reflection · shifting perspectives · Uncategorized

Not Business As Usual

Well.

Here we are. How are you doing? How are you feeling? Me, I’m moving from what I recently described to a friend (by text message) as full-body-panic to “something else.” I think that “something else” mightbe me beginning to metabolizing our emerging state of affairs. But frankly? I feel a bit in shock.

Last week in Nova Scotia, where I live, the state of affairs was relatively normal on Thursday morning. By Friday it became clear things were changing very quickly: the university had suspended classes for a week while faculty and instructors figured out how to move the last parts of the semester online (indeed for the foreseeable future). By Tuesday we were well into social distancing practices and had to remind ourselves that, yes, we could and should still go outside for fresh air and movement.

The shape of work as a professor has shifted radically, in certain ways. Starting next week the remainder of term will be delivered online. And, lest we forget, there are pedagogues who specialize in digital teaching, but we are not all those teachers. In my faculty we have been encouraged to keep the transition to online teaching simple and to foreground compassion for students where possible. In the two classes, I’ll be moderating questions and discussion online, though I suspect there won’t be much of that as students manage their complex and multifaceted lives. After all, we know students care-give, are parents, hold jobs (sometimes many jobs), and have many additional complexities that shape their learning and living conditions. Still, it has been interesting and often quite wonderful to correspond with them both individually and as a group in the past several days. Kindnesses seems to abound, at least currently. We’re all sad the term is ending this way; we’re all shocked by the abrupt changes in our lives. And we’re rolling with it, it would seem, as best as we can.

Of course, moving teaching, meetings, and research online now that universities and libraries are closed is just part of the change. Here in Nova Scotia, public schools and daycares are closed for a month at least. I imagine that will extend. For my household this means my partner and I are learning to be pre-school teachers as well as doing our own teaching, research, and service. Or rather, we’re trying to do a bit of each, and collectively fumbling towards something resembling structure. Frankly, it is impossible. Not in the ways that other things are impossible. Our current conditions are not structural oppressions. But trying to do my own work, which is the work of thinking and reflecting and creating (in addition to responding, corresponding, and commenting) requires space and time. And as any Early Childhood Educator knows (and if it is not clear let it be so now: I am in no way an ECE! May they all be paid a million dollars annually and showered with respect and universal benefits!) children need different kinds of attention and structure. Our kiddo likes to be with us, talking, all the time. So, while this is understandable–she’s gone from 20-some friends her own age + three teachers down to us + 1 anxious and somewhat aloof dog–it is also a lot. For everyone.

So what do we do? Right now, we’re still very much trying to figure it out. For my own part, I find myself trying to remember that care work is feminist work. I find myself trying to remember that being productive is an imperative that is often oppressive. I find myself trying to slow down and notice where we are…and let that sink it. I try to remember to take a deep breath. It isn’t easy, and we’re only a week into this new and changing reality. I find myself frustrated–just globally frustrated–multiple times a day. And that is okay. It is even understandable. It is where I am at, right now, though I don’t plan to stay in this place of frustration because, frankly, it feels bad. And so I will try, each day, with my partner and with our kid, to shape our days in ways that give each of us a bit of what we need. We’ll keep working to give each other space, and help each other think, and take some time to play or just be. Because this isn’t business as usual.

 

 

mental health · mindfulness · pedagogy · reflection · Uncategorized

March Reflections

I am teaching two courses this semester. One is a fourth year seminar//graduate seminar hybrid. The second class is a special topics class that has the blanket descriptor of “literature, society, politics.” Both classes have been giving me life all term. We’re reading exciting texts, asking hard questions, listening, and discussing. Responses are happening across the room! That kind of discursive cross-talk I hope for is a regular occurrence, and it has very little to do with me. The students are engaged in the project of reading literature, thinking critically about it, and discussing it with one another and me. It is great.

And, this week, we are all flagging. On Monday I walked into one of the classes which has about forty people enrolled, and there were less than ten present. There were similar numbers in the other class. Discussion proceeded, work was done, thinking happened. But I can feel the dip of energy in the room, and the absences are hard to ignore.

I get it, truly. March is for me always the hardest month of the winter term. It is long, the weather in Atlantic Canada tends to dig in its heels and hover around damp-cold-windy for another two months. And, while the sun is sticking around longer, this seems to be one of the times where I stumble into existential reflection. So, while my life is undoubtedly enormously different from the lives of the students in my classes, I have a great deal of empathy. We’re all just trying to make meaning as we move through the world.

I have no super cure for the kinds of questions that seem to arrive and orbit at this time of year including, but not limited to why do we do this? why do I do this? what is the point? (and, more personally but equally existential, why do fish have to die?–though this one was posed by my favourite four year old. Still, it seems to fit the theme: sometimes things are harder that it feels they should be). While I have no cure to offer myself or students, I do find it useful to think about the reasons we come to the classroom together.

A classroom offers space, a pause, an hour or two in real embodied time to sit with relative strangers and think together. It is a place in which pedagogy can happen, even if the efficaciousness of that pedagogical work is not immediately apparent. A classroom feels like it exists outside the space-time continuum. Time slows down (sometimes painfully so). Time speeds up. We don’t experience time in the same ways, and yet there we are, trying to think together.

This trying feels useful to remember. It is, for me, part of what draws me out of my house and into the world that is so very very difficult so much of the time. It is as necessary as the smallest and earliest of the green things, poking themselves out of the ground and working their way up to the sun.

photography of flower field
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

 

academic work · balance · being undone · feminist health · kinaesthetic thinking · mindfulness · Uncategorized

Ready to sit

Usually, when we say we do ‘yoga,’ we mean asana, the physical limb of the larger practice, the yoga of happy baby and triangle and, if you’re feeling ambitious, bird of paradise. Less known is that the goal of this physical practice is to prepare the body for the rigors of meditation–asana, that is, is essentially the warmup routine for the main event, which is sitting down.

Yoga students often reverse this thinking, focusing more on the physical practice as an end in itself. Sometimes, we don’t really get to the sitting part at all, except in brief centring exercises, or the more passive release of savasana.

Academic life, by contrast, seems often to be nothing but sitting. But we’ve done no prep work for it. We probably should.

Many are the days that I am startled out of a slumped reverie by my Fitbit’s inactivity alarm. I often ignore this bip-bip, for hours: it’s the life of the mind, dammit, and cannot be counted by footfalls! When I eventually have to drag myself out of my chair, I usually experience some unpleasant sort of bodily creaking and discomfort. Sometimes an uncomfortable pressure on my bladder. Or I’m dizzy, or I discover one of my feet has fallen asleep. A headache makes itself known. I reflexively arch my back and lift my arms in a stretch. Every time I get up, I realize how borked up I am: is it even possible to produce good work in this state? And then I sit back down, feeling guilty for the interruption.

IMG_2704
Jasper, as always, setting a good example of embracing embodiment

You probably have similar habits, where your day is organized to get through the things that keep you out of your chair as fast as you can. Just as an example, the goal for me, working at home this morning, was to roll out of bed, get a cup of tea and breakfast, quickly tidy my morning mess and get into my chair as fast as possible, with the goal of remaining there all day.

But what if academic sitting is like meditation sitting: what if we thought of it as a kind of physical as well as mental trial, one that needed us to prepare in a more thoroughgoing way?

Quick question: what parts of you are uncomfortable right now? Neck at a funny angle? Weird deep sorta-cramp in one thigh? Ankle tucked under you funny? Contact lenses feeling a bit dried out and strainy? All of these little distortions and discomforts pile up, I think. They pick at the edges of our focus, our energy, our health. But I’ll bet you have no intention of getting up, taking a little walk around, doing some stretches: frivolous, inefficient, distracting. We let ourselves be reduced to brains on sticks, which seems efficient, but is a lie.

Feminist theory and feminist praxis have long interrogated the distinction of the life of the mind from the more material mundanities of embodied life. Standpoint epistemology or feminist materialism or intersectional theory remind us that ideas are attached to viewpoints that are constructed by our embodiments and our relations. But what if in a more immediate sense, the life of the mind–all that sitting!–is un-divorce-able from our embodied selves. Maybe it’s a new kind of feminist praxis not just to write about the materialities of ideas, to insist on textually embodying ourselves in our work, but also to allow ourselves the space to experience the life of the mind and its work itself as embodied. What if we allowed ourselves to get ready to sit–what if we considered the morning walk to the coffee shop, trudging through the slush and half-blinded by the diffuse daylight bouncing off all the snow, our rapid breathing, as an essential part of the work the life of the mind? We would start to insist on windows, maybe, or interrupt our own 3 hour seminars to get students to look out those windows at the farthest point they can see, while twinkling their fingers. We would stand up when we became aware–because we allow ourselves this awareness, as a gift rather than as a distraction–that our brains were fogging up and our ankles were getting crunchy, even if we just had 50 more words to write. Maybe.

This morning, I couldn’t seem to make myself sit. So I did a little yoga (and yeah, I mean asana)–sun breaths, forward folds, twisting sun breaths, a couple of balances to stretch out my quads, rolled my shoulders and my hips, standing pigeon. And I felt so strong! And so awake! Literally five minutes of gentle movements, standing on one small patch of carpet, in jeans and socks and a hoodie. I felt … alive. This post popped into my head. I looked out the window, felt my irises radiate in and out, took a breath. And started writing. I feel good.

Treat your bodies with care, friends. Sitting is hard. Embodiment and situatedness and affect aren’t just theories; feel it in your body, and take care. You deserve it.

best laid plans · new year new plan · slow academy · Uncategorized

Reflections on Slowness

I find myself thinking about slowness a great deal these days. It might be the shift to a new semester–I do love to reflect and reset each term–and it might be that zero on the calendar moving us into a new decade. I suspect, though, that my reflections on slowness might have more to do with the way we imagined the term back in 2010 when we gave it to the blog.

Fast feminism? That feels intuitive to me: fast feminism signals the need for attention and action. But slow academe? Well, I’ll admit that even in 2010 it didn’t feel intuitive so much as it felt illusory.

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Slow academe, as the originators (me included!) of this blog imagined it, took up slowness as the slow food movement describes it: good, clean, fair. Good, here, is not virtue signalling so much as it means quality; clean, according to the slow food movement FAQ page, means sustainable production that is good for the environment. Fair, meanwhile, means accessible in terms of price for consumers and in terms of way for workers.

Ten years later these feel like pretty solid touchstones for me in this project of public-facing academic feminist scholarship. And yet, as I look back (hastily, because I am posting late after a weekend that, while pleasant, was also filled with trying to fit in skating lessons, socializing, cleaning the house, admin work that spilled into the weekend, and, oof, our kiddo being quite sick), I see I have always struggled to put my finger on what slow academe meant to me. I have no idea if it ever were possible to engage in the slowness that the (semi-controversial) advocated by The Slow Professor. It certainly hasn’t been for me, at least up to this point. I wonder, genuinely, if a slow academe is possible in smaller, more micro ways.

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I spent the first seven years of my association with the blog as a member of the precariate. I wrote about it so much that I worried I had lost who I was in my own research. Whether or not that was true, it makes sense to me why “slow academe” was illusory as both concept and material reality. I didn’t know how to slow down, and the conditions in which I worked rewarded me (sometimes) for doing as much as I could. When I shifted into my tenure track position (& by shifted I mean something I can’t quite articulate even still) I didn’t do much to slow down. Not at first. And when a blip caused me to pull back from social media as a means of networking, connecting, and (frankly, for me), frittering my time away I didn’t so much slow down as I did spiral. Who was I if I wasn’t plugged into what was happening in my field? In my discipline? I didn’t have a good answer. I felt lost.

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This summer, while I was out jogging–the one activity I can truly say I always do slowly–I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts. It is called Keep Calm and Cook On, and let me tell you, Julia Turshen’s interview style (not to mention her voice) feels like free therapy. In this particular episode she was talking with Jia Tolentino.  The conversation was about how Tolentino came to be interested in cooking. I learned that she took it up as a life-sustaining hobby while doing her training for and work in the Peace Corps. Cooking was a kind of slow pause in the affective intensity of her work. On this slow jog down the same road I jogged on all summer, I also listened to Tolentino talk about optimization. Sure, I knew the term already (how could I not? After all, I was striving to be an HQP!) but listening to these two people be smart, serious, and funny sent me to the closest bookstore to get Tolentino’s book.

Trick Mirror has had a great deal of press, and in my mind that’s warranted, but I won’t rehearse it here. Suffice to say, I’ve been thinking about her essay “Always Be Optimizing” for going on six months now. In this essay Tolentino outlines the ways in which people have been streamlined into little self-regulatory optimization machines. Sure, its not a new theory (hello, Foucault!), but Tolentino makes our current moment sharp and hilarious (I dare you to read the section on the rise of barre class without weeping with laughter) and searing. I see myself in these examples, even as I chafe (while pliéing? Kidding.).

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In the first class I taught this term, I invited the students to keep me on task. The task, for me, is to consider slowness and intentionality integral to my pedagogical praxis. Intentionality is always something I am working towards, trying to hold myself to, striving for. Slowness? Not so much, as it turns out. Now, this might be a difficult term to take this on–never have I been on more committees than I am now, never have I over-committed myself to writing projects in quite the way I have this term. But as we spent the first ten minutes of that first class thinking about where and how we read, something kind of magic happened, for me at least. I started to become aware of how even with reading I tend to race. How many pages? How quickly? The pleasure of the text gets lost (hi, Barthes…!) in the reach for optimization.

So, as I work always and forever towards balance this semester I will try to keep thinking about slowness and the ways in which it might, gently, interrupt the optimization imperative.

If you need a place to go for some inspiration, might I suggest colleague, pal, and friend to the blog Dr. Hannah McGregor‘s Secret Feminist Agenda? The January episode on cozy reflections vs. resolutions was, for me, inspiring.

enter the confessional · new year new plan · Uncategorized

Baggage

It is common in the new year, of course, to take stock of what we have accumulated or built up or held onto in the year just past, peering into the drawers and crevices of our lives to examine what lurks there–this regret, that past-due jar of Oktoberfest mustard crusted shut, oh look an overdue library book–as we embark on our annual crafting of resolutions, deciding what we want to carry into the future with us.

Me, I’ve literally got some baggage to deal with.

In late November, unexpectedly, I found myself on a late-notice work trip to Montréal, the kind where you spend more time in vomitous, lurching, snarled-traffic taxis that have that cloying and taxi-specific stale-cigarette-and-aggressive-air-freshener-chemical-strawberry smell than you do in flight, the kind where the meeting you attend is complicated and important and brain-bending, the kind where you find yourself dragging your wheelie bag up the slush-and-salt encrusted roadway from the Métro to the Trudeau Foundation offices on Sherbrooke.

And then the wheels fell off. Literally.

Over the course of several blocks, and then across the full breadth of an airport terminal, one of the wheels on my bag just … disintegrated. Layers of rubberized plastic cracking, then catching, then peeling and flapping. I bump-bumped it along behind me, noisily askew and unpredictable, skiddering and halting and sliding and catching.

Same same, bag. Same same.

This 21″ Samsonite soft-sided bag is one of the enduring relationships in my professional life. I bought it in 1999, at Staples in Edmonton, because I needed a real suitcase, that I could bring on an airplane: I was starting to go to conferences. I was making an effort to grow up, and a rollaboard bag is grown up. I considered it an investment piece, because it cost me in the region of $150. “I will use this for a very long time,” I thought, as I shakily handed over the bulk of that month’s discretionary money. And I have.

Luggage means you are going places. This bag and I have gone places. And I find myself asking now: where am I going next?

I got my very first piece of luggage when I was four or five, a Christmas present to my sister and me from our paternal grandparents. Well, it was three pieces of luggage–a ‘carry on’ shoulder bag, small old-style suitcase with a carry handle, and larger suitcase, all tucked inside one another like nesting dolls. Orangey-tan faux leather for me, leisure-suit blue faux leather for my sister. We would be travelling as a family to visit my grandparents for the holiday, so the bags were immediately put to use. I felt so sophisticated. These suitcases travelled everywhere from Florida to summer camp to university with me, from 1977 until about 1997, actually.

Young teenager dressed for camping, standing outdoors, smiling and holding luggage
Me, going places in 1986.

In 1997, at the very end of my BA at York, I won a scholarship simply to travel to Europe (yes! isn’t it amazing?) in a classic backpackish style. But I had no backpack. I bought my own luggage for the first time: a black canvas MEC waterproof backpack–the kind where you can zip away the backpack part and hook on a shoulder strap to pretend like it’s a suitcase, but it isn’t. This trip was my first time on an airplane, my first major solo trip. I spent weeks practice-packing and practice carrying to get three weeks of clothes and necessities into this bag in such a way I could carry it around from train to train, hostel to hostel. I used this bag to travel to Edmonton later that summer, on a training trip for the Orlando Project, on which I had been offered a research assistantship to fund my MA at Guelph. My life changed a lot that summer. When I moved to Edmonton the following summer that was the bag that came on the plane, and that brought me home for holidays.

That Samsonite roller bag was the start of a new set of journeys for me, a bag for fast trips, a bag for rolling on smooth concourses rather than heaving into trunks or carrying over cobblestones, a bag that took up very little space and that I could live out of in a small corner in a shared hotel room or next to someone’s couch, a bag I could roll into a job interview and look appropriate. And those were the things I did, two or three times a year, for twenty years. I delighted in the ever-diminishing amortized cost of that bag, held tight to my sense of myself as that scrappy but forward-thinking grad student that was smart enough to buy it.

My life is changing again. That bag fell apart in the heaviest travel year I’ve ever had, at the end of a year in which I have been challenged to become the next version of the person I’m going to be. This past year, everything hit simultaneously: I came out of sabbatical to my first full teaching load in about five years, two new preps. I won a $100K SSHRC grant. I got a positive review on a book manuscript submission (that used to be my dissertation) that needs revision. I won a Trudeau Fellowship. I started a podcast, was nominated for two teaching awards, published my first piece in disability studies (and outed myself as autistic and ADHD in the very first sentence of it). I co-taught a grad course in a new area, went to a conference in a new field, and did a ton of media interviews (and appeared in a movie called Assholes: A Theory). In July, I hit my 15 year anniversary at the University of Waterloo. Fifteen years!

Mid-career hit with a mostly-positive thump. People invite me places. They assign my stuff to their grad classes. I find myself mentoring my own junior colleagues. I have a kind of clarity and sense of my own competence, which was unexpected and amazing. I have a travel and research budget that exceeds my capacity to quite comprehend. I am meeting diplomats and prominent academics who are somehow now my peers. Opportunities are multiplying.

But it’s still a thump. It feels kind of like Ms Pac Man, where I’ve munched a power disk, and while that makes it possible for me to rack up all the points and win, everything just got way louder and faster and I’m panicking about grabbing everything I can but still trying to methodically clear the level. It’s frenetic. It’s a mixed blessing. The wheels fell off my bag.

Things are changing.

Here’s where I went last year: Pittsburgh, twice, 4 days each, two different conferences; Vancouver, five days, Congress; Montreal, **three times**, each for two days related to Trudeau Foundation work; Mount Orford, Québec, for five days for Trudeau retreat; Yellowknife, for seven days, for the inaugural Trudeau Foundation Institute for Engaged Leadership.

Tomorrow, I’m flying to Washington for three days for Trudeau planning meeting. Six days after that back to Montréal overnight for an event. Washington again for a week in March, then Moncton for five days in May, Montréal for a week in October. Maybe more planning trips. This is without any conference travel, so who knows?

I bought a new bag for this new life. Even on Boxing Day it set me back more than $300, a 21″ rollaboard Travel Pro Platinum Elite Spinner, recommended for power travellers by Wirecutter. It’s this magical kind of suitcase with ten million weirdly useful pockets, including one for an external battery pack for my poor overworked devices, that somehow compresses time and space to make everything I pack 80% smaller than it seems to be before I put it in. It’s a kind of cranberry colour, sedate but a little distinct. I also: bought a tiny travel size hair straightener, tiny travel versions of my favorite toiletries, and I’ve dedicated a drawer in the guest room to Things That Travel With Me Every Time, like my little bag of first aid things, and extra chargers, and a case for my glasses. I’m ready to go at a moment’s notice, with less fuss. I feel 100% less stressed out about packing for all these trips now. Do I own two hair straighteners now? Yes. But I’m never going to be freaking out the morning of a trip waiting for my giant straightener to cool down before I try to shove it into a bag I wanted to have had ready at the front door 30 minutes earlier. This is who I am now.

I used to travel light, and cheap, and infrequently, and with a bit of panic and fuss at the outset. I’m not that person now. I still travel light, but I insist on the good parking and the good bag, and it makes sense to have doubles of things (and doubles of the things I like to use, the good stuff) because I spend so much time living out of my suitcase. It was hard for me to write out where I’ve gone this year and where I’m going because those paragraphs describe someone who is different from how I see myself, from how I want other to see me. I’m not sure how I feel about this new person yet: I have baggage, if you will, that I’m dragging bumpily behind me, wheels askew, not quite working but tinged with moral rectitude and thrift.

What am I going to wheel with you into 2020? Whatever it is, I hope the baggage rolls smoothly in the direction you set for yourself, whoever you may be or be becoming.

best laid plans · Uncategorized · work · writing

Book Projects Are Hard…and fun

I’m working on a new project and it is both exciting and terrifying!

While I have complete other writing projects before, including one creative non-fiction monograph, when I finish writing anything I tend to feel as though I will, surely, never write again. Something similar happens when I get page proofs back for articles. I read, sometimes I nod in agreement or surprise. Sometimes I am impressed with myself. Always–and I mean always–I wonder whether I wrote the thing in a fugue state. Who was that person who made this sentence? Who found that salient bit of research to support a close reading? Who was she and where has she gone?

Who was it that wrote “anyone who says they enjoy the writing process is a liar”? It isn’t that I dislike the writing process. Once I am writing I love it. It feels euphoric at best, or at the very least, it feels rhythmic, like the way I was taught to breathe while doing front crawl: stroke, stroke, stroke, breath. Repeat for an hour or so and emerge tired and accomplished. Stretch, shower, carry on with your day. I am a dilettante who is a little in love with routine and a little enamoured with a good challenge, so yes, I suppose liking writing makes sense. It is the project planning that has me in knots.

I remember preparing to writing my dissertation proposal. It was a bit of a nightmare. I had all these wonderful ideas–I practically could dream the whole project–but when I sat down to put pen to paper and plan it out? Nothing. Nada. Zilch save for the slow trickle of dread that starts at the back of my neck and creeps up into my mind and then yells you can’t do this!

It turns out that I could do it, of course. I wrote the dissertation, and sometimes had fun doing it. But gosh, I sure wish I had learned how to project plan a bit. There is, I think, a happy medium place between launching yourself into the writerly unknown and crafting a research project that needs to be a scholarly monograph when it is finished.

So, this new project I am working on is a chance to shift my writerly and research habits. I’m going to try and share with you what I learn, what I bump up against, and what is (I hope) also delightful. Here goes:

It turns out that while I have edited a few collections and written that creative non-fiction monograph I mentioned, writing a scholarly monograph feels a lot like writing a dissertation so far. I need to survey the field, figure out what I can add to it, and learn through writing and revising how to be generative in a field that has so much richness in it already.

However, unlike a dissertation, this book project has already had its first encounter with peer review. When I was approached to write the book proposal I learned that I would submit the proposal to peer review. What? Wow! Wonderful and intimidating (though intimidating only insofar as it is nerve-racking to have peers assess your work). I am so grateful for the anonymous commentary I received on the proposal. Three different people took the time to read it, comment on it, and make generous and useful suggestions. When I get stuck and worry about whether I should be writing this, I return to the peer review commentary and remind myself that no book is ever the last word. What I am aiming for, always, is contributing to on going discussion. The peer reviewers remind me of that, too.

I quite like what Donald Barthelme has to say: “the writer is that person who, embarking upon her task, does not know what to do.” Whereas in the past I would have read this and taken it as permission to flail around in a bit of a froth until I churned out several thousand words, I find myself approaching Barthelme’s observation a bit differently. Instead, I am working towards an end-goal inside a project plan with the knowledge that the project will shift as it needs to shift. Happily, the heart-pounding unknowing of writing is there, too.

Wish me luck! And please, feel free to share your long-project tactics and tips!

Uncategorized

Ten Years of Feminist Academic Blogging

Readers, we’re still here.

We’re still here, even though blogs are maybe a bit archaic. We’re still here even though we have only been managing about a post a month for the last year (or so…). We’re still here because every time we think eh, we should wrap this up, it has been a good run we realize we aren’t ready. Not yet.

Since we began in 2010 our writers have finished degrees, moved institutions, left academia, published books, made families, lost loved ones, made communities, shifted, changed, raged, reflected, been anxious, joyous, sad, confused, curious, and inspired.

Turns out 2020 might be here, but the academy still needs feminist thinking and intentionality. We still need feminism and intentionality. And we need you.

In our first post back in September of 2010 Heather Zwicker wrote:

Hook and Eye is both an intervention and an invitation. We write about the realities of being women working in the Canadian university system. We muse (and rave, and query, and wonder, and share, and occasionally rant) about everything from gender inequities and how tenure works to finding unfrumpy winter boots and managing life’s minutiae

A decade has passed and these concerns and curiosities remain. They have subdivided and diversified. There are new concerns, and there are endemic concerns that persist. And for this, our tenth year, we want to stay with the trouble, commit curiosity, and share and develop our knowledges.

We’ll be working in the coming year to revivify our posting schedule. We’d love to hear from those of you who who have done guest posts in the past, written regularly with us in different years, or have never written and are interested in pitching us something.

Ten years of thinking, sharing, questioning, refusing, and creating together matters. Let’s keep doing it.

 

 

Uncategorized

Remembering the Montreal Massacre: 30 Years After

This is a guest post written by Heidi Tiedemann Darroch. 

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For Sharon Rosenberg (1964-2010), whose thinking about how to remember is so missed

1989

The first rumours swirl at dinner in our baronial dining hall, a nod to the University of Toronto’s Oxbridgean aspirations. Stern portraits of college heads—all men, all white—gaze down. In the main college building, a famed gryphon adorns the bottom of a staircase railing, rubbed shiny by decades of student hands seeking good luck before exams. Today I rubbed it, extra hard. It is the most beautiful place I have ever lived, and I feel safer than I have ever felt. The door to my room locks. Only I have the key.      

Students have been shot, I hear in the cafeteria line. It makes no sense.        

And then, Women have been shot. 

We were eighteen, nineteen, twenty. We called ourselves girls, usually, not women, and we were so much like those who had just been murdered: ambitious, hardworking, eager to embark on adult life and professions. Montreal was  familiar, the big city two hours from home. I knew two of the women. One died. One survived her injuries.

Fourteen women died: thirteen students and a staff member.

We’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating: in a classroom, the man separated the men and women, ordered the male students and professor to leave. He shot women after telling them that they were a bunch of feminists. One tried to protest, saying they were not feminists, just women seeking an education. To him—angry, thwarted—every woman seeking an education in the Engineering faculty was his enemy, his rival for entitlements: to education, to safety, to belonging in the world.

We need to remember that he said “feminist.” That he named accomplished women he believed to be feminists in a hit list the police were reluctant to release.        

The fourteen women who died were Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edwards, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault and Annie Turcotte.

December 6, 1989 was the last day that I ever felt completely safe at school.

*

1979

At eight, my reading obsession is boarding school novels—St. Clare’s, Mallory Towers, and the Chalet School, where the intrusion of Nazis and spy plot lines jostles uneasily against midnight feasts and sending a classmate to Coventry for tattling.

In one of these books I struggle with a puzzling phrase: “safe as houses.” My mother explains it means that the girl feels as safe as if she were at home.

My mother is wrong.

To be at home is not safe. My mother has never been safe at home, and she cannot keep us safe. She grew up with alcoholism, violence, sexual abuse, a sister stabbed with a kitchen knife by their own mother and then pushed down a flight of stairs. She left home at sixteen, married at nineteen, ended up in hospital from that marriage. She tells me her mother-in-law visited, and gave her money to get out.

*

2019

I seize up, writing this reflection, for a week. This is not a story I am supposed to tell. This is not a story I am allowed to tell. It is, and it is not, my story to tell. Here is what you need to know: As a child, I felt safer at school. 

And I learn, belatedly, that “safe as houses” means something entirely different—a Victoria phrase, referring to purchasing houses as a safe financial investment. It was never about homes.

As a child,I am safer at school. I arrive early to help the teacher, stay late to clean chalkboards and then bang the erasers together, releasing clouds of glorious white dust. My teachers notice, protect me. My fifth grade teacher calls us all “petit trésor,” little treasure. 

*

 1990 

It is January and time to return to classes. We have already stopped talking about the women who died.

My first new class is in a windowless auditorium. It’s a women’s studies course, but the exits are all the way at the back of the hall. It would be so easy for someone to come in the back, block us from fleeing, kill dozens of us at once.

I drop the course.

I choose new ones but stop attending. I drift through a winter, falling in love three times, not thinking about the women who died, too scared to go to class and too scared to tell anyone that my scholarship is in jeopardy. I get engaged and am on track to be married at nineteen, just like my mother. I end up in hospital, like—but not at all like—my mother. The assailant I am afraid of is myself. I don’t want to live in this world where going to school is not safe. Home is not safe. Walking down the street, going to a party, waiting in line at a movie, working after dark alone in a store–any next moment could be the one where a man decides I am a rival or enemy. He might be a stranger. He’s more likely to be a lover, a spouse, a father. 

*

Sara N. Ahmed writes about fear’s stickiness, such that “objects of fear become substituted for each other over time” (“The Politics of Fear in the Making of Worlds” 389). These relationships of substitution are confusing, confused. Who is a friend, and who is a threat? I work the most frantically at placating the people I fear. Reading Ahmed’s “Resignation Is a Feminist Issue” shakes me. I leave a job where I am unsafe and then, isolated, email her, because collective disbelief and denial is hard to survive. Over the next year and half, I work through official complaints and processes, lawyers and allegations that I was too competent for my own good. Ahmed includes my experience in her work, quotes my words in a public context. I feel safer, because this is solidarity, because she believes me, which helps me believe myself.

*

1999

I have learned to theorize my way through trauma. It works, most of the time. I write a paper for a conference and sit, calmly, reading it out loud because it is less scary than making eye contact with the handful of strangers in the room. I write about trauma, historical fiction, and false memory allegations. I do this for years, because the longer I stay in school the more therapy I can access for free. This is one way to end up with a PhD. 

And then I am too embarrassed to include the counselor who enabled my work in my acknowledgements, U of T’s first sexual assault counselor and educator. Thank you, Patti McGillicuddy.

*

2019

For twenty years I have been teaching in colleges and universities. I feel safe. To be the teacher, my favourite make believe as a child, is to be the safest person in the room, the one with the most power and privilege. I love teaching.      

After I have been teaching for several years, there is a campus shooting—one of many in the U.S., so frequent they become wearying. This one is at a university and there are stories about a brave professor who died protecting her students.

I am not that brave. I burn with shame. I will plead and bargain with the shooter, I imagine, and my words will be inadequate. The image of how I will fail my students is so vivid that I have to remind myself, over and over, of how unlikely it is that my students will be endangered.

My students are in danger. In their residences, the weekend partying is a euphemism for rape culture. A student, eyes swollen, sat in my office on a Monday afternoon, explaining why her paper is  not finished. She went to a party, woke up 18 hours later, hurting and with no memories. I offer to walk her to the campus clinic. She just wants to go home. She drops the course and I don’t see her again. She doesn’t answer my email. I failed her. 

It is time for my eighteen-year-old to start university, and I am terrified. I spend a summer obsessing about danger and planning for disaster. Their dad buys them earthquake supplies, even though the city where they are moving is not in a seismically active area—we are. My child is moving to greater safety, and I should be grateful, but I am so scared.

Yes, I know it’s PTSD. But living in the world and feeling this unsafe is exhausting. Fortunately, there’s baking. And my child is less scared than I am, and this is progress.

 *

Fourteen benches sit in a circle outside the Vancouver bus station, in a neglected park. The Canada geese have taken over, and it’s a mess. Every time I visit, I take a picture, charting decay, then send angry email messages to the parks board asking for the memorial to be maintained.

Christine Bold, Ric Knowles, and Belinda Leach consider in their 2002 article how a memorial site might help sustain memory and resist the “active forgetting” of “hegemonic memorializing” (“Feminist Memorializing and Cultural Countermemory: The Case of Marianne’s Park” 130). They point out that race, ethnicity, and social status inform how much public support there is for commemoration. These 14 benches are only blocks from the Downtown Eastside where dozens of women vanished over several decades. Not disappearing: being disappeared. I think of Rebecca Belmore’s powerful, haunting “Vigil,” the way she stood in a parking lot shredding rose petals from their stems with her teeth. Raging, mourning.

On December 6 I will teach my last day of classes, saying goodbye to students and the communities we’ve built together this term. I will gather with colleagues to celebrate each other’s care and support. And I will look forward to helping create a world with more light and hope in the coming year, so that all of us–all of our children–can step into classrooms, and out into the world. Unafraid. 

*

Heidi Tiedemann Darroch teaches English and Access courses at Camosun College as a term faculty member. She is the co-editor of this month’s special section of the Canadian Journal of Studies in Discourse and Writing on pedagogy and academic labour and she has recently published in several collections of Canadian literary criticism, including Ethics and Affects in the Fiction of Alice Munro (edited by Amelia DeFalco and Lorraine York) and the forthcoming Canadian Culinary Imaginations (edited by Shelley Boyd and Dorothy Barenscott. She also works on women’s cultural production, higher education activism, and writing studies.

 

 

 

 

 

        

 

 

academic reorganization · feminism · feminist digital humanities · Uncategorized

Guest Post: Open Access Is a Feminist Issue

Today’s post is from Dr. Hannah McGregor

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In “#transform(ing)DH Writing and Research: An Autoethnography of Digital Humanities and Feminist Ethics,” Moya Bailey invites feminist scholars to ask how we enact our feminist ethics throughout our research processes. At the end of the article, she outlines questions we can ask ourselves as we are embarking on new research projects. Included in those questions are “What tools and or methods encourage multidirectional collaboration?” and “What mechanism of accountability can you create?”. Accountable feminist research, research that centres responsibility to the communities our research engages with or speaks to, is attentive to how its tools and methods open out or close down the possibilities for collaboration beyond the university. As a feminist scholar, I have become increasingly convinced that one of the most accountable things we can do in our work is prioritize open access. 

 

A quick explanation: open access (OA) is a set of publishing principles and practices that are specific to scholarly communication. The goal of OA is to break down institutional barriers to accessing research, either through publishing in OA journals or depositing pre-prints of articles in institutional repositories. There are obvious challenges to OA — particularly financial ones, as we’ll have to envision new business models to ensure that scholarly publishing is both open and sustainable. With major institutions like the University of California beginning to end their relationships with publishers like Elsevier, however, a steady movement toward widespread OA seems inevitable. And, while challenging, this change is a good thing. 

 

When I started working in the Publishing program at Simon Fraser University in 2016, I joined a community of scholars who are not just invested in open access as an ideal, but who are actively building the infrastructure to make OA possible. SFU is home to the Public Knowledge Project, and the PKP’s Associate Director of Research, Juan Pablo Alperin, is my departmental colleague. The Publishing program has voluntarily signed onto SFU’s Open Access Policy and incorporated it into our tenure and promotion criteria. In the context of an institutional setting where OA is treated as a shared value, I have had the space to experiment with open, accessible, and publicly-engaged scholarship, particularly through my work on podcasting as scholarly communication in collaboration with Wilfrid Laurier University. 

 

All this to say, I’ve been embedded in a community invested in the ethos of open access for long enough, now, that it was a genuine shock to me when, in Spring 2019, I attended multiple conferences where colleagues in Humanities disciplines spoke of open access as neoliberalism, the scientization of research, and a devaluation of our intellectual labour. As one friend texted me in the midst of one such conferences: since when is open access neoliberal but paywalling research so that people have to pay for it isn’t? 

 

I would never be so naive as to claim that OA lacks barriers and challenges. In the Canadian context, the most significant one is the top-down way that the Tri-Council has attempted to implement it: not through incentive-based funding or collaboration with stakeholders, but through sudden and absolute ultimatums that threaten to strip journals–and now, university presses–of their funding if they don’t comply with new regulations. These unilateral funding changes may also be linked to OA’s association with the STEM fields, which have often driven the conversation. In fact, people working in the field of scholarly communication have a tendency to use “science” and “research” as synonyms (I keep trying to make them stop doing this, but it isn’t sticking yet). Many Humanities scholars, journal editors, and publishers feel like we have been left out of the conversation about how we want our research to circulate, and are being left to play catch-up in a publishing and funding environment that is already stacked against us. 

 

But here’s the thing: Responding to the OA movement by clinging to closed-off and paywalled forms of scholarly communication is inimical to the public mission of the university–and the public mission of the university is a feminist issue. As Bailey reminds us, a feminist research ethics means making our research accessible and accountable. Feminist scholars shouldn’t be responding to open access by dragging our feet and reluctantly complying to new requirements. We should be leading the conversation about what it means to do open, accessible, accountable research. 

 

It is also true that many of the barriers to embracing open access are also feminist issues. The scholarly publishing world is dominated by women (as is the trade publishing world); journal editing tends to be undervalued and high labour work that is at once vital to academia and also, like most forms of service, barely counted in tenure and promotion processes. The precaritization of the university has massively inflated expectations around early-career publishing, which in turn has inflated the number of journals in many disciplines. The systematic defunding of public universities has cut the entire business model of university presses off at the knees. We also haven’t solved the problem of business models for sustainable OA publishing; in the sciences, the most viable model is adding article-processing fees into grants, but grants in the humanities and social sciences are generally too small for such additions. We cannot talk about open access without talking about all of these structural problems. 

 

But if we could collectively agree to the fundamental premise that open access is a feminist issue, then our conversations about labour and value and prestige would, by necessity, shift. As Kathleen Fizpatrick so succinctly puts it in Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University, embracing open access as a values-based approach to scholarly communication “does not just serve the goal of undoing [scholarship’s] commercialization or removing it from a market-driven, competition-based economy, but rather is a first step in facilitating public engagement with the knowledge that universities produce” (148). Can feminist scholars agree that part of the mission of publicly-funded universities should be facilitating public engagement with our work? Can we agree that pay-walling and institutionalizing research created on stolen Indigenous land perpetuates settler-colonial understandings of knowledge-as-commodity? Can we agree that the scarcity-driven models of publishing in the most “elite” and “competitive” journals or of valuing the monograph over journal articles (or journal articles over podcast episodes!) is based in a fundamentally patriarchal hierarchy of what knowledge “counts”? 

 

There are challenges ahead of us as we face the transformation of scholarly communication, but there are also exciting opportunities to break down the institutional barriers of the university, to tell the stories of our work in different ways, to rethink where and how and why we publish. As we face those challenges within our disciplinary and institutional communities, we’ll start finding good solutions when we commit to the values at the heart of making knowledge open and free.

McGregor headshot_Christopher M Turbulence

Hannah McGregor is an Assistant Professor of Publishing at Simon Fraser University and the host of Secret Feminist Agenda, a podcast about the mundane and radical ways we enact our feminism in our daily lives. She lives in Vancouver on the territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

 

Uncategorized

From the Archives: Surthrival

Here’s a post from several years ago that, surprise surprise, still feels relevant! Here is to surthrival.

________________

Late last week I was chatting with a friend of mine and we asked one another, “how are you?” And then we both giggled. Okay, actually we sent one another ellipses and exclamation points, because we were chatting on Facebook. The hilarity and lack of verbal articulation came from the fact that my friend, who is a single parent, is teaching four classes this term, and I, a co-parent to a six month old, am teaching two classes while my partner teaches three. We have no child care. My friend was up grading papers after teaching three classes, running tutorials, and making sure her own kids were well and fed and getting what they needed. I was awake working on a job application after having driven with my partner two-thirds of the way to New England for a conference at which he was to give a paper the next day. My partner was working on a paper after having taught a class and driving for six hours. Our kiddo, generous being that she is, was asleep in her portable crib in the middle of the hotel room.

How are you?

…!!!???!!!…

Our wordless pause came from this, then: we are both in it up to our eyeballs, my friend and I. We are running from the moment we wake to the moment we drop into bed. We are, neither of us, in stable work, so there’s the usual scramble to keep it all afloat. And yet. And yet as my friend and I agreed, the things that keep us grounded–the mornings, when my girl wakes us up singing in her tiny infant voice, the afternoons when my friend steals a moment to write–these things are good. There are roots in our lives, we agreed.

But let’s not deny it is hard. Let us not deny the feeling of being eaten alive by bureaucracy, Brazil-like. Let’s not ignore the data that suggests that nearly half the people working in higher education exhibit symptoms of psychological distress.

I want a word that means more than “surviving” without losing that hard-scrabble fact of what is really going on. I want a word that defies the isolation that comes with working in the academy, because my work–the job I go and do–can and does bring me joy, even if the conditions of that work cannot. I want a word that acknowledges the emotional labour, the sheer physical labour (you should see how quick I am on my bicycle, zipping to campus and class as soon as my partner gets home from his class to take bébé).

“I hope survival turns to thrival,” I wrote to my friend, in an attempt to name our own daily work of making our lives good despite, or in spite, or just in the midst of the long, hard work.

“Here’s to surTHRIVEal!” she wrote back, proving once again (let us acknowledge it here) that poets are indeed the legislators of the world.

So here’s to surthriving. To the precariate, doing your jobs and keeping your head and your spirits above water: surthrive. Find what lifts you. To the graduate students, filled with fear and anxiety about what is next and what is now: surthrive. You are smart. To the assistant professors, finishing their first terms and finding that the dream is still a f*ckload of work: surthrive. You deserve your job, we need you there. To the associate professors, keeping it all going despite the oft-unacknowledged workload: surthrive. You are in positions of power, don’t forget that. To the full professors, wondering, perhaps, what happened to the university you came to at the beginning of your career: surthrive. We need you. To the undergraduate students, facing student debt, facing final exams, trying to keep a social life and likely a job, too: surthrive. Find what lifts you up and hold onto that shining thing and let it light your way. To the administrative staff, keeping us all organized, and keepers of our quiet and not-so-quiet sorrows: surthrive. You keep this whole boat level and moving forward with the band playing.

Here is to surthrival. Here is to refusing to lose the light while acknowledging that the darkness is coming earlier these days. Here is to remembering that there are good moments in each day if we look for them. And here is to refuelling our resolve to make more of the day good, generative, and generous.