an Honours Bachelor of Arts in sociology with a minor in philosophy. She is passionate about de-stigmatizing mental health. Her academic work often focuses on the intersection of mental illness, disability, accessibility, and higher education. She recently started a blog exploring such topics called “for the love of a bear.”


[1] There are, though, some pretty fantastic ballet troupes beginning to play with gender bending, like Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Check this video out.
accomodation · balance · best laid plans · self care · winter

Sick Days

A few days ago, I went to work sick.
I was not so sick that I couldn’t get out of bed. But I wanted to stay in bed.
I was not so sick that I couldn’t get dressed. But I didn’t want to get dressed.
I was not so sick that I did not stay up past midnight the night before finishing my lecture. But I should not have finished it.
I was not so sick that I couldn’t go to work. But I should not have done it.
I can only say that now that I have completely failed to be sensible. Of course, I went to campus. Of course, I delivered my brilliant lecture noting that it was made more brilliant by the halo of rainbows that seemed to wobble in and out of the periphery of each powerpoint slide. Of course, I stayed on campus after teaching and kept all of my appointments.
Of course, I dragged my sorry self home at the end of a long day and wondered why I did that to myself.
You have totally done this too. Don’t even try to pretend otherwise.
I wonder now why I did not take Sheila Heti’s excellent advice. Heti reminds us that it is especially important to take a sick day right before you are really, really sick:
I recommend being sick in bed especially when you are not that sick. When you are seriously knocked out, eyes crusted over, sneezing nonstop, it’s hard to have life-changing epiphanies. The sick days we must take advantage of are those when it’s just a simple cold. The days when, if we pushed ourselves, we could get out of bed; the days when all it would take is a shower to make us feel 70 percent better. Those are exactly the days we should choose to be sick in bed. You still have your brain; you’re not aching all over. You just need to take things slower.
Heti’s recommendations are so gentle, and so right, that you should just, if you have not already done so, read the whole thing yourself. But, for now, let me draw out few things in particular. First, note the reference to life-changing epiphanies in the above passage. For Heti, being sick in bed, ideally, is a chance to pause and arrive at illumination of some kind. It is not just about lying there, buried in tissues, hoping that the meds will kick in soon so that they rest of the day can be spent in sweet oblivion. Although that would be nice too.
I thought about the times when I have been sick in bed. I have never been as wise as Heti. I have only been sick in bed when I have been really, really, really sick. In a hospital. Once, that happened the year before I came up for tenure. I was sick for a while. Months. I came out of that with a tremendous sense of gratitude for the friends who saw me through, but also with a wonderfully recalibrated attitude towards getting tenure. After being very sick, and then no longer being sick, I came to the realization that I was pretty awesome generally, and pretty awesome at my job specifically, and that any tenure and promotion committee would have to be blind not to see that. I also finished my book in four months. I had been sitting on that thing for over four years before that. It took getting sick and forcing myself to only read murder mysteries and trashy magazines for many months to kick my ass in gear. I can say now that I did not do it because I was afraid I would not get tenure. It’s hard to believe, but that honestly was not the motivation. I did it because I had been very sick and then I was not and I realized that I should just finish that thing. Not because it was my life’s work or anything like that. Just because it was something I should do.  
There is no logic to any of this. It’s just how it went down. I’m not even sure it was a life-changing epiphany. It felt much more prosaic.
I think back to that now and I wonder why I put myself through that. Maybe I could have just done it after being a little bit sick?
That is the second thing that I wanted to draw out from Heti’s essay. She suggests that the best sick days are the ones where you are not really all that sick. How hard it is to really take that wisdom to heart, to know to push the pause button just before the full-blown fevered climax. That this is the real trick.
And this trick is connected to the third and final piece of tender wisdom that I want to sit with. “Why,” she asks, “is it so hard to stop doing, to just rest?”
Although Heti connects this question to the need to value unproductivity simply for its own sake, in my case, there is also some unthinking machismo involved. I’m not saying it is like that for you. I am just owning up to the ridiculousness of the way that I man up.
Last fall, I had a bike accident. I flew over the handlebars and my chin bore the brunt of the fall. I was really lucky. There was a lull in traffic so there were no cars around me right at that moment. I had my helmet on. I was not going fast. So I was a bit banged up, and cut my chin up enough to need some stitches, but I was otherwise ok. Still, I couldn’t really open my mouth without pain (hello, stitches). Did I go into class the next day and lecture for two hours? Yep. Did I run my tutorial after, wincing the whole time? Yep? Did I refuse to cancel any of my appointments? Yep. Did anybody make me do that? Nope. Would my teaching or any of the other parts of my job have been compromised if I had just called in sick and stayed in bed, mouth shut, drinking smoothies and reading murder mysteries and trashy magazines? Nope. Was I an idiot? Yep.
Am I writing this right now while still sick? Yep.
Am I ever going to learn? I really hope so. And if I don’t, I hope you do. Do you feel a little sick? Don’t man up. Keep your jammies on. Stay in bed.
collaboration · free time · grad school · phdchat · self care

Structure for Structureless Schedules

As many of you know, grad school can be frustratingly amorphous. Contra most of my cobloggers, it seems, my schedule isn’t jam-packed, and I have few daily structural commitments–though many responsibilities, some of them paralyzingly huge. While some people thrive without a pre-ordained schedule, I’m someone who needs it: I dwell more comfortably within the parameters of appointments, responsibilities, deadlines, and course slots. So as we enter into a new year and a new term, I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve developed for a) carving out my own structure; b) allowing myself some flexibility and compassion within this structure; and c) caring for myself as a human being who requires community and a life outside academia.

1. Maintaining a dissertation completion schedule: years ago, my supervisor made me create a schedule for writing my entire dissertation. From its home in GoogleDocs, that document has been repeatedly revised and updated, but since the diss is the most gargantuan yet nebulous component of the entire graduate experience, it’s nice to have a skeleton framework for the whole–and a reminder that it someday will end. 

2. Keeping a daily research journal: “Daily” is a bit of an exaggeration, let’s be honest, but when I do keep up with sketching out my accomplishments, however big or small, at the end of each day, it makes me feel like I’m moving forward. I prefer a physical journal, because it allows flexibility for doodling, noting down useful references, or writing out a research phrase that I want to keep at the forefront of my mind as I work. Or, er, screaming silently at myself. 

You could also choose to keep a running list of accomplishments and breaks throughout the day, as featured in this inspiring IG by @empathywarrior:

3. Keeping an agenda: Again, I like keeping a physical one, because I enjoy any chance not to look at a screen, but here I write down appointments, deadlines, and sketch out broad weekly goals. Week-at-a-glance type stuff.  

4. Creating an online boot camp:  Over the summer, I coordinated a collaborative online “Dissertation Boot Camp,” based on the Spring Break Dissertation Boot Camp my colleague Christy Pottroff blogged about here. We opted for a shared Google Doc, and the idea was to set macro-goals for the summer and the week and micro-goals for the day, posting and celebrating our accomplishments as we went along. The instructions recommended maintaining constant communication, and acting as cheerleaders for one another, developing healthy online accountability. While I found the exercise valuable overall, I’d have to say that it perhaps worked better as a Spring Break rather than an Entire Summer thing: out of nine of us, by end of August only….a few were still actively posting, and the document also became very long and unwieldy, extending to over 50 pages, making it difficult for us to keep up with one another’s progress. But I’m sure improvements in format/medium could be made, and I would certainly try this again.  

5. Creating an online hangout camp: Branching off of Boot Camp, fellow H&E-er Jana and I now use Wikispaces to keep an online goal-setter, where we update each other on a weekly or biweekly basis on intentions and progress. We have a longstanding rapport, so we can be perfectly comfortable with each other; generally, we tend to mix personal and professional, blabbing about our personal lives and venting about other challenges we’re facing even as we’re trying to crank out that chapter draft. 

Other possibilities for this point include: forming small Twitter groups who check in with each other spontaneously to see who is around and up for working for short sprints, Pomodoro-style (I was part of one such group for awhile, I think we sort of dissolved…); creating a secret or invite-only group Facebook page for people who want to track each other’s progress (ditto the last parentheses…). 

5. Finally, I highly recommend the good ol’ fashioned personal diary. Not as explicitly about goal-setting, I guess, but one of my major problems is distraction: I’m reading a book on Peter of Cornwall, but thinking about a particularly upsetting episode of Transparent, or a disagreement I had earlier with my friend. My diary helps me compartmentalize (much as I enjoy the intermixing of work/life stuff, as above), and to channel some of my daily interpersonal drama into a safe, private, nonjudgmental space. Occasionally work stuff creeps into my journal, of course, such as goals or reflections, but its primary purpose is the nonacademic, the things I can’t voice in my many other outlets of professional expression. Additionally, I think keeping a diary has helped me become a more fluid, expressive writer.

As you can tell, I’m a little goal-obsessed oriented. If I go through periods when I’m not listing, that probably corresponds with reduced mental health: I’m feeling unmoored and directionless, perhaps having trouble getting out of bed in the morning.

And how about you, dear readers? Any further tips you have for setting and maintaining goals?

Aaaand now I can go record in my research journal that I finished drafting up some thoughts and ideas for my next Hook & Eye post, five days early!

Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

-from Joan Didion, “On Keeping a Notebook”
academic reorganization · Audre Lorde · Sara Ahmed · self care · women

Self-Care As Radical Feminist Praxis

Self-care as self-preservation. That’s how Audre Lorde cast her own fierce fidelity to caring for herself, her feelings, and her thinking in the face of racism, misogyny, and, in her own body, cancer.

Self-care as feminism. That’s how Sara Ahmed thinks through Audre Lorde‘s writing to address and give voice to the ways in which systemic oppressions act on bodies, accrete in spirits, and chip away at the soul. 

Self-care as feminism and community building. That’s Ahmed thinking through Lorde, too. Self-care not as a kind of selfishness or self-obsession, but as a voicing and spacing; as a forging of voice and space for those voices that are delegitimized, devalued, effaced, and drowned out by racism, misogyny, and the isolationism of our neoliberal moment.

Self-care as radical feminist praxis. That’s how I read Ahmed reading Lorde. Self-care as a drawing in, as a meditation, as a looking to yourself and, when you have time and room and are refueled, a looking to others; and attending. A being present.

Self-care not as narcissism, but as affirmation: I deserve to be in this world, this country, this city, this community, this institution, this classroom, this legislature, this street. 

Self-care as reorientation, of my own attention and my ability to attend to others.

Self-care as breath, writes Aimée, on the first of a series of posts we will be writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vitae.

Self-care as radical feminist generosity. Self-care as world-making. Self-care as a crucial step in solidarity. 

Take care, readers. Take time. Take it in. Regroup. Gather, find or forge warmth. Be generous with yourselves and with others. There is so much feminist work to be done.