good things · health · sabbatical · summer

We Need It

Because, by the end of the semester, despite best intentions, we are tired to depths that don’t have words.

Because that tiredness separates us from ourselves and from our loved ones.

Because we need to tend to our own selves.

Because we want to tend to our loved ones, be they babies, beloveds, books, or all the above and beyond that ad infinitum. 

Because we need bike rides, and walks with our dear ones.

Because it is nearly picnic season.

Because that damn conference paper needs writing.

Because soon the lakes will be warm and the ocean swimmable.

Because we may have accidentally, again, neglected self-care.

Because sometimes, for some of us, a wild panic sets in, and that panic needs listening to, and quelling.

Because we have not had wine on a patio without feeling guilty.

Because despite feminism, we feel guilty.

Because administrative work wears us down.

Because precarity wears us down.

Because finishing dissertation writing is difficult, necessary, and energy-consuming.

Because Sunday brunch.

Because sometimes we need rest, and we forget that we need rest.

Because we want to come back stronger, more articulate, more focussed, for ourselves and for you, our readers.

Because we deserve it.

Because we want to remember we love our thinking selves.

Because we want to fall in love with writing again, or keep that wild love burning bravely.

Because self-care is, as Audre Lorde writes, warfare, and we live and work in a neoliberal patriarchal culture that does not want us to take care of ourselves or each other.


We will be on self-care sabbatical until August, dear readers. Take care of yourselves and we will too.

Pitches, guest posts, and the like can be sent to Erin Wunker at Gmail.

balance · day in the life · empowerment · feminist communities · summer

The Summer Round-Up: Everything but the kitchen sink

Dear Readers,

It is JUNE! We made it! The snow? Gone. The grading? Done or now in spring-grading mode. The flowers? Out! Conference time? You’re in it! And the possibilities and promises of summer are rolling out before us like a wide open road. 

Here at Hook & Eye we have decided to take some of our own advice. We are taking a summer break from now until late August! We’ll be back as the school year begins again, but for now we have several things for you to read, think about, and, we hope, write to us about when the mood or the inspiration strikes. 

First, a call for guest posts and faster feminist spotlights. Do you have an idea or an issue swirling in your mind that you think is suitable for our blog? We would LOVE to have you write a post for us! We are looking for posts that take up a wide range of issues related to feminism, academia, and work/life balance. Posts tend to be 500 – 750 words, and if you’re not used to writing blog posts I would be happy to work with you to develop your idea and get your post in shape. I’ll be organizing the majority of the guest posts again this year so please send pitches to me at erin dot wunker at gmail dot com. 

We’re also looking to continually diversify our roster of regular writers, so please email me if you have a person you’d like to see write for us, or if there is someone you’d like to see profiled in a faster feminism spotlight. 

To get you inspired for your summer plans whatever they may be many of us regular writers have jotted down our plans for hitting work/life balance … with a major emphasis on living life. Here’s what some of us will be up to in the coming months:

MelissaThis summer is going to be spent settling into my new job, figuring out how to grow the Research Training Centre and my career, and doing things that push my boundaries a bit–speaking about the York strike at Congress, teaching my first course at DHSI, and taking a holiday where I’ll be speaking solely in French. The summer is also going to be spent settling even more firmly into my now well-embedded writing routines and getting much of the dissertation wrapped up and ready to go in anticipation of defending by the end of the year. It is also going to be spent thinking about how best to serve our H&E readership next year–I’ll definitely be continuing the #Altac 101 series, but I also want to think and write more about the gendered aspects of career choices (or lack thereof) for PhDs. I’m looking forward to a break and to seeing you all again, refreshed and ready to go, in September. 
Aimée: I’m looking forward to rounding out my first year as Associate Chair for Graduate Studies—things slow down a lot in the summer, at least until Orientation planning swings into gear in August. I’m saying “no” to most things this summer: I’m not traveling anywhere, I’m not doing any conferences, I’m not undertaking any big home projects (other than weeding). I’m saying “yes” to sitting on the porch and writing and reading (and getting my book finished), “yes” to long walks with the dog, “yes” to more unstructured time with my family, “yes” to mid-day yoga classes and hanging my laundry on the line.
MargritMy year has been packed, so I’m leaving my summer uncluttered to balance things out: there will be some international travel, some more local camping, and maybe an impromptu road trip or two. There will be reading, and there might even be some writing—which I found I cannot live without, not after structuring the last decade of my life around it—but it will be unstructured and aimless. Overall, however, I want a flimsy, balloon-light summer to even the scales. If you’d like to check in, I would love to hear from you, too: find me on Twitter @Dr_Margrit. I wish you have the summer of your dreams (nightmares not included).
Boyda: will be spending her summer soaking up the rays and the often unbearable heat of New York City, feeling generally like a wet sponge. She is aware, however, that this may be the last summer she has in this glorious metropolitan center, so will make the most of it by scoping out outdoor film festivals, fighting for beach space on Coney Island, and keeping a journal of rat spottings. She hopes to visit her people in the Great White North at least once, and she will join that art class she’s been meaning to join for years. In terms of professional goals: she plans to finish drafts of two chapters of her dissertation, and is crossing her fingers about an article that she’s already submitted. She will also be preparing her job market documents and fighting off the inevitable anxiety induced therein. Will miss her online H&E community!
LilyAlthough my admin work does not really slow down in the summer (hello, undergraduate program with its endless needs!) there’s no need for me to pull out my tiny violin at all because I get to represent York at the Institute for World Literature hosted by the University of Lisbon this year. It is going to be unbelievably cool to be sort of a student again. I am buying a new notebook and sharpening my pencils! I’m enrolled in Debjani Ganguly’s seminar on “The Contemporary World Novel: Hauntings and Mediations” and will be part of the affinity group on “Postcolonialism and World Literature.” Umm… so excited.

Erin: As I wrote ever so briefly last week one of the things I haven’t felt able to write about this winter is the fact that I was pregnant. Being on the job market and being pregnant? That’s a post I think I’ll be ready to write in the fall… I just had our daughter twelve days ago. In fact, as I type this she’s asleep on me. Hurrah multi-tasking! So this summer while I will be working on a non-fiction handbook about how to be a feminist killjoy (SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS BOOK!) I will also be spending the majority of my time getting to know my girl. My partner and I will take trips to the shore, visiting family and friends, walking the dog, and introducing the babe to East Coast summers. I’ll be thinking about career changes and writing projects and all the rest of it, but not right away. For now it is all about my partner, our new kiddo, the dog, and the salty air of here. 

Hi from me and the newest Hook & Eye kiddo!
Let us know what you’re up to, whether you have an idea for a post, or someone you’d like to see write for us. And please, above all, don’t forget to make time for yourself. September will come soon enough. The work will get done. Make taking care of you and yours part of your daily practice too, will ya? (& tell us about it, because we all need reminders for self care as well as reminders that self-care is part of a feminist praxis and pedagogy).

from the archives · research planning · summer

From the Archives: Summertime, and the Research Is…

The tents are going up on the lawn at the University of Toronto, which means that exams and grading are done and convocation season is nearly upon us. It also means that it is the season for making overly ambitious summer research plans and many, many lists. But, as Erin reminds us, there’s another way! From the archives, Erin on combating summertime burnout and anxiety.


It is mid-June. My lickety-split spring course–contemporary critical theory in 3.5 weeks–has finished. I’ve submitted my grading and filed all my papers and lectures in hard and digital copy. Congress has also passed. I learned that Fredericton is lovely. I made some new friends and colleagues. I was completely inspired by a panel on lyric scholarship. I had the wonderful good fortune of having generative responses to my own presentation (thanks SB, LM, and MG!) and my dear friend and collaborator TVM and I had the good fortune of chairing a phenomenally strong and interesting panel of papers given on a topic we curated! Bliss.

Now that things have slowed down a wee bit (read: I am unemployed until August 1st when my new contract begins) I’ve been thinking about how best to spend my summer. Last summer I flailed. I spend a huge amount of time fretting about being unemployed, an equally huge amount of time trying to generate an immense amount of research, and ultimately I spent a good deal of the summer feeling paralyzed in front of my computer. I managed to write a bit, but readers it was not a pretty or productive scene. What’s worse, I hardly rested. I felt far too guilty when I was relaxing to ever properly relax.

I’m 365 days older and while I might not be that much wiser I have gathered some strategies that I’d like to share with any of you readers who like me have hugely ambitious summer research plans that don’t also include lazing on the beach/biking riding/drinking wine at a cafe or whatever enables you to let the tightness out of your shoulders.

One of the things I’ve done this year is join an online writing group. This is a direct result ofAimée: she’s written about Academic Ladder, and finally in a mid-May grading fit of despair I joined. Academic Ladder costs money, and for me that’s part of what works. I’ve paid to join a writing group where really what I get is kind peer pressure, encouragement, empathy, and suggestions for writing block, organizing my time etc. So far, so good. I’ve written an article, a conference paper, and a draft of another article all while teaching M-R for three hours a day.

You might find this is a little hokey (actually I kind of do too, but I marvel at how it has worked for me). If you’re not into paying for peer pressure (hmm…) then why not write a list of all the research and writing related things you want to/have to accomplish over the summer. Everything: course prep, book orders, book proposals, manuscript, research trips, all of it. Then consider sharing your list. I shared mine with my pal TVM on Google Docs and he sent me his list. We’ve offered each other strategies for prioritizing and we’re checking in with one another regularly. I’m also a big fan of crossing out rather than deleting a task when it is finished as I feel like I can see my progress.

In addition to making lists and prioritizing my tasks I’m trying to set some fairly firm limitations on how much I work. I must work over the summer, as I suspect many of you must, but I’ve finally clued in to the fact that it is imperative that I relax as well. To that end I’ve decided that work stops at 3pm. I practice yoga in the morning and then come home, clean up, and walk Felix the Dog, so that puts me at my desk around 9:30-10:00. Setting an end-time is proving to be the most challenging for me. I don’t have the family obligations that many of you do, and my partner works out of town during the week, so I have to push myself to unplug as step away from the desk. But let me tell you, once I’ve shut off my computer and called it a day I feel pretty darn good. Ending at a reasonable time gives me the tangible sense that I’ve worked, but allows me the freedom to have a huge chunk of the day to myself. I’ve been reading books for pleasure…!

There’s no silver bullet for balancing life/research life in research, but writing down my goals, sharing them, tracking my progress daily, and quitting early regularly is really working for me. How about you? What are your strategies for balancing work/life/summer?
balance · summer

Big Summer Plans

The end of April usually looks something like this:

  • finish grading 
  • send plagiarism cases to the department for investigation
  • submit grades 
  • hold breath to see if students will petition grades and require follow up 
  • breathe a sigh of relief that term is over 
  • start madly writing conference papers and packing lists
  • plan my impossible summer to-do list whilst simultaneously panicking about not being able to get it all done before Labour Day rolls around

This year, I said no to all of that, or at least to the parts that come after “breathe a sigh of relief.” Yes, I’m still going to Congress and DHSI like always. Yes, I’ve still got an academic summer to-do list. I’m going to finish up a couple of articles that I’ve had on the back-burner for awhile, write as much of my dissertation as I can, see about pitching some more book reviews (since it turns out that we need more reviews by and about women, I love reviewing and I’m good at it), and start planning the course I’m teaching in the fall.

But you know what? That list isn’t the really important one. Because I’ve spent too many summers sitting in my office, the library, or an archive in a city that I don’t really want to be in. Long days of work that stretch longer as the sun stays out, wishing I was out enjoying my city and the light. So this year, the important list of things I want to do with my summer looks like this:

  • take my books and my notebook to the beach as many days as I can possibly manage and soak up the sounds of water while I work in the sun
  • play in my garden
  • play in my kitchen, ideally with things I’ve grown in the garden
  • spend long evenings on patios surrounded by folks I like
  • explore the whole half of my city that I tend to forget is there
  • say no to work-related trips that aren’t absolutely necessary so I don’t have to spend time wishing I was home
  • read books that have nothing to do with work but that make me excited about language
  • write things that have nothing to do with work but that make me excited about language
  • watch terrible summer action movies on the big screen, sometimes at dinnertime so that I can pretend that popcorn is totally an appropriate meal for a grown woman
  • watch pickup baseball games in the park with a picnic
  • continue to perfect my (already pretty perfect) homemade ice cream recipe

What I hope will happen is that I roll into Labour Day tanned, relaxed, and feeling like, in the words of Anne Wilkinson, I’ve “peel[ed] the skin of summer/ With [my] teeth/ And suck[ed] its marrow from a kiss.” And you know what? I’ll probably get more, and better, work done this summer than I do when it’s all about push and panic. Isn’t that always the way?

So tell me, dear readers: what are your big summer plans, academic and otherwise? How do you approach work-life balance over the summer?

new year new plan · research · summer · teaching

New Year

When it comes to marking a new year, I’m with the Persians or the Jews. January 1st is a perverse abstraction; I wager that no Canadian can feel newness in the depths of darkness. March 21st, the first day of spring (at least, elsewhere) makes good sense, and it imbues the new year with hope and vitality. But I think Rosh Hashanah nails it just about perfectly: September just feels right for a new year, what with its unsullied scribblers and corduroy pants (oh, for corduroy to make a comeback…).

This year, it would be even better for the school year to line itself up with Rosh Hashanah: that is, later. How can September be here already? How can the summer be over? And how on earth can a person accumulate 60 emails between dinnertime on Labour Day and the next workday morning? I’ll say it again: September comes at you like a water cannon.

But secretly, I love this time of year. I know, I know, the lunch line-ups are longer, and the parking’s a little less choice – but there’s a frisson to this time of year that you can’t reproduce. Even when I’m not teaching (sniff!), I love being surrounded by new students, new choices, and new possibilities. And I really find the transition from research-time to teaching-time interesting. I love having the students back on campus because they sharpen our excitement for what’s next and our regret for what’s past. I love the way September causes us to mark the passing of time in unfinished manuscripts and unpolished (ahem) course outlines.

At the end of the day, I am a cultural studies scholar of the old school – the Birmingham School, with its experiments in open education and working-class empowerment. Working at a major Canadian public university challenges that vision of social progress in all kinds of great ways. Here as elsewhere, the struggle between research-intensiveness (to build reputation, conservatively, or to serve knowledge, more liberally) and teaching-centeredness (for conservatives, to use public monies efficiently or, for liberals, to keep alive the great public role of universities as class-altering structures) is pronounced, particularly in the humanities.

How do we resolve that struggle? Or, better, how do we keep it alive?

academic reorganization · saving my sanity · slow academy · summer

Work vs. Summer: Variations on a Theme

Earlier this week I found myself posting a mildly histrionic status update on Facebook. “It is mid-July,” I wrote, “and I am way behind on my summer to do list.” This slightly whinging update garnered almost 20 replies in a very short period of time. Either I have indulgent interweb friends or I hit a nerve.

As I sat down to write this post yesterday I realized that almost everything I’ve written for the blog this summer has related to overly ambitious lists (read: desperation), relaxation (read: guilt), or anxiety (read: I don’t have a special word to make this sound better). What’s the deal?
It is true, I am behind on that list I wrote in the spring, but I’m behind on a wildly ambitious list that was written in my end-of-May-classes-are-over-I’ll-get-everything-yes-EVERYTHING-I’ve-evern-been-meaning -to-do-done-this-summer-and-learn-to-make-jam-exuberance. It is also true that I haven’t been lounging on the couch eating bon-bons and watching Mad Men reruns, though that sounds nice. Since May I’ve done two rounds of a job interview, one of which was at Congress, one of which was across the country. While at Congress I also gave a paper, chaired two panels, and danced on the speakers at the ACCUTE dance party. Then I came home and finished teaching, finished grading, submitted grades, began two new collaborative projects, wrote two book reviews, began revising a conference paper for an article, created a new graduate course replete with week-by-week reading and assignments, began talks with a production company for a community building performance project, made new friends, hosted an old friend, got married, worked on syllabi for next year, began circulating a book proposal to publishers, and am working on several grant applications. Oh yeah, and I’m writing an article.
So why do I feel like a layabout?
Last week Aimee posted about the kind of tangible confidence and authorization that something like a receiving a grant can do. Indeed! But what I am realizing (again… I’m a slow learner) is just how very true her post is for me. External validation is *so* vital. And while this might be contentious or simply navel-gazing, I’d warrant this is especially true at the student, graduate student, sessional, LTA, tenure-track-but-pre-tenure stage of things. Or maybe not, but based on this and this I’m going to bank on that pernicious sense of guilt easing off. A bit.
Sure, part of my sense of bon-bon eating idleness is my own deeply entrenched masochistic work ethic. Working hard feels good; working hard helps me to feel as though I have some control of my future in this unpredictable profession. But I’m well aware as, I’m certain, are you readers with whom this chimes, that not only is there a limit to how hard one can work, there is certainly a point where ‘hard work’ morphs into anxious procrastination. Moreover, I find that while I am regularly and well-meaningly cajoled by my friends and colleagues to take it easy it turns out that for me being told to relax is ridiculously stressful.
So what’s the solution to saving some summer and some sanity? In the short term I am reorganizing my to do list to include only necessary and (more) realistic goals. I’m also reserving some time at the end of August to go on vacation (which I should point out is easier said than done as I am currently unemployed until my contract–and paycheque–begin in late August).
In the longer term, however, I think the work-round-the-clock-slaving-academic-mentality needs to be thought through together (and without Margaret Wente $#!&^). What would a slow academy really look like? What does summer ideally look like when one works in the academy? Not laziness, necessarily, but surely not this intensified sense of failure and anxiety. Might it look like Jennifer Blair‘s wonderful meditation on procrastination? Or like Bethany Nowviskie‘s brainchild #alt-academy? You tell me. For now, I’m going back to paring down my list, doing a few hours of work and then, because it is a rare sunny day in Halifax, I’m knocking off to the beach.
DIY · summer

On Reading

Yesterday, I read a book while sitting on my back porch.

This shouldn’t be particularly shocking given that I have a PhD in literature and that all of my teaching and research is about texts, if not the old school book. But reader, I tell you, sitting down and starting as well as finishing a book in a single day was a luxury. It also made me feel a little guilty.
I am a voracious reader at heart. When I was in elementary school I read and completed 100 book reports in a year simply because it was enjoyable. I loved reading and then telling someone why I liked–or didn’t–what I’d read. My parents took me to the library to get my own card when I was quite young because I read so quickly that buying books felt like a bit of an impossible investment (truth be told my dad cut a deal with himself: he’d buy me the classics but I’d take things like The Babysitters Club out of the library). I read a non-thesis or dissertation related book a week throughout the duration of my graduate work. Heck, I read War and Peace while taking trains across Europe, and when I had accumulated too many things in my knapsack to fit the tome I cut the chapters up and scattered them in bus stops. OK, a bit melodramatic, but you get the point: I love reading.
However, reading is something that seems to get pushed out of my everyday. A few weeks ago I posted about my summer research plan. I’ve been sticking to it, mostly. Some unforeseen things have popped up (more on those when I can write about them) but all in all I’m on schedule. So why did I feel *so* guilty yesterday as I sat happily in the sun reading a book?
Well, for one thing, even though I advocate and encourage others to take a vacation I am having a hard time doing it myself. Sure, I know it is necessary. Yes, I understand that I’ll be better rested and ready to do work, but gosh, the constant shadow of anxiety that hovers over we on the non-tenured track is a heavy, shady, and dogged thing.
I think, too, that for me research is always in service of production these days. This is related to the anxiety/guilt I mentioned a moment ago, certainly, and I wonder if others struggle with this? I find I’ve been giving myself little time to let my mind wander lately, and so that’s my task for myself in the following weeks: read, and read widely. Read for work, read for pleasure, and be ready to be surprised if the books/articles/etc. start to migrate from ‘pleasure’ to ‘work’. Following the lead of one of my favourite scholarly bloggers, I’ll end with a partial reading list. There’s no rhyme or reason to it (& I would love it if you all would post yours):
Commonwealth (Hardt & Negri)
Cree Narrative Memory (Neal McLeod)
something by Henning Mankell
Emotionally Weird (Kate Atkinson)
Exit Capitalism (Simon During)
balance · day in the life · good things · having it all · summer · time crunch

Just one day out of life …

You know, if we took a holiday, took some time to celebrate? It would be-e-e-e, it would be! so! nice!

This post is a couple of hours late because I took a holiday. A vacation. A break. Some time off. For almost nine days in a row, no work. That’s the longest stretch of real time off I’ve taken in over a year. And I’ve lived to tell the tale! I feel like it’s my duty to tell you how hard it was to let go of everything (it took a couple of days), how great it was to be free of all of it, and how relaxed and cheerful I am about returning to work today.

Hard: My last ‘working day’ on the Friday coincided with a very big writing deadline, which I met, but not without some injury to my soul. I felt like I had spent the day trying to dig a ditch through bedrock with my fingernails, with the result that at 5:30, when I tried to go into vacation mode, I was bitchy, headachy, and thoroughly weepy.

  • Lesson 1: You can’t do a week of work in one day in anticipation of five days off. At least, I can’t.

Hard: It was hard to maintain vacation mode when I had a defense to participate in on Monday. (Of course, the defense is harder for the candidate; this is worthy work; I’m glad to do it, it’s an honour and a privilege, and it was a great dissertation. Of course.) It was really hard to gussy myself up, go in for three hours and then, again, expect I would be immediately transformed into a blissfully vacationing happy person once the papers were signed. Instead, I got crabby and took a nap.

  • Lesson 2: “Switching it off” is not an instantaneous thing. It’s less like a light switch (“click!”) and more like the garden hose — first you turn the tap off, then you gravity-drain the hose, then you turn off the valve inside the house, and drain that. There’s steps. It takes some time.

Great: From Tuesday on, time expanded, my heart opened up, and I just let everything go. Really: no emails, no NOTHING. We did yard work (new clothes line!), we went in to Toronto to the AGO, we went out for lunches, had naps, planned a barbecue party. I went to three yoga classes, and for many long bike rides, at 9am, even! My life felt qualitatively different: it wasn’t just that I wasn’t working my full days, it was that I wasn’t working at all, and got to be the person I am when I’m not working.
  • Lesson 3: When you go on vacation, don’t even work for 30 minutes a day, because you don’t really get the benefits of letting it all go. Doing less academic work is work to rule; doing no academic work is a vacation.
Relaxing: We threw a party on Saturday. An outdoor party, with adults and kids. All day it threatened rain. People RSVP’ed late. I felt, though, remarkably zen about the whole thing: I can’t control the weather, and we can just move inside! People will come, or they won’t! More sweet potato fries on the grill for me! And it was awesome. I’m not laid back like that about work. But maybe I should learn to be a little less … clenchy. Because relaxed felt pretty nice, and worked out awfully well.
  • Lesson 4: Work exacerbates my control-freak tendencies in ways that don’t contribute to either my happiness or my effectiveness. Might need to rethink some stuff …
Cheerful: So here it is, Monday. I’ve got some more writing to do, some committee stuff in my inbox, another dissertation on my desk. I’m kind of looking forward to getting at it. After all, I really do enjoy my work. I feel like I’ve got a bit of balance back, and I feel a lot less resentful, angry, and overwhelmed, the way I was getting to feel after this very intense year I’ve had. That’s good news.
So. I did it. I took the whole week off, and puttered around my house and my city, spending time with my husband, taking it easy. And I feel fantastic now.
  • Lesson 5: Draw your own conclusions on holidays here … Do you have a great holiday story you want to leave in the comments?