academic work · adjuncts · change management · emotional labour · theory and praxis · Uncategorized

Making Small New Habits

I love New Year’s resolutions.

I do. I really love them. I love them so much I write about them in fall and winter and spring. Hurrah for semesters and Solstices!

In fact, I think I have come to appreciate New Years–Eve and all–as a moment of self-inventory, though admittedly New Year’s Eve was (and is) a marker in time I like less. As a younger me New Year’s Eve was a kind of letdown for all its rush and waiting. All outfits and lines and are-the-plans-happening-where-is-the-best-place-to-be-ness of it all. And then, poof, anticlimax. Even now as an adult I can count on one hand the “magic” NYEs I have had. My frustration, I think, is common: it is the pressure put on the moment to make it something other than it is. A moment. But I digress…

I am that person who, on New Year’s Eve will ask about resolutions and memories. What was your most memorable meal of the last year? (My go-to interview dinner conversation question, by the way) What are you hoping to do this year? Yup. That’s me: earnest right up to the chime of the clock.

But it occurs to me that resolutions might be the wrong word. Maybe there’s too much baggage with that word, and as someone who is shifting from a decade working in various degrees of precarity to, well, unprecedented stability, I’m working to shed some emotional baggage. When it comes to putting work and production demands on myself I want to move from this

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Image from PinArt.com

to this

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Image from steamlineluggage.com

I started thinking about shifting my language after reading one of those ubiquitous late-December articles about developing new habits.  The gist of the argument is this: western psychology has tended to frame life change as something that is best understood through willpower. The idea here is that we make a decision to change some aspect of ourselves and then, through sweat and grit and determination, we do it. There are all sorts of obvious problems with this approach, I realize now (what if, as is often the case, “willpower” isn’t enough or even the right thing, for example). Still, when I was reading this in the trough between holidays it struck a chord for me. Rather than building all life change on the necessity of willpower there is a movement gaining more popular traction that suggests willpower is kind of bullsh*t. Okay, that’s not exactly what the article says, but that’s what I gleaned from it. More effective that willpower is repetition. Building in habits. Doing the small daily work of repeating. And if you don’t do it one day, if you “fail,” then you do it again the next day.

Gosh, I needed to be reminded of this.

Some of the new habits I am aiming to form in this first month of 2018 are these:

I would like to write regularly again. For all sorts of reasons I have fallen off that wagon in the last year, moving again to droughts and downpours of writing that, while effective of anxiety-inducing, have not fed me in the ways I need to be fed. In order to write regularly (which for me means 100-300 words in a session, and one session a day is plenty unless there is an impending deadline) I need to build in a regular time to do that writing. So, I’ll be getting out of bed a little earlier this month. I’m looking forward to it.

I would like to continue reading for pleasure. After my PhD and in many cycles following that I found I couldn’t read for pleasure. For whatever reason what usually was my escape, my habit that nourished me had gone. My voracious desire to read is back. To facilitate this I have shifted my reading habits the same way I have had to shift my writing habits post-bébé: I carry a book with me most all the time, and reading one or two pages (or sentences) at a swoop is enough. Is worth it.

And finally, I would like to only work on academic writing and research that nourishes me and which I really care about. I say hah to the adage that all academic work is a labour of love. It isn’t, especially if you’re a graduate student or a precarious worker or a post doc. Then it is usually a mix of love and (in my limited personal experience) a huge amount of what-will-this-do-for-my-prospects???!!!???*&!

To that I say no more, or at least, I will work towards “no more.” And if I weren’t already convinced that writing (/doing/working on/researching) something that you care about might actually make more than you feel good  (aka “staying in your lane” as I read in a recent profile of the brilliant Vivek Shraya), well, seeing this tweet from poet and scholar Billy-Ray Belcourt certainly brought it home for me

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Here is to new habits that nurture networks of care in this complicated, compromising, and often alienating and restrictive space that is academia. One of the books I am reading right now is Donna Haraway’s Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. In the introduction Haraway writes,

We — all of us on Terra — live in disturbing times, mixed-up times, troubling and turbid times. The task is to become capable, with each other in all of our bumptious kinds, of response. Mixed-up times are overflowing with both pain and joy–with vastly unjust patterns of pain and joy, with unnecessary killings of ongoingness but also with necessary resurgence. The task is to make kin in lines of inventive connection as a practice of our learning to live and die well with each other in the thick present. Our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle the troubled waters and rebuild quiet places.

Here’s to rebuilding quiet places in our days with and alongside and against. Here’s to onward and inward. Here is to January. Here is to what is and to what is next.

 

 

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.