Thursday, January 19, 2017

Oh, The Things You Can Do (with a PhD)!


Can you believe it's already the middle of January? As we race full speed ahead to the end of another academic year, lots of soon-to-be finished graduate students are thinking about what comes next. My latest article for Chronicle Vitae shares some strategies for identifying the skills you develop during graduate school and translating them into the language of job postings, which can help you identify the kinds of jobs you can and might want to do:
Employers might not be looking for experts on 19th-Century French literature or CRISPR-Cas9. But they are looking for people who can speak and write effectively, process and communicate high volumes of complex information, create project plans and see them through, work with (and for) a wide variety of people, identify gaps (in knowledge, processes, understanding) and propose how to fix them. Ph.D.s learn how to do all of those things, and much more. 
Check out the full article over at Chronicle Vitae!






Original image: Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!, by Dr. Seuss

Monday, January 16, 2017

Reading as Resistance

What does reading do? Or rather, what good does reading do? 

As a scholar of literature I find my self thinking about this big (too big?) question a lot. I think about it on bad days when I wonder what on earth I have devoted my life to, this fighting windmills business trying to find work teaching literature. I think about it on my good days when the answers are so fundamental to moving through life with an ethic of care and what Rey Chow calls responsible engagement that I can hardly believe my good fortune. Teaching books! Reading books! And I think about this on the average day, when I drive the 200km to work and back listening to audio books, or writing lectures trying to think through how to convince a room full of students that yes, it is meaningful and relevant to think about Kate Chopin's The Awakening or James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room or Lucas Crawford's Sideshow Carnival today, now, in their very own lives.

This week I will be thinking about reading even more as I steel myself for the inauguration of the next President of the United States. I will think about reading and how it is a revolutionary act to think and listen to the perspectives of people whose lives and experiences and oddities differ from my own. I will think about reading as resistance, as solidarity, and as an act of joyful insurrection and radical self-care. 

On Friday January 20th I will also think about what it means to read with and in community as I take my place with sixty other humans to participate in a collaborative reading of Operations by Moez Surani. Operations--or more properly, ةيلمع Operación Opération Operation 行 动 Oперация--is a book-length poetic inventory of contemporary rhetoric of violence and aggression, as depicted through the evolution of the language used to name the many military operations conducted by UN Member Nations since the organization’s inception in 1945. Moez has invited sixty-one people around the world to each read a year from the book. Some people will be gathered in Toronto at Rick's Cafe for the reading. The rest of us will read from wherever we are and tweet documentation of our reading. For me, this invitation is an act of hospitality, care, and solidarity: I will be able to participate in an action of protest and witness by reading. Through reading. Through the attentiveness that reading requires. And, while I know that reading will not be enough to resist the current and coming civic aggressions, I am glad to move through this week with reading as a mode of resistance and revolution in my heart. 

In honour of Moez's invitation and with a nod to the recent circulation of top-ten lists of the albums that most influenced high-school you, I close with another list. This one answers Paul Vermeersch's invitation to document the ten books that influenced high-school you. I offer these as document to my sixteen year old self, who was just learning about resistance, revolution, and being a feminist killjoy. I invite you to add your own list. And I send you warmth as we move forward in solidarity, and with attentiveness. 

In no particular order:

1. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

2. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

3. Beloved by Toni Morrison

4. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

6. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

7. Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

8. The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

9. The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

10. Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Dandicat

Thursday, January 12, 2017

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.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Draining & Sustaining: My Relationship With Social Media

I like to think of myself as a pretty dependable correspondent. Email, text, social media: I'm on it. And if I'm not responding then I am there, listening. I know the conversations, the key talking points, the hot takes and the thorough think-pieces. I can point you to a dozen "important" conversations in my field (which is, cough cough, Canadian literature...)  At the very least, regardless of the length of my to-do list, I get the emails sent on time. I tweet back. I message. I respond. I engage. I try and listen. But today when I signed in to schedule my post and found two dozen emails, a few direct messages on Twitter, eighteen notifications on Facebook, and read Aimée's piece on Lindy West's departure from Twitter for the first time (she published it four days ago) I finally had to admit what other people have known for a while: I'm dropping some balls.

Or rather, I am tired. Existentially. Politically. Poetically, even, if you count the gorgeous one-liners I think up in the liminal space between waking and sleeping. What has tired me out, I think, is not social media per se, but rather what my friend Sue Goyette identified the other day as the slippage between impact and intent. Let me break it down: I love Facebook for the news. It keeps me in contact with people I would otherwise have long lost touch with. Sure, we don't write to one another daily, but seeing photos and thoughts and comments from far-flung friends and acquaintances has broadened my access to other people's lives and perspectives. It isn't a stretch to say I feel enriched by the connections of many people I know and "know" on Facebook. I like Twitter too. I like the speed of conversation, the way that information and ideas and writing and news travels. It feeds the impatient part of me (a big part of me...)

But for about two years now social media has felt at least equal parts draining and sustaining. I have been trying to mark a moment when that shift started happening, and I think there are, for me, two. The first was when Chief Theresa Spence was on her hunger strike in Ottawa, and the second was was when Emma Healey published her brave, necessary, and gutting "Stories Like Passwords" on The Hairpin. There have been many many more moments since these two, but for me those events mark moments in my digital life when it was made clear to me that hate--in the form of racism and misogyny and rape culture--was so clearly fed and fanned by the conditions of social media.

I'm fortunate: I've not been cyber-bullied. I've only had a handful of rape threats on Twitter. I am not a lightening rod for charged conversation. I have friends, mentors, and acquaintances who are, and while I am so grateful to them and in awe of their energy, I worry for them. I can see the toll it takes, being constantly accessible. Feeling, I suspect, constantly responsible.

And so, as we head into this new year with its uncertainties and ruptures I find myself wanting not resolutions but reorientations. I aim to reorient my relationship with speedy responses. Yes, I'll respond to students and colleagues on time. But perhaps I won't keep Facebook on my phone. Maybe I will schedule time for social media and when that time is up it is up. Maybe I won't do any of this and bring it to my students as a case study for letting ourselves fail and learning from our failures. Who knows. What I do know is this: I'm working to be more generous in my engagements with others--online, in the classroom, in my home, and with myself. And sometimes being generous means taking a moment and a step back.

So here's to a new term, dear readers. Here's to another Monday, another opportunity to take a tiny moment for ourselves to reorient how we're moving through the worlds and with and alongside others. And here's to writing and reading feminist work. We need it, we're going to need it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Internet I want to live in

Lindy West left Twitter yesterday. I noticed that around the time I was holding her book Shrill in my hands, so I could transcribe the title of an essay into the syllabus of one of my courses: "You're So Brave for Wearing Clothes and Not Hating Yourself." The essay is about the notion of 'confidence' and what it means, culturally and personally, to be a confident fat woman. It begins with body acceptance, and according to West, the chapter could be only sixteen words long and it would say this and be complete: "Look at pictures of fat women on the Internet until they don't make you uncomfortable anymore."

West reminds us that representation matters. She narrates the process of seeing, over and over, and then actively seeking out and voraciously consuming, photos of fat women, starting with Leonard Nimoy's Full Body Project, and moving through blogs and hashtags. Seeing her own body type represented, over and over, and celebrated and loved and just simply being, cracked something open.

When West married, she produced this. This is the internet I want to live in.

However, the internet I actually have is a little different. It's an internet where even after 10 years, Twitter's best anti-harassment tool is to make is so those who are being abused can "mute" their harassers, whose hate everyone can still see. It's an internet that Sherman Alexie also just left on New Years, tweeting "Hey folks, I’m leaving Twitter because its negatives increasingly outweigh its positives. Thank you for the follows." Ta-Nehisi Coates is gone, too, though maybe temporarily. It's a platform for fake news and gas lighting and hate speech and doxxing and dog-piling. It's weaponized virality with the aim of silencing oppressed and minoritized populations. It's developing its own vocabulary, even.

Maybe the internet was started by computer nerds--government funded misfits and model train builders and hippies and prodigies. Somewhere along the line--in Usenet groups, through Reddit and 4chan, and leaping onto the WWW and sites like Facebook and Twitter--the internet itself became a tool of oppression. And I think this was in direct proportion to its utility and effectiveness as a tool of liberation. The internet gave us #GirlsLikeUs, #BlackLivesMatter, #MMIW, #ILookLikeAProfessor and more, a platform that no one gave to us, but that we took. That internet is under attack, and we risk losing it.

To say we live in a moment of powerful backlash against acknowledging and celebrating the always-there-but-often-suppressed diversity and plurality of our shared world would be an understatement.

West deserves a break. Alexie, too. Leslie Jones deserved a break. Hashtag activists deserve a break. It's time for those of us who have remained behind the front lines, benefiting from their cover, to step forward. We are going to have to fight for the internet we want, because it's not a given. I'm collecting strategies and resources, and trying to do my part. You might start here, with Femtech Net's Centre for Solutions to Online Violence. Or, if you you want to get down and dirty, consider something like Sleeping Giants. And, crucially, stay online. Stay on Twitter as a progressive. Stay on Facebook and keep reporting those fake news sites. Keep blogging, keep linking, keep sharing.

Representation matters. Women, people of colour, disabled people, immigrants, LGBTQ communities, rural people, the underemployed, we've enjoyed a really good run with online publishing tools, producing vast troves of amazing content, and cobbling together amazing communities. This is all at risk. Fight. And maybe someday Lindy West will come back.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

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.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Take care, take time

Radical thought, oh my academic friends: take at least a week off this holiday break. Like, off off: don't check your work email, don't work on your syllabus, don't try to revise that article. If you are someone's supervisor or someone's boss, for goodness sake, be explicit that you hope those who report to you do not work or check email or 'get ahead' or 'work on a project' over the break.

I hear the howls of protest already: but I'm so behind! It's my only chance to not be interrupted! I need to get ahead! I have all these loose ends! Everything is on fire!  But I like working every day of the year!

No. I mean, let me try to be empathetic here: I know you feel a lot of pressure, but working straight through the holiday is only going to make it worse. Worse right away because you will feel lousy and exhausted and exploited. Worse later because people will expect you to be always working. Worse for everyone else who would really like work life balance because you are setting a precedent for not needing it. So, no.

Are you tired? Has the term been tough? Have you studied / taught / researched / served with all your might, juggled too many things at once, set lofty goals and not quite reached them, dropped a couple of things? Me too. Also, everyone else. Take a break, soften, rest.

Do you have a big term coming up at the start of January? Writing deadlines, new prep, admissions season, lofty goals you're not quite sure you can reach? Me too. Also, everyone else. Take a break, build up a little cushion of restedness to be ready to tackle January when it comes.

The longer I do this the more I understand the values of boundaries. This job will take any amount of time you throw at it, and ask for more, and the work will still never be done. So I set boundaries: this amount of time for course prep and no more. A dedicated writing appointment every time for 60 minutes. No work emails after 5 pm (and if I write them after that, I wait until morning to send them). Take the weekends off (unless I am overcome by an urge to write). This makes me more productive and more relaxed--it's true.

And I'm setting boundaries not just on a daily or a weekly basis: I'm setting semester boundaries. This means, particularly between Fall and Winter semesters, when my family celebrates Christmas, I take a break. Don't work. Sleep in. Read novels. Go sledding. Drink mimosas at 10am. Hit the Boxing Day sales. Hang out with friends and family.

The best part is digging out my office keys on the first day back, walking down the hallway to my office, and seeing everything with fresh eyes. It feels like I've been away. It's fresh, a little strange. I'm ready to go.

Everyone deserves this feeling.

When I was a grad student I used to fly home for the holiday with half a suitcase full of books. I never read them. They were heavy to carry. I felt an ambient looming guilt over not reading them when I was out walking in the snow or sipping egg nog. I felt regret when I dragged them all back to Edmonton unread, starting the semester feeling like a failure.

As as prof, I'm very, very careful to not give my own students anything to do over the break. No really late paper submission deadlines so that they write all through the holiday, no pre-semester reading list or assignments. No chapter revisions for my supervisees. Nothing.

You need a break. I need a break. I assure that I myself take one every year at this time and I'm still employed and relatively successful. And happy.

So my holiday wish for you is: visions of sugarplums, and not Zizek, dancing in your head, for at least a week. You can do it. You deserve it.