mental health · mindfulness · reading · social media · winter

An internet vacation, and a new approach to being online

I finished the 2016 work year on December 23, and on my way home I deleted the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Feedly, news, and email apps from my phone. I also put the browser icon somewhere really inconvenient and set up a Freedom App block that would last until the night before I returned from work on January 9. I started my holiday vowing to go completely social media and news free. I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference to my everyday life, but after weeks of feeling like I was drowning in stories of horrors and problems I couldn’t solve (or even make a dent in), a break sounded good. I knew that I was going to be spending a lot of time with family and friends, so it seemed like a good plan to take one when I knew that I was going to be pulled offline a lot anyway.

It turned out that my internet hiatus made way more of a difference to my life than I thought it would (you’re not surprised). I missed people a ton–Facebook is wonderful for that. And I missed the learning that happens on Twitter, the way it exposes me to ideas and viewpoints and lived experiences I can’t really get anywhere else. I didn’t do the work of sharing resources with PhDs looking to explore non-faculty careers that I usually do on Twitter, and that made me a bit sad. I didn’t read terrible things about Donald Trump, which did not make me sad at all.

My phone became mostly a book ingestion device, and I’d find my thumb flicking to the missing social media icons whenever I got uncomfortable or bored or sad. (It happened way more than I was okay with, and it weirded me out that this had become such a habit without my noticing). Without the internet to distract me, I read A LOT. I also did a shit ton of stuff that I wanted to do with my vacation, and I don’t think that I’d have been able to do all of that with the internet in my life. I was also less anxious, less angry, and less distracted.

Coming back from my internet hiatus, I’m trying to be more considered about how much I use it, and how I use it. I’ve reactivated an old Buffer account, and I’m spending a bit of time creating a queue of useful tweets so that Twitter is doing my resource sharing without me having to be on it. I’ve set up Freedom so that I have a short window every day to be on Facebook and Instagram. I already did a big RSS feed cull last year, but I’ve done another so that only the things I really want to read show up in my Feedly. And I’ve kept the news widgets deactivated on my phone, because I don’t need a 24/7 view of the terrible things happening in the world, a connectedness that I’m just figuring out keeps me from being active and activist in the ways I want to.

I’ve also created something like Sarah von Bargen’s gallery of goals. It hangs on the wall next to my desk, and reminds me of the things I really want to do with my time. Some are practical but dull (get my driver’s license), some are aspirational (swim three days a week), some are a stretch (finish a full draft of my novel this year). But I’m hoping that by having them there, I’ll be reminded regularly about what I’m giving up when I lose a couple of hours to mindless scrolling or, worse, to the brain fog and paralyzing anger I felt for much of the fall when I was trying to keep myself as informed as possible about what was happening in the world.

I’m still trying to figure out what a useful, considered, and balanced approach to social media and news looks like for me, so if you have any strategies, ideas, or tools that you’ve found helpful, I’d love to hear them.

best laid plans · feminism · politics · winter

Planning for the Holidays, Holidays for Planning

I’m seven working days away from my first vacation in a year and a half. All of my time off from work in 2016 was used to go to the MLA, teach at DHSI, and finish and defend my dissertation. All good things, but none of them a vacation. And I’m tired. Bring on the holidays.

But I’m also mad and scared and sad. I’m not terribly good at being mad and scared and sad. I grew up in a family with only two emotional temperatures–everything is great, or nuclear. I love my family dearly, but being raised by them has left me with, as Hermione Granger would say,  the emotional range of a teaspoon when it comes to the less cheery feelings. And so my natural tendency is to shy away from strong negative feelings because my body and mind don’t quite know how to distinguish between “kinda, and justifiably, angry” and the nuclear option of my childhood and adolescence. But I’m learning. (Guts’ new “In the Cards: Ask a Feelings-Witch” column was super on point this week–subject: anger–and super helpful). I’m furious about a lot, including how little the Canadian government is doing, diplomatically and otherwise, to intervene in Syria, and so I spent last night in a righteous rage, calling and tweeting and pulling out my credit card. It turns out that I’m pretty okay with being angry when the alternative is feeling impotent and helpless

What does all of this have to do with the holidays, you might ask? I love a good plan–see, as evidence, the fact that I never go anywhere without my Hobonichi Techo planner, or my way over-the-top first week post-PhD schedule–and while I’m planning for the holidays, I’m also going to use my holidays for planning. I’ve got a long list of things I want to do, for fun and self-care. I want to finish reading all of the Miss Fisher novels. I want to work on my novel every day. I want to go shopping in Kensington Market and cook an amazing anniversary dinner with my partner. I want to finally figure out what the hell to do with that stupid corner cabinet in the kitchen. I want to finish crocheting the giant blanket I’ve been working on. I want to go to the movies. I want to take my godson on his first trip to the art gallery. I want to spend time feeding and hugging and listening to my people. I want to sit in front of the fire.

But I also want to use my holidays to do some research and learning and planning toward a more sustainable approach to anger and advocacy next year. I’m pretty sure–Rebecca Solnit’s hope for a miracle aside–that 2017 is going to be a crappy, crappy year. It’s going to be full of all of that fear and rage and sadness that I’m working hard to get good at. And I need to figure out the most useful and sensible ways to channel those feelings into sustainable, mindful, planned action. And so I’m going spend part of my holidays planning for 2017. What local organizations can I get involved or more involved in that support the work of intersectional feminist joy-killing, combatting climate change, helping refugees? What organizations, local and international, most deserve my money and do the most impactful work with donations? What and who should I add to my reading list to help me be a better advocate and ally? What’s the contact information for the most powerful and responsive people in local, provincial, and federal governments? How can I better connect and collaborate with the amazing people in my life who share my concerns and goals? What does sustainable activism–a steady blaze, not a flash fire–look like for me, in good balance with work, research, creative, and family life?

Obviously, I’m not going to be able to do all of things I want to over the holidays, but in planning for both self-care and activism, I’m hoping to head into 2017 feeling recharged and ready to keep working and fighting. This is likely our last post of 2016 on Hook & Eye, and so from all of us, wishing you a restful and rage-filled winter break. Let’s burn down the worst parts of the world and make s’mores while we’re at it.

accomodation · balance · best laid plans · self care · winter

Sick Days

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

Planning for the Rest of the Winter

December, I’m okay with. Early January even. We’ve got the mad rush to the end of term, a few weeks to work from home in our pyjamas, the holidays, and then the dreaded (or beloved) January conference season. There’s stuff to do, parties to go to, and the anticipation (at least for me) of the rituals of Christmas and of spending time with my family.

But the rest of the winter? Kind of dreading it already–the lack of light, everyone’s general malaise, no big bright spot on the horizon to look forward to and plan toward, and a distinct lack of long weekends (although thank goodness for Family Day). Knowing that the post-holiday slump is on the horizon (we’ve got a series called “the January blues” for a reason), I’m making plans now that I’m hoping will make my winter less woeful. This is partly my Canadian take on the Danish concept of hygge, and partly an attempt to give myself  a reason to love, rather than tolerate, the winter. Here’s what I’m planning, and some ideas for making this your very own winter wonderland:

  • cheap tickets to the ballet: there’s not a bad seat in the theatre, and I love a good excuse to get dressed up, compare my own lack of coordination to the dancers’, and drink champagne at intermission
  • snowshoeing in the city: Toronto Adventures organizes a whole bunch of outdoor activities in the city and around Southern Ontario that you don’t need a car for (which is great, since we don’t drive!)
  • hiking the ravine: as long as the stairs aren’t iced over, I’m refusing to give up one of the biggest advantages of living where I do, which is being ten minutes from a massive network of ravine trails that make you feel like you’re in the middle of the country
  • holiday movies at the local theatre: yes, I’ve seen Love, Actually a thousand times, but not on the big screen in plush seats with friends
  • skating!: I’m not a good skater (see lack of coordination above) but I love it anyway, and Toronto has a zillion free indoor and outdoor rinks
  • making better use of my library card: if I’m going to be stuck inside when the weather is bad, I’m going to use the time to best my last year’s reading list. And it’s even easier to do now that the library has an extensive collection of ebooks
  • actually using our fireplace: we’ve got a wee, formerly coal-burning, fireplace in our living room, and some winters I light it up maybe twice. While I’m not super comfortable with the implications for trees or the air of regularly building fires, the occasional one can’t help but make me feel cozy and warm, and watching the flames is great meditative entertainment
  • dressing for the season: I’m thankful to no longer be a fourteen year old who privileges cool over being bloody cold. I love and feel good in all of my winter gear, which is great because I’ll be walking the thirty minutes to and from work in all weathers. And at home, I’ve got a giant fleece robe, classic men’s pyjamas, and fuzzy slippers that make me feel glad it’s not July. 
  • perfecting my slow-cooker recipes: I’ve long been a slow-cooker skeptic, but two recent successes have made me reconsider. It was a total lifesaver to come home to a giant pot of chana masala on Tuesday night, and I’m going to try to keep the ball rolling with adaptations of some favourite meals, like beet bourguignon, pulled jackfruit sandwiches, and misr wot
What about you, dear readers? How do you make your winter days merry and bright? 
mental health · productivity · reflection · silence · winter · you're awesome

Slowing Down

It’s mid-semester. We’re all a little tired, cold, and overworked. Today, as I race against yet another dissertation deadline and feverishly inscribe as many mid-semester tasks as possible into my dayplanner, I want to take a moment and remind us all to……:

SLOW DOWN. 
Here’s some Rothko for ya. Click on the image. It’ll help.

I used to be such a daydreamer, and those moments of thinking and reflecting and just sitting on the couch, staring into space, or going for long walks in the neighborhood, allowed my mind to wander and explore in a way that is becoming increasingly unavailable now that I’m constantly scrolling through my iPhone, oh that accursed piece of wondrous technology.

The Bored and Brilliant project begun by New Tech City has been asking listeners to think hard about our relationship to our devices, now that 58% of American adults own a smartphone. Our smartphones make us connected and entertained, NTC observes, but also dependent and addicted. (I write this as someone who has, on multiple occasions, worried that probably this person is really very angry with me–or, worse, annoyed or indifferent–because he/she has not responded to my text from three hours ago. AND I SAW THE BUBBLES.) At the risk of sounding like a crotchety luddite, I’d suggest that in this digital world, we are losing the capability of being idle; and “idle minds lead to reflective, creative thoughts,” according to this project and the research behind it. How often, during a spare moment, do you fill your mental space by grabbing your phone and scrolling through Facebook or Twitter? When was the last time you let your mind wander? When was the last time you got lost in a work of art, or just freewrote for a few minutes–about anything? Or just sat with your eyes closed, headphones in? (Spotify has some great mood playlists; I’m partial to “Deep Focus”).

I want to emphasize that I’m not advocating for slowing down primarily because it will, ultimately, increase your productivity when you speed up again. Such mentality feeds into a neoliberal need to produce, and to serve the all-consuming academic system to which we are hopelessly bound. You should slow down for you, because you are awesome and have cool, creative, independent thoughts that don’t always need to overlap with academia or the primary work you do. Because “academic” is not the sum-total of your identity. Because this is not about productivity, this is about self-care.

Related to the power of boredom is the “power of patience” (article of the same title here), and decelerating can constitute part of our classroom practices as well. Harvard art historian Jennifer L. Roberts believes that educators should “take a more active role in shaping the temporal experiences” of students, learning to guide practices of “deceleration, patience, and immersive attention.”* Exercises that require students to slow down, to meditate on the material at-hand and allow it to open up to them in its singularity, counter that which in the eyes of some critics has become a modern impulse toward distraction, shallow reflection, and superficial thinking. Roberts in particular requires her students to position themselves in a museum and gaze at a work of art for a veeery long period of time (though I have to say that three hours seems a little excessive…), reflecting on their experience afterwards. Colleagues of mine have had success with this exercise, and I look forward to trying it with my students in March. Do you have any other thoughts on how to guide the temporal experiences of our students, and encourage them to practice creative idleness?

So, feminist friends, let this be a reminder to you to slow down today, even just for 10 minutes. And the night-owl in me is going to practice what I’m preaching right this moment and head to bed.

*For this article, as well as the “slow looking” exercise that accompanies it, I am thoroughly indebted to Julie Orlemanski; thanks, Julie, for a particularly generative–and generous–Facebook post!

mental health · random · winter

Enjoying winter

The windchill this week has been hovering around -35 C on average. People from other, warmer places, have been asking “Ok, but what’s the real temperature? The one on the actual thermometer?” To which, honestly, I have been letting my inner bitch respond along the lines of “Why? ‘Cause you want to make a statistic? The windchill *is* the real temperature. It shows that, upon exposure, your skin freezes in the same amount of time it would if in an environment with -35C temperature on the ‘actual thermometer’, but without any wind or humidity.” Yeah, I’m not that proud of myself, either.

However, the irony is my craving to spend time outside. Maybe it’s the forbidden fruit. Maybe I’ve lost all maturity. Maybe [gasp] I’m starting to like Edmonton winters. You know, even with the abysmal temperatures, which, truth be told, only happen on a handful of days (ok, maybe two handfuls; three, if it’s a really bad winter), when the sun is shining, life is good. When the sun’s not shining? Well, why don’t we leave that topic for a summer day, ok?

The trick is, from I’ve been told and been able to ascertain myself, to get out often. In two ways: get out of the house and get out of town. While the latter might be a luxury, the former really holds the secret. Get out of the house. Properly dressed, of course. When you think you’ve put on enough clothes, put one more layer, and take an extra pair of mitts in your pockets. Take that touque, too, it’s on the house.

Edmonton on a crisp sunny day in January
Why am I rambling on and on about the winter in Edmonton? I guess because enjoying winter in Edmonton is yet another version of making lemonade. (no, no, no, it’s totally not because I’m obsessed with getting away from #yeg #winter). Winter, even of the bitterly cold variety, is still enjoyable when you have a good SAD lamp the time and the opportunity to get outside as much as possible. I envy people who ski, and I promise to turn that negative emotion into lemonade, by learning how to ski myself. Soon. Maybe next year when, you know, both kids would be able to stand on skis. And then I’ll just envy them for picking it up in no time, while I waddle along, and take a gazillion falls. 
What’s your version of middle-of-the-winter lemonade?