academic reorganization · ideas for change · job notes · reform · saving my sanity · wish list

The email, oh I’ve had enough of it

My email is killing me. My work account currently has 263 unread emails in it. How is that even possible? The whole first screen of 30 emails only has two unread emails–one from a digest listserv I mostly delete (guiltily) unread every day, and one a Twitter notification. Where are the rest of them? Who are they from? They are hidden among the 1487 other emails sitting there in my inbox. That’s a crazy, unreasonable number of emails to have hanging around, read or unread, in an inbox.

Then my other account. There’s another 162 unread missives sprinkled amidst the 575 total messages there. A lot of those should have come and gone through my work account, but didn’t because there was a week there where my email wasn’t working at the office and so …

Oh hell. It’s 6:30 in the morning and I’m feeling exhausted and defeated already.

This email lunacy has to stop.

A lot of this I’ve done inadvertently to myself. The Facebook and Twitter notifications. Marketing emails from Apple and Hootsuite and The Gap and Old Navy and Lululemon and Barefoot Yoga. I signed up for most of that, I guess, but now I’m drowning. Why am I still getting email from the makers of EndNote? I don’t even use EndNote. Other software vendors keep bugging me to upgrade, and I just want to hide under my bed. Stop sending me email, Adobe! And I’m looking at you, too, Screenflow!!

I have a lot of text-messagy emails from my husband and my sister that I never seem to delete. That clogs stuff up, too. Oh, and a million HuffPo and NYT and Globe and Mail articles I email to myself from my phone late at night, so I’ll remember to add them to my online bookmarking service from my computer. I just checked and there are 83 messages from myself sitting in my inboxes. Oh God, *I* am the problem.

But there are other problems.

Student emails. I’m teaching a total of 40 first years and 16 grads right now, and I’m on the committees of or supervising another 7 graduate students. It’s paper-writing, grant application reference letter, proposal-writing, thesis drafting time. These emails require my attention, and then my action, and many of them have lots of links or documents in them I need to keep. Meetings I need to schedule. Things I have to keep thinking about and things I have to do. I’m not sure how to make this any better. It’s obviously much better to hear frequently from my grad students than to never hear from them. And some of my graduate assignments require students to meet with me. I really push my first years to send me messages through the LMS, but since that software’s email is so awkward and awful, I get them all forwarded to my university account and often reply from there as well, so it’s not much help. Except at least they have a uniform subject line so I can find them later if they fall through the cracks now.

University emails. If I get one more cryptic memo written for the pleasure of the sending department rather than to meet the needs of the intended recipient, I’m gonna punch somebody, I swear. Noon hour concerts. Talks on medieval political science. Internal marketing about our vision our logo our new revenue generating graduate programs. Memos about plagiarism, about copyright, about religious accommodation for exams. Emails about software updates for machines I don’t use; emails about machine downtime for software I don’t use. Emails warning about email viruses. Emails announcing hirings and retirements and deaths and births. Imprecations to read all these emails more carefully. Reply-alls to the entire faculty of arts, then reply-all apologies to the entire faculty of arts. Some of this (a vanishingly small amount) is important but the sheer volume of completely irrelevant and uninteresting stuff is killing my will to live. Would the institution ever have sent me this many paper memos? Never. And what’s worse? Colleagues who receive these mass mailouts AND FORWARD THEM TO ME AGAIN. Now I’ve received an irrelevant email twice. Awesome.

The one-offs. These I feel the worst about, because they are important. But they are also unique and require thought and so I put off dealing with them, and because they are unique, I then forget about them. They get buried in the avalanche and by lunchtime tomorrow? Three screens down, utterly neglected. Cold-call networking emails from fascinating people. Calls to review. Conference calls sent to me especially. Potential students currently at other institutions. Blog readers with questions. These all keep me awake at night–because that’s when I suddenly remember them, at 3am, when I have to pee.

I easily spend over an hour every day–sometimes significantly more–just dealing with my email and the stuff in it. And then every couple of months I have to spend most of a day mucking it out. It’s awful. This feels like a terrible waste and a terrible burden and just generally inefficient and wrong.

I’m subscribing to the email charter. Have you read it? You should. There’s some pretty sensible stuff in there. Do you think it could work, in a university context? Are you overwhelmed by your email?

Just please don’t ask me how many web browser windows I have open on my desktop right now. Or when I turned into Andy Rooney.

best laid plans · body · change · faster feminism · grad school · ideas for change · kid stuff · slow academy · wish list

Guest Post: Pumping on Campus

Today’s post is from recent PhD-graduate Andrea Beverley–her post really struck a chord with me, because when I came back to work five months after my daughter was born, I was pumping breastmilk several times a day at work, for about 6 or 7 months: my main problem was teaching a three hour grad seminar in a far-flung building, and having to pump during the 15 minute class break. Mostly, I had the incalculable luxury of a private office, but I can tell you, it’s really never easy to bring this sort of routine into your worklife.

Thank you so much, Andrea, for sharing this story with us. And congratulations on your degree!


The first time that I brought my breast pump to school, I had a vague, naïve impression that I would find some kind of cozy, private den in which to extract my breast milk. Reality hit when I spent the better part of my lunch break searching for a spot to pump. The single-person washroom was locked with a sign on the door stating that I needed to apply to the Disabled Students Bureau for a key. I figured I’d set up in a stall in the larger bathroom, but to my dismay, there were no electrical outlets for my electric pump. I wandered over to the library and consulted a librarian at the information desk. She suggested the medical clinic or the nurses’ station (both necessitating a trek to the other side of campus, not to mention the allusion to the medicalisation of maternity, which is a whole other post!). She then offered to reserve one of the library’s group study rooms for me for a 15-minute period. It had an electrical outlet and a door, but a little window beside the door meant that anyone walking by could glance in. Nonetheless, I decided that this was my best option. I hunkered down on the floor with my back against the door as far as possible from the window and tried to visualize my suckling baby so that my milk would let down in this awkward, less-than-ideal spot.

Over the following months, I developed an efficient pumping routine. I bought batteries so that I wouldn’t need an outlet, and I pumped in a washroom stall while balancing on the toilet. I was very self-conscious about the mechanical noises that the pump made, so I tried to muffle it by wrapping the mechanical part of the pump in a sweater and leaving it in my backpack with only the cord protruding. I wasn’t ashamed of pumping my milk, but I did worry that people would hear the noise, have no idea what it was or a decidedly wrong idea about what it was, and find it laughable or bizarre. I’m still not sure why this bothered me so much. Recently, in one of the washrooms that I had so often used as my pumping station, I heard those familiar sounds emanating from one of the stalls and felt an incredible sense of kinship with that pumping mama!

 In recent years, a number of American campuses have created lactation rooms for nursing mothers and recent health care reform in the U.S. now requires employers to provide “a private, non-bathroom place” to express breast milk. While breastfeeding is considered a human right in Canada and workplaces are expected to accommodate nursing mothers, I couldn’t find much on-line evidence of Canadian campuses designating space for pumping, although the University of Toronto’s Family Care Office offers an list of “private, quiet and comfortable places” around campus where mothers can breastfeed or pump. Do any other campuses address this issue? I would have used a lactation room for sure, had it been conveniently located. But honestly, beyond my own experience, I’m not sure how much demand there would be for such a space, which testifies to the solitude that I experienced in my pumping adventures. I don’t know anyone else who went through the same situation. Profs can use their offices, and students coming to campus for short classes wouldn’t necessarily need to pump during that time. But I was a doctoral student working long days at my (shared) desk space. So this blog post is in part to ask: anyone else have campus breast milk anecdotes to share?

 Andrea Beverley

copper-bottomed bitch · making friends · saving my sanity · wish list

Merry Christmas! — Wanna make somethin’ of it?

On the syllabus of my first year class this year, December 6th is noted thus: “Papers handed back; receive Christmas cookie.”

Yeah, that’s right. A Christmas cookie. And I wished them all a Merry Christmas on the way out–and told them to relax over the break from studies and the enjoyment of whatever holiday they celebrate. Me, I celebrate Christmas, and wanted to share good wishes from that angle. I bake Christmas cookies, and host a Christmas party, and send out Christmas cards, and hang Christmas lights, and I even have more than one Christmas screen saver.

I was raised Catholic, so I come by this honestly. I’m not Catholic anymore, and my Christmas is more about the secularized rituals of decoration and eggnog and Santa and such. But still. It’s Christmas. It’s not “the season” nor is it “the holidays,” particularly not as such locutions are generally meant, in the most hysterical of politically correct hypercorrection, to not offend someone who might not celebrate Christmas. You don’t have to celebrate Christmas; that’s fine. I’m by no means intending to proselytize. However, I don’t get what’s offensive about me sharing good wishes with you on the basis of a holiday I jump into with both feet every single year: part of my Christmas is smiling at people and wishing them Merry Christmas.

We are arrived at a sorry state when cheerful greetings and a desire to share buttery baked goods chokes up in our throats because we don’t want to offend anyone. Because we’re scared. How on Earth can I offend anyone by smiling and wishing them well, wishing them shortbread dusted in icing sugar and coloured sprinkles?

Surely, we are not so delicate as to be offended by kindness? I am a vegetarian. Sometimes, I go places where people don’t know that, and prepare food with meat, and offer it to me with kindness. You know what? I eat it. I eat it because it was prepared with good will and generosity, as a gesture of human contact. Also, usually, I’m pretty hungry.

So. I think it’s terrible, this slicing and dicing of acceptable phrases of mush that are deliberately context- and culture-free. It’s a vague, bland, nothing kind of self-expression of the sort that if it showed up in an essay I’d draw a field of Rudolph noses all over it. What do you mean? Be precise! Weasel words!

In this vein, I’m actually a lot more sympathetic to those who lobby to “keep the Christ in Christmas” than I am with the purveyors of “season’s greetings” and “holiday sale.” They are trying, at least, to keep some specificity and rootedness in their celebration. Still, I’m a sucker for red and white decorations and for the (religious) traditions of my own childhood.  So yeah, I’m secularizing and generalizing Christmas. But I draw the line at changing the name. And I draw the line at the idea that calling Christmas what it is is somehow offensive. One of my friends and I were out for supper the other night, and heard a really loud someone at another table speaking loudly of “ghetto blasters” and we looked at one another, askance: we call them boom boxes now, because ‘ghetto blaster’ is a derogatory term. Christmas, I suggest to you, is not a derogatory term, and needs to emendation.

So then. From my keyboard to yours: Merry Christmas, goddamnit.

Have a cookie. I made ’em myself.

wish list

Dear Santa

Here’s what this academic hopes to find under the tree next week:

  • A ball gag and the judgment to use it – on myself so that I stop being the mouthiest person in the room (every room), because it only makes meetings last longer. Actually, Santa? I’ll take a dozen. 
  • A family broker: someone to set reasonable expectations and work out schedules and assuage hurt feelings and plan a menu that suits the four-year-old and the 64-year-old.
  • Justice. Go big, Santa.
  • Hey, Santa, can you make it so that the very first day of this semester break lasts forever, so that I can dwell at the delicious beginning of a fabulous utopia where I sleep when I’m tired and read what I like and eat nothing but the most delectable food? Stop time, just for a day or so at the beginning.
  • A clone.
  • Could you please send the filing fairies to my office? If you have leftover fairy power, maybe some could be put to work on these writing projects, which I know are here … somewhere. Also a grading fairy, if you don’t mind. 
  • A date with Lisbeth Salander.
  • Oh, a new federal administration. Liberal, New Democrat, Bloq Quebecois, Green, Marijuana Party, coalition – I don’t care! But this Harper crap has Got To Go.
  • Vanishing email. Or maybe just a new, supersecret email address.
  • A quick resolution to the sexual assault charges against Julian Assange. 
  • A ban on the verb “enhance.”
  • Less winter, more sun, and an old-fashioned wife for my partner and me, to make doctor’s appointments and pick up cat food and keep track of the housekeys and get a hot meal on the table. You can call him/her “an assistant” if you want, but please write back and let me know you’re clear on the concept. Also a yard butch and a basement boy. I promise, Santa, I’ve been super good this year!
    Oops! How did this Alexander McQueen dress get on the list?