Friday, December 12, 2014

License to sloth*

I woke up this morning and decided that enough is enough with the lists! I have enough of those, and we here on the blog have many. They do make me survive the day, and get me through the most hectic and crazy periods, pretty much like the ones at the end of a Fall term would be. But do you know what happened to me yesterday? I caught myself fantasizing about the ALL THE THINGS I would do during this break, and--gasp--actually sat down to make a list. Of the fun things to do during the break. Really? Really!?! Is that what it's come down to? Is that what I've become? Has my life really been reduced to making lists of the fun things to do during the break? To scheduling my supposedly free time? Enough is enough I say! No more lists.

Granted, I know where else this impulse to catalog all the leisure aspirations comes from. Stress management. Ever since my undergrad days, during exam season, I'd run through a list, in my head, of all the things I'd do when exams were over. The list seemed endless just like the exam period, and yet, when exams actually ended, I was at a loss as to what to do with ALL THAT TIME. As as result, I ended up feeling like a failure for not only not enjoying my break enough, but not even remembering what that enjoyment should entail according to my own self from a few days back. Hence, the perpetual stress-time promise to make a list of ALL THE ENJOYABLE THINGS TO BE DONE DURING A BREAK. But not this time. No lists.

So, instead I will take a break from my best habits that have anything to do with work. Breaks, by definition, should be different from work, so I will attempt to structure this one as little as possible, rather than make it into a game of tick-that-line-on-the-list. I will read books at random from the collection I've amassed throughout the term in hopes of just such an opportunity (I might not even add them to the running list of books I've read this year). I will pick up my knitting, but set no goals as to finishing any projects. I will peruse recipes at random, and cook whatever I feel like. I will get together with friends, and go to wherever my fancy strikes at that moment. Hell, I might even turn on the TV during the day.

Just like that: no pressure! When's the last time you allowed yourself to sloth? Think you'll join me in spirit? What are some things that you've always promised yourself you'd do during a break--do share! And then go and ENJOY THE BREAK!

*Why, yes, I did just use sloth as a verb. I am claiming neologizing as a PhD superpower!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Another One Bites the Dust, or, an End of Term #Altac Update

I've got 5.5 working days left in 2014--less, if today is a snow day like it might be. It's hard to believe that another term is over, that I've been working full-time in FGS for nearly a year and a half now. It's very hard to believe how agonized I was about leaving academia, to remember the long, awful time (years, really) of not knowing what I would do with my life post-PhD. It seems silly now, all that agonizing, but it really wasn't. It was a symptom of not knowing who and where would value my graduate training, of not knowing that there were workplaces that could be as, or more, fulfilling than an academic department. I'm learning about more and more places and people that do value what PhDs bring to the workplace every day. And I'm as convinced as ever that leaving academia was exactly the right decision for me, and could be for so many others. I've spoken to quite a few readers over the last couple of months--thank you, you lovely people--who have expressed their appreciation for being able to see what an #altac job, and an #altac life, looks like from the other side, from the inside. I wish I'd had more access to that kind of information and perspective myself, and I thought it might be time for an update. How's this #altac thing going, a year and a half later? What's it like?

It is, in short, pretty great.

Yesterday was a excellent example of my new normal, and pretty representative of why I love it. I woke up, as I do, at 5:15 and worked on my dissertation for a couple of hours. The lack of pressure--not feeling like my entire future rests on this one document--means that I enjoy my writing time most days, and I definitely look forward to it when I wake up in the morning. (Say what? This was definitely not the case when I was writing full time). Yes, writing can still be excruciating, but I know what a bad writing day feels like (oh, do I) and it's been a long time since I've had one as bad as those I had before I took my #altac job. I relish writing as time for creativity and independent work, in contrast to the more collaborative and administrative work I do when I get to the office. And just needing the dissertation to be defendable, not appealing to some mysterious hiring committee, means that I'm taking risks with my writing that feel very right but that I never would have taken had I been taking this dissertation to market. Instead, I'm hoping to publish it as a work of popular literary history, which means that more than three people might actually read it. Huzzah!

After writing comes getting dressed in real clothes, which I still like doing (it helps that I'm a total pencil skirt fetishist and love an excuse to buy beautiful ones and wear them every day), and then about 45 minutes in transit, which I used to read Nigel Slater's delightful The Kitchen Diaries and make grand baking plans for the weekend. The idea of spending at least an hour and a half every day commuting was probably the most worrisome thing to me when I got offered my job, but it's turned out to be no big deal--I go north when most commuters are going south, so the train is usually quiet, and I mostly just read and relax. At the office, I spent most of my day reviewing the final draft applications submitted by our eight Trudeau Foundation Scholarship nominees and compiling their final packages, which is very fulfilling work. I've been coaching and supporting these students since May, and they are, without exception, brilliant, kind, committed, and interesting people who are doing important research, research which I've taught them to write and talk about in ways that are compelling and direct. Working with them is definitely the best part of my job. Of course, I also spent a good part of my day answering email, and then polishing up a PowerPoint presentation about the research being done by our top doctoral students for our annual Scholars' Reception. At lunch, I curled up with a book at the campus bookstore, which is actually a very cozy place to hang out. I love how much time I have to read now, and how I don't feel guilty about reading things that aren't dissertation-related.

In the afternoon, I got to hear the Provost say lovely things about those same top graduate students (things I wrote for her, which is pretty fun), hang out with many of the students I helped win major scholarships this year and last, and spend time outside of the office with my co-workers, all of whom I like rather a lot. At the end of the night, a very senior administrator smuggled me a giant piece of blue cheese from the cheese tray to take home. When I got home, a home that was sparkly clean because I can now afford some help around the house (as Aimee says, we have more money than time) and full of fresh produce (CSA delivery FTW!), I made dinner while my partner finished his last assignment of the term (like me, he works full time and studies part time). After dinner, I continued re-reading Sandra Djwa's biography of P.K. Page--I'm on a big Canadian literary biography kick, which is really driving my writing at the moment--with my cat in my lap, and got so cozy that I fell asleep on the sofa. I didn't think about my day job once.

It was a great day, and I have lots of days like it in my #altac life. Of course, not every day, or even every month, are like this. The fall rush is a real challenge, especially this year when I was developing a dozen Banting postdoc applications and forty Vanier and Trudeau applications simultaneously, while also executing the launch of our Graduate Professional Skills program and coordinating all of our normal scholarship competitions. There were some 18 hours days and many weekends spent working. Sometimes, when 7:30 am rolls around, I do really wish that I could sit and keep writing just a few hours longer. I've figure out how to make time for writing despite the fact that I come home from work mentally wiped out, and don't get home until nearly 7, but I haven't quite figured out where exercise fits into this schedule.

But now that I'm doing most things at work for the second time, my anxiety level is so much lower, as is my understanding of where and how to prioritize. I've found ways to stay engaged with my same academic community, just in a different capacity--I'm still doing the MLA, Congress, and DHSI this year, but I'm now speaking about graduate professional development and careers instead of poetry, and I'm teaching, instead of training, at DHSI. Even better, work pays for me to do some of this. I've got a bunch of exciting research projects and conferences in the pipeline, and opportunities for more come my way as part of my day job. I get paid well, I have great benefits, and I live exactly where I want to. I am convinced that no tenure-track job would give me all of this, and when a position in my field, in my current department, came up earlier this term, I didn't feel even an ounce of envy. It also makes me really happy to talk to others, who I hear from more and more often, who have taken #altac or #postac jobs and are totally contented with their decision. Many of them, including me, have written transition stories for From PhD to Life, which I encourage you to check out if you haven't already. Where are All the PhDs? is another great resource.

So, that's me, reporting from the #altac. Another term bites the dust, and I'm off for three weeks to do all the holiday things and hang out with Erin in Vancouver at the MLA. Wishing you all a restorative winter break and the happiest of new years. See you in 2015!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Teaching and Learning

On Thursday last week I sat in my office all day and waited for my first-year students to pick up their graded papers. As they filtered in and then out my door, a few of them paused, smiled, and thanked me for the semester.

I think I forgot to say "you're welcome" for at least half of them. I know I always smile, sometimes a little awkwardly, but genuinely. But occasionally I find myself at a loss for words. "You're welcome", I suppose, somehow just doesn't quite seem to cut it. 

Perhaps it's because those students who have paused to thank me are often those ones to whom I am also grateful: grateful for their commitment to learning, their effort, for their essay re-writes, the way they've taken my feedback and pushed themselves, how they've made their papers convincing, persuasive, and drawn stronger links to textual evidence. I'm grateful for their genuine searching questions, their involvement in class discussions, and their respectful comments. I'm grateful for their their earnest fastidiousness, their engagement, and perhaps most of all, their deep concern for each other. 

My students this semester have been all this and more, all the more remarkable because for the vast majority this is their first semester of post-secondary education. For some, my class was their introduction to city-living, the cold dark of Northern Novembers, being far away from family and old friends. For most, this semester was their first experience of the university classroom space; their first lesson in self-directed time management, in living life without direct supervision, in juggling financial obligations with academic ones. 

For any first-year student, the experience of university can be challenging, difficult, and overwhelming. For the students that started out at my university this term, they also had to deal with two "non-criminal student deaths" on campus. I can't imagine what it must feel like to experience the loss of a fellow student, a classmate, a friend. What I do know is that this first semester is hard for most students, and that without contact from caring, compassionate people, students can feel nothing but alienation and loneliness as they begin university life.

Earlier this semester I had two of my students approach me to explain their tardiness to class. They had been trying to get ahold of their friend, also in my class, who had been missing classes for a week. The reason they were late was because they'd decided to track down this friend at her house. Waking up early in the morning, they'd to travelled off-campus to their friend's home, to see if she was going to make it to class. She didn't answer the door.

When they told me this story, I was prompted to pass along resources--contact info for the chaplain's office, peer-support centre, and others--to pass along to their friend, if she needed it. While I don't know if they were used, I do know that the student did return to my class a few days later.

I've always implicitly seen teaching as collaborative, reciprocal learning, but this semester my students have pushed me to consider how to care beyond the classroom space. My students' concern for their classmate and friend prompted the realization that perhaps other students in my class needed these resources, too. Following the lead of other instructors at my University, I ended up talking to my students towards the end of term about on- and off-campus support. I acknowledged that this is a difficult time of year, a challenging term. But mostly I just wanted them to know that people do care, and that what they may be feeling is important and valid, and that there are people who can help. And it was brought home to me by the demonstrative concern of my students.

I think the next time once of my students drops by to thank me for the semester, I'll know what to say. A simple "thank you" in response will probably suffice.

Have your students taught you something valuable this term?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Guest post: Life Chiasmus! How Smart You Are vs. How You Are Smart

Today's guest post is from Victoria Leenders-Cheng. Thanks, Victoria!

This fall, I appeared on a CBC television show called Canada’s Smartest Person.

Here is a description of the show, from the website:

CANADA'S SMARTEST PERSON is a new television series that redefines what it means to be smart. We’ll shatter the myth that to be smart you need to have a high IQ, be a math whiz or trivia buff. Every week four new hopefuls battle it out in front of a live studio audience in six categories of smarts: musical, physical, social, logical, visual and linguistic. In the series finale eight finalists will go head to head to earn the title!
CANADA'S SMARTEST PERSON: It’s not how smart you are; it’s how you are smart.

You might have heard of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, on which this TV show is based. It tries to move assessments of intelligence away from traditional tests towards seven different measures (musical, physical, logical, visual, inter and intra-personal, and linguistic). Of course, when packaged for television, the theory loses some of its nuance.

During my qualification episode, we did speed math, puzzles, and a social intelligence challenge where we had to recognize micro expressions – that is, look at pictures of people’s eyes and guess what they were feeling. We also did a choreographed dance and an obstacle course with five challenges lined up one after the other.

I won my episode, meaning that I went on to compete in the grand finale, featuring, in the show’s bombastic terms, the eight smartest people in Canada. (There is no prize of any kind for winning, in case you are wondering. Just a title and bragging rights.) To my great surprise, when I walked into the studio for the first day of taping for the grand finale, I found myself staring at seven men.

I was the only woman to have made the finals. 

The show received almost 4,500 applications (mostly self-nominated, mostly men), which they whittled down to 32 participants. Of those 32, almost half were women. What happened along the way to eliminate all the women but one? Or was it just a coincidence and was I making too big a deal out of it? I’m still not sure I have the answer to those questions.

But here’s the thing. Women are underrepresented in domains ranging from entertainment, corporate environments (executive suite and boardroom alike), in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – fields, and in academia more generally. As a feminist studying human systems, I see my Canada’s Smartest Person experience, and my presence as the only woman in the finals, as a signal to examine this phenomenon.

Another aspect of my participation that made me uncomfortable was how the show dubbed me the "every woman," the woman with a family and job and exciting life showing that you can have and do it all.

A friend of mine who got her PhD from Harvard and is now a tenure-track professor and trying to figure out how to juggle career, family, and partner, while fending off societal pressure, heard this every woman description and sighed, “Is this where we are now? Is this the new feminism?”

I agree with her. When and how can we stop buying into models of achievement and fulfillment that make each other feel inadequate??

Again to quote the show:

Canada’s Smartest Person is igniting a national conversation about what it means to be smart.

I want Canada’s Smartest Person to ignite conversations about what it means to be a woman, about why women keep showing up in lower numbers in so many domains, and what it means to be a woman in a public environment with power dynamics established by our media and corporate agendas. As some people have been saying for decades, the personal is the political; arguably, the personal is the political is also the professional.

It’s all fine and good to talk, but we also need to act, or, as Sheryl Sandberg says, to the dismay of many feminists, we need to lean in.

What is perhaps most disappointing about Sandberg and Arianna Huffington and other powerful female icons of conventional success, is that they don’t seem to acknowledge the role that wealth has played in their own accomplishments. Financial security provides peace of mind and access to more options and opportunities; not every woman has this privilege.

But some things in life cost ‘nothing more’ than your sense of self; that is, the price of admission is psychological – you simply need to be willing to put yourself on the line:

-       To relinquish some control over the conditions of your own success (knowing that many of the conditions are out of your control anyway);
-       To potentially be or feel judged based on the most random of traits – weight, intelligence, motives, personality, appearance, etc. – and to be able to ignore those judgments when they are erroneous or irrelevant;
-       To confront and dismantle the fear that people will “discover that you are a fraud;” (when I lost in the finale with the lowest score, it triggered every single insecurity I had about being an imposter – this has probably been the hardest thing about the experience)
-       To advocate and believe in yourself with the understanding that nobody is perfect – if you aren’t athletic, fine; if your house is messy, who cares; if, like me, you are a terrible cook, embrace the disaster of your efforts. If you don’t like math, though, I strongly suggest you learn to like math…!
-       And then, ultimately, to figure out what you really want to do and do it.
As journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman argue in The Confidence Gap, men do many of the above without a second’s hesitation.

I know the points I raise here have been raised many times over but I want the conversation to continue, with humour and with love. I don’t want either men or women to feel blamed but I do want everyone to feel implicated: we are all responsible for asking ourselves the hard questions. I want, and on some days, I even dare to hope, for more.

I may have been the only woman on the finale of Canada’s Smartest Person this year, but if the show goes to a second season, I hope to see many of you out there.

Here I am on the finale...
...and here I am watching myself on television.


Victoria Leenders-Cheng is the communications officer for the Faculty of Law at McGill and a master’s student in the Human Systems Intervention program at Concordia University. Find her on Twitter: @vleenderscheng

Friday, December 5, 2014

We know why it happened 25 years ago

Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student
Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the finance department
Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Can't remember, can't forget: what happened in 1989

25 years is a big anniversary. It's been 25 years since 1989, since a man who hated women so much he targeted and assassinated them, just because they were women.

25 years looms, an anniversary, a milestone that demands its recognition, but how? As every year, there will be ceremonies, remembrances, formal affairs documented by news articles and printed programs. 25 years. We will try to remember the names of the women, try to forget the name of the man, that man whose toxic blend of resentment, fear, entitlement seemed unable to handle even the very existence young women who wanted to be engineers.

I remember, but I try to forget.

In December 1989, I was 16 years old. I didn't have my driver's license yet because I was the oldest in my friends and I was waiting for them to be old enough to take the class with me. I was in grade 11, and I was a nerd. My best friends Patti and Megan and Judith and I did everything together, like running the environmentalism club and reading Sassy magazine and doing academic science courses, and spending weekends holed up in each others basements, making grand plans for the future. In the summer of 1990, for example, I would be off at the Northern Summer School for Excellence in Science at Laurentian, a competitive, scholarship-based nerd camp with other kids from far flung Ontario towns, learning minerals science and entering the science pipeline.

In December 1989, I wore t-shirts that said "I love my attitude problem." In true teenager fashion I saw everything that was wrong with the world and that I could fix it, with my attitude problem, and by starting clubs. In 1989 I knew I was smart, and I knew I was going to be a scientist--maybe a doctor!--and that I was aiming for an A+ in life, because I knew I could get it. My mom was a women's libber in the 1970s, a career woman throughout my life, a strong role model who got a university degree as an adult, the head of the household. My best friends were strong-willed and independent. Anything was possible. I was a humanist, not a feminist: women could do anything, and we were all just people.

In December 1989, I learned that even in Canada, you could get killed. For being a smart woman. For being a smart woman at school, studying science.

This was a lesson I didn't want to learn. The news was shocking. I don't remember really talking about it with anyone. I didn't want to. I remember reading and being ... I guess, traumatized: a sharp, shocking injury to my sense of how the world worked, followed by a deep repression of that knowledge. An investment--for my own capacity to continue to operate in the world--in repressing that knowledge. I couldn't learn that lesson and carry on. So I wouldn't.

I knew, but I tried to forget.

It's wrong of me, I know, but I don't want to remember the Ecole Polytechnique murders because to hold that reality in my mind and in my heart makes it hard for me to live.

When I remember, it hurts, somewhere deep and important. "School" and "smart" and "science" and "woman" were keys facets of my identity when I was 16, and that it made me a target for murder was literally unthinkable. I wouldn't think it. I have a strong, self-protective reflex to push it away, even today.

At 16 I was all hope and idealism and energy and ambition. I was also coddled and protected. The murders pierced me, somewhere deep. Something in me changed, and even the act of denying that change, of pushing it away just shifted me further. It made me feel unsafe, targeted, at some fundamental level just for being who I was. School was different. Science was different. Boys were different. Even if I was invested in pretending they were the same.

Nothing was the same.

25 years later, I'm still stuck in that loop. In her book One Hundred Demons, Lynda Barry tiptoes around repressed childhood sexual abuse in a strip on the demon of so-called "Resilience," that bounce-back-ability we assume that children have. Resilience, she suggests, is just the unbearable oscillation between can't remember and can't forget.

This week, I will try to commemorate. But in my heart of hearts, to be able to keep on going every day, I will be trying to forget, trying not to remember.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Being an LGBTQ Ally

This post may be considered Part II of my post from last week, when I wondered aloud what a more "queer" feminism might look like, and proposed that this blog could be a space for us to think through how to become better advocates for the LGBTQ community. Here I share my experience with a recent six-hour course at Fordham called LGBT and Ally Network of Support Training; by participating in this course (according to the website), members of the network
demonstrate their active commitment to creating a campus environment that is open and welcoming to all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) students and their allies, in keeping with the Jesuit tenet of Cura Personalis (care for the whole person) and the principle that all persons should be treated with dignity and respect which is explicit in Catholic teaching. 
 Yaaay Jesuits! Plus we get a pin and a plaque with our name on it!

That fostering a growing ally network is important cannot be understated; at Fordham, the findings from last year's LGBTQ Que(e)ry Student Experience survey reveal that nearly two thirds of the student LGBTQ population felt "uncomfortable or unsafe" in the classroom, and 46% felt uncomfortable or unsafe around their professors (p. 18). The report contains numerous other chilling anecdotes from students, including these: "My roommate went on a rampage about not standing for any of this 'gay and lesbian bullshit' on her campus. As a result, she does NOT know that I am bisexual"; "I don't want to out myself to [my roommates] because I can't deal with their questions and curiosity that is borderline invasive"; and one student reported being out to "Certain friends who could tolerate that information (p. 17). Straight, cisgender respondents were sometimes disturbingly dismissive of the survey, expressing their beliefs that it was not necessary because no space on-campus was "unsafe" (15).

I could go on, but basically--this stuff matters.

The course I took basically consisted of a group of 30 or so beautiful and diverse people sitting in a room together over a couple lunches, discussing challenges faced by the LGBTQ community, and attempting to facilitate heightened awareness, understanding, and knowledge. I'm hoping that in posting here some of the activities we conducted, you can share in some of this wonderful experience too, and perhaps learn a couple strategies for your own classrooms and your own advocacy practices (though this is mostly a recounting of my experience rather than a delineation of inclusivity strategies). If you require a primer on LGBT terminology before proceeding, by the way, I will refer you to GLAAD's "Ally's Guide to Terminology," the PDF of which can be accessed here. From my perspective, some of the most arresting/memorable group activities we did were: 
  • Introducing ourselves with our chosen gender pronouns (ex. "My name is Boyda Johnstone, and my pronouns are she, her, and hers"). We as teachers can implement this exercise in our classrooms in an attempt to create more inclusive spaces for transgender people. Like all new things, it was a little bumpy in practice (I personally am not clear on why we needed to list all three pronouns rather than just one, which made things significantly bumpier), but the more it becomes established, the smoother the playing-out.
  • A circle exercise wherein we were asked to step forward whenever we identified with various statements. The statements began as softballs ("I like to eat sushi"; "I was born in America"), but gradually increased in import ("My family growing up did not have much money"; "I have lost a parent"; leading to "I identify as bisexual," "I identify as gay," etc). I was shocked at how nervous I became even when stepping forward during low-stakes claims; no matter the category, it was scary to break out from the crowd. It's hard to imagine what it's like to step forward during high-stakes claims, especially in "real life" situations such as coming out to loved ones. 
  • A role-playing exercise wherein we practiced responding to various situations, such as someone using the word "fa***t" in an elevator, or our best friend coming out as gay. In the former case we agreed that it's best to vocally express discomfort, even if the other person doesn't respond well--'planting seeds' that may sprout later on, when we're not around (of course there are complicating factors when we consider intersecting issues such as gender and race, and speaking out might not always be the best option). For the latter case, that of a friend coming out as a LGBT sexual or gender identity, we reviewed and practiced active listening skills:  acknowledging ("acknowledge that you understand what someone is saying by sending verbal and non-verbal cues"), reflecting ("helps you understand and process the whole experience"); interpreting & clarifying ("I hear you saying this..." or "Is this what you mean?"); and summarizing. Such practices, however basic they may seem to us, always merit review: we can never fully predict how we will respond in a given situation. It's never a bad thing to remind ourselves how to shut up and listen. 
  • A word association exercise where we, as groups, generated 'semantic bubbles' of some of the positive and negative terms associated with LGBT terminology. We built our own definitions and categories but then challenged and questioned those categories, treating terms as living and situation-specific. The stereotypes and negative associations that were brought up made for sobering discussion, to say the least. Here I attach a photo of the posters I snuck with my phone, but it should be noted before reading that some of these words might be triggering or offensive, and were used in a specific context.

As I'm not sure this brief synopsis of events conveys, it was the complexity and diversity of the bodies in the room that made the course truly wonderful; because it was a safe, confidential space, people felt comfortable sharing their personal perspectives and variously heartwrenching and uplifting stories.

What about you, readers? Do you have strategies for making your classrooms more inclusive spaces? How have you practiced allyship to those in the LGBTQ community? Or, if you're part of the LGBTQ community, how can we be better allies to you? 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Forgetting, Silence, and Being at the Ghomeshi Bail Hearing

Today's post is the second from our several-times-a-semester blogger Lily Cho

I cut about a third of this blog post about an hour after I wrote it. I was reminded that there was a publication ban on the Ghomeshi bail hearing. I looked at the relevant section of the Criminal Code. It’s pretty broad. Just to err on the side of being safe, I’ve decided to edit out a few things. But that in itself seems significant in a blog post that is about silence, its uses, and its power. Recently, Denise Balkissoon argued that publication bans might not be such a good idea after all. She’s got a point, but maybe we need to find a way for silence, and anonymity, to have more power.

But let me start again by going back a few days. Last Wednesday I was supposed to have lunch with my friend Emma. I texted her in the morning to see if she still wanted to meet up. She did. But then she suggested that maybe we should drop into Jian Ghomeshi’s bail hearing instead. Because Emma is a brilliant criminal lawyer and seems to know every one at various courthouses around town, this shouldn’t such a surprising suggestion. At that point, I didn’t even know he had been arrested. Of course, by the end of the day, we had all heard the news, seen the courtroom drawings, and read multiple versions of the hearings.

Lunch? Or celebrity bail hearing? Happily, I didn’t have to choose.

The rumour seemed to be that the hearing would happen around 2pm. But then it was moved up. I got out of the subway station and noticed I had missed a string of texts from Emma.

Don’t worry. I happened to be nearby. I had planned to spend the morning marking papers at one of my secret downtown hangouts (a place with excellent free wifi, perfect level of ambient noise, terrific public washrooms and no, I’m sorry, I’m not sharing). As I walked over to the courthouse, I was passed by news vans and a handful of very well-coiffed folks running past me. I haven’t watched tv news in years, but if I had to randomly pick people who looked like tv news reporters, I think they would have looked like all those people scrambling past me.   

By the time I cleared security at the courthouse, there was a long line outside the door of the courtroom and various news crews were busy setting up. I couldn’t help but think that one’s place in line signaled one’s level of access to information. Emma had saved me a premium place in line.

And then we waited for a while. The atmosphere was a little giddy and festive but I think a lot of us felt a bit badly about it. It didn’t seem quite right. And we waited some more.

When the doors opened, one’s place in line really did matter. The courtroom is small. There were three rows of seating for the public on either side of the room. Each bench could hold ten or twelve people. When there was no more room, the police closed the doors. I’m pretty sure there were quite a few people outside who were disappointed. For a brief moment, I felt a bit bad about taking up a seat since I was really there for no good reason at all. And then I just stayed put.

I’m sure you have all read the news reports about the hearing so you know about all the newsworthy things that went down – what he was charged with, the amount that bail was set for, that he has to live with his mom.

It’s been a few days since that event and I keep waiting for someone to report on the other things that happened that in the hearing. It seemed as though almost every person around me on those benches was a journalist of some kind. Everyone seemed to be taking notes. Many people were typing into their phones. Some of them were obviously live blogging the whole thing. So I just assumed that everything there was to say about the hearing has been said.

But let me tell you about one thing that hasn’t come up. When the Justice Rutherford turned to address Ghomeshi, his lawyer got up from behind the defense attorney’s table, walked past several Toronto police officers, and stood next to him. Much has been said about Marie Henien. She is striking. But that moment really struck me. The courtroom is a really static place. Everyone stays put. When Henien crossed the floor, she made clear that she literally stood by her client. It was not dramatic. It was not like tv law. But it stayed with me. Maybe brilliant defense lawyers are sometimes brilliant in their silences.

This hearing was only the first, very brief, foray into what will be a long, long judicial process. And in the midst of all this, a lot of details will emerge and a lot of them will be forgotten.

As a literary critic, I work in a field where words and voices are essential. But how do you write silence? How do you analyze that which cannot be heard? My work tends to focus a lot on gaps and absences, omissions and counter-narratives. But that only gets to part of the problem. There are a lot of important silences that we will never hear. I don’t know what to do with that except to think long and hard about it.

We are coming close to the end of what feels like watershed year in terms of public and private conversations about sexual harassment. There are the celebrities who have been accused. There are public institutions that have to start thinking hard about their failures here: the CBC, the House of Commons, our colleges and universities. There is a lot of talking.

But I am worried about how we are going to get to the silences. And I do not mean getting to the silences in terms of bringing more voices to the table or finding more ways for women to speak, to shout, to share, and to say things that have not been said before. I am worried about how to harness the power of silence. For me, what Henien did not say was much more powerful than what she did say. I realize that she is particularly privileged in all kinds of ways and not least because she was in the courtroom in the first place. But how can we find power in silence for the complainants? We acknowledge the courage of the women who have come forward in the Ghomeshi case. In the interest of justice, I can’t help hoping that more will do so. But there are many, many more women who will be silent. How can we make those silences matter.

In Europe, one has the legal right to be forgotten. These laws remind me of one of the many beautiful lessons from Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for a Time Being which closes with the liberation of invisibility. At the end of the novel, the protagonist has engineered her erasure from the online world. She has found the right to be forgotten. Maybe, finding power in anonymity and silence lies in Ozeki’s reminder for us embrace some kinds of forgetting. We do not have to fear being outside of memory. And this is hard because all of my training, and my understanding of social justice, lies in remembering, in thinking about the ways in which the past haunts the present, about transforming grief into grievance. But I’m coming around to the idea of letting go a little bit.

Lily Cho
York University

Thursday, November 27, 2014

How to: Manage a Distance Research Collaboration

Since the beginning of my PhD, I’ve worked on a number of long-term, long-distance research projects with people in France, India, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, and the UK. I’ve gotten pretty good at scheduling meetings across time zones and finding ways to share documents and ideas with people on opposite sides of the planet. Given the increasingly interdisciplinary and international focus of academic research, I’m betting that at some point you’ll find yourself wanting to collaborate with someone who is just getting up when you’re going to bed, and those collaborations function rather differently than those with the folks in the office down the hall. So you don’t have to figure out from scratch how to successfully pursue research or other projects with people from away, here’s what I’ve learned that can make your life easier:
  1. Figure out what blocks of time in each of your time zones conveniently overlap, and use those blocks as your default meeting times. I know my lunch hour in Toronto is the end of the work day in London, and so my UK-based collaborator and I tend to schedule our meetings then. It saves us from having to figure out a time that suits both of us every time we need to meet. I also keep this bookmarked:
  2. Make use of free communication technology. Skype is your friend, as is Google chat. Email is useful, but I find that the best long-distance collaborations are nurtured with lots of less-formal conversation. If you can’t meet for coffee to talk shop, or pop into one another’s offices in the middle of the afternoon, try to replicate that experience online. I also advise using methods of communication that automatically capture a record of the conversation for you--Google chat does this, as does the SMS backup app I use to save all of my text messages to my email account, where they’re searchable. 
  3. Keep your documents somewhere central and easily accessible. I don’t know how I survived before the advent of Google Drive. I have a separate shared project folder for each of my current ongoing research collaborations, and everything lives there. We all appreciate being able to see who was the last to edit a file, precisely what edits those were, and exactly what collateral we have on hand at all times. I certainly appreciate not having my inbox clogged with huge attachments, and knowing that we’re all always working from the most up-to-date files. 
  4. Set deliverables and a follow-up plan at the end of every meeting. This is good practice for real-world meetings too, but it’s especially important in distance collaborations to make sure that everyone knows what needs to be done (and by when) at the end of every meeting, and when the next meeting will be (if one is necessary). If you know that your urgent 8:00 am email to your collaborator isn’t going to get read until she wakes up 10 hours later, it becomes extra important to ensure that expectations, deliverables, and timelines are clear when you already have her on the other end of the Skype call. 
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Long-distance collaborations already have physical distance built in, and that physical distance can turn into mental distance and misunderstandings all too easily. Add the potential issues with cross-cultural communication--and this can be differences in institutional culture, not just broader regional or national culture--and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. It’s incredibly important to make sure that you’re all understanding terms in the same way, that your research goals and plans are clearly and regularly articulated, and that channels of communication are open. 
  6. Make plans to occasionally meet in person, if at all possible. Despite working with collaborators as far away as India, I’ve managed to meet up with my research partners at least once during each project, most often at a conference we were all attending. It is incredibly helpful, and incredibly invigorating, to spend some time talking and working together, even if just for a few hours.
  7. Let someone be in charge. It’s particularly important, when working remotely, to be clear about who is responsible for what, and to have someone taking the lead on the project (or certain aspects of it). Ensure that responsibility is clearly assigned, and that divisions of labour are clearly understood, or else you’ll spend your time worrying about if you were supposed to do that thing, or waiting for your collaborator (for whom it’s the middle of the night) to confirm that he’s doing whatever it is. 
What about you, dear readers? Any tips and tricks for successfully negotating long-distance research collaborations?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How much is too much, and for whom?

My first year students are pretty happy. Well, as happy as they can be, having to hand in their final papers today, and having to prepare for a final exam on new media studies next Friday. They're not panicking, at least, because they've been working steadily through the various stages of the essay for four weeks already--they had full drafts finished a week ago, and they've been editing and finalizing since. And I know they're better prepared for the exam than they think they might be--we've had five substantial online quizzes across the full breadth of term, and in class I've had them write up their feedback on their own learning for most units, that I've collated and taken up in class. There's someone from this class at my office hours every time I hold them. There was a six person lineup in the hall when I got there on Monday. I read everyone's drafts.

They've be coached and coaxed and assessed and guided the whole term.

It's almost killed me.

The cap on my course is 40 students. I finally learned all their names by Halloween (I'm really bad with names, I admit). We had a photographer who came to take photos to use in the University's promotion and we were all so squashed into the classroom that he took everyone's coats and bags and put them in a different room--he even took the overhead projector away.

The course is running the best it has ever run. After running this four times, I've finally got it right, for students: substantial attention to and development of their voice and skills and engagement as writers, and a strong grounding in new media studies content, both historical and theoretical.

What "getting it right" has meant for me is adding a bunch of assessments to support the course's learning objectives. Getting it right means a ton more grading and feedback for me. And I think I've hit peak grading. For two years in a row, they complained that the textbook didn't matter, and I tried to link the in-class work more heavily toward that material. I made speeches and lit more scented candles. It didn't work. You know what did work? Adding six new assessments to focus their attention on material only death with in the textbook: five quizzes and a final. Add that to the six writing assignments, and it's pushed me over the edge.

I'm so proud to say that pedagogically I think this course is rock solid: we use class time really productively, the students are engaged, all the work comes in on time, attendance is high, the writing is visibly improving, the thinking is getting more sophisticated. But I haven't written a word on my book in months. And I'm behind on my email and admin work, and I'm getting up at 5:30 every day.

The best solution would be to lower the cap on the course--25 would be reasonable. A smaller cap would mean that the professor could still bring her A-game but cut the grading of each of the 12 assignments in the course in half, a substantial savings. But it's too expensive to do that, maybe. And the course is a draw for majors, so reducing the number of students taking it might be a mistake. Running two smaller sections is even more expensive!

If we take instructor time seriously--the in this case tenured professor is also supposed to be writing a book--we would instead, perhaps, suggest something different. Cut the number of assignments in half, and the same savings in grading could be achieved. In this scenario, the pedagogy is compromised, and the professor may see her teaching scores decline, because of cuts to content.

I'm no noob. I know how to spend a mere 40 minutes prepping for an 80 minute class. And I grade FAST. I think I've found all the efficiencies in the process it is possible to find.

My discipline is English. I think it's always got to be writing intensive, and doing that right is going to involve a lot of writing assignments and a lot of grading. I don't think that can be skimped on. As I use these last two days before the final papers come in to catch up on the straggler grading I haven't had time to do, and frantically put together the text of the final exam that I guess I'll be grading all next weekend, I am just really struck by these structural constraints: the number of students conflicts with the kind of pedagogy which undermines balance in my work life. And how to fix it--FEWER STUDENTS IN EACH SECTION--seems like the one thing we're not able to do.

Maybe someone will invent an app to solve all these problems. But I don't think so.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Queer Feminism?

We on this blog don't often discuss LGBTQ issues (perhaps because we all happen to present as straight), and today I'd like to think about some of the implications of conscientiously adopting a more "queer" feminism: one that is, perhaps, more explicitly open to alternative lifestyles, more open-ended, less harmonious, more agonistic. Feminists who remain silent on LGBTQ issues risk reinforcing a perceived divide between feminism and queer studies that limits our possibilities for collective change. The rift, however simplistically conceived, between "frumpy, sex-phobic feminists" and their "kinky, stylish queer cousins" (6) is an issue that Lynne Huffer addresses and in some ironic sense attempts to 'resolve' in her 2013 book Are Our Lips a Grave?: A Queer Feminist on the Ethics of Sex.  While she acknowledges that the opposition is clearly facile, it is the case that some amongst the queer community perceive feminists disparagingly as "convergentist," attempting to "coalesce under one feminist umbrella an array of positions that complicate gender as a single category of analyses" (7); queer activists, on the other hand, tend toward "divergentism," dedicated to rupture, to discontinuity, to the antisocial (even as I write this, these binary claims don't ring entirely true). Huffer yearns for and endeavours to make possible through her book a feminism that is "only convergentist in a contestatory, rift-restoring sense," a "ruptured convergence" that calls upon divergent positions to clash and clang together, to hang out together in shared spaces without necessarily coming to some sort of enforced consensus (8). Huffer wants women to tell stories that sit in uncomfortable relation to one another.

At least one of the things Huffer is enjoining us to remember, what queer feminism might bring to our feminisms and to our blog, is that although it is important to maintain common goals, this does not mean we always have to agree, always encourage each other, always enact the socialized impulse towards unconditional support and smiling and deference and happiness that is generally expected of us. I have to say I get a little sick at the nurturing impulse I witness (mostly between women) in academia--we have the tendency to tell each other things are okay, to hug, to support each other unconditionally, to celebrate with each other, and sometimes the whole goddamn lovefestness of it all gets to me. Maybe I'm just a hardened grumpycat New Yorker (impostering on a Canadian blog!). But I yearn for more disagreements, more stories that unsettle us and challenge us, more world-shaking opinions and perspectives that do not easily accord with our own received paradigms regarding what feminism is and can be.

Huffer locates this kind of "ruptured convergence" in close-reading and storytelling (72), which enable the emergence of specificity and disallow others from becoming versions of the same, mere reflections of ourselves: narrative performance becomes
an intersubjective model that, paradoxically, undoes the subject, [enlarging] the transformative potential of interpretation, where speaking subject, reader, and discursive traces themselves remain linked but porous, interdependent, and open to change. (72)
 Linked porosity. Collective undoing.  Huffer calls this an "ethics of bounded alterity" (72).

This week, after Rolling Stone published the horrifying UVA gang-rape story to which I am certainly not linking, Professor Bruce Holsinger (@bruceholsinger) began taking screenshots and tweeting some of the comments that appeared at the bottom of the article, raising more awareness of voices that might otherwise be overlooked. Although I'm not positive if this can be categorized as "queer feminism," I think this is one possibility for the sort of activism we can practice.

Another recent excellent example of speaking out and creating rifts in a possibly convergentist manner is Dorothy Kim's post on sexual harrassment in the academy, which sprung from an extended conversation on the Facebook wall of well-known medievalist Alexandra Gillespie (University of Toronto). In her Facebook thread--which responds to the Ghomeshi case and is still public if you are interested in spending an hour feeling increasingly hopeless about the state of the academy--dozens of female academics described instances of harassment involving (more) senior male scholars, speaking to "a long and persistent history of sexual harassment in medieval studies spaces," as Kim puts it. And of course there's #beenrapedneverreported and all of Erin's understandable questioning of the appropriateness of social media for issues of restorative justice.
a long, persistent history of sexual harassment in medieval studies spaces - See more at:,

Is this queer feminism? What does queer feminism look like? Really, I don't know, and to be honest, this post has been extremely hard to write. I guess I'm mostly just opening up questions, as many of our blogs in this limited realm of the digital universe tend to do. Challenges to my [underdeveloped] reading of Huffer or thoughts on queer feminism are welcome in the comment section below. How do we open spaces for more diverse and intersectional voices, more uncomfortably convergent stories and perspectives? Let's keep trying. For my next post, I will describe my recent experience with an LGBT Ally training course at Fordham, which will hopefully provide more possible answers to such questions.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What's "fit" got to do with it?

Every now and then I scroll through the archives of Hook & Eye to see what we were talking about last year, two years ago, and yes, as far back as four years ago. Much has changed, much has stayed the same. I have been writing about mentorship, precarity, and contract work since we started this blog in 2010, for example, and as I read through some of my own earlier posts I am struck by the ways in which my temerity has remained constant. There are still so many things that feel risky to talk about in a frank manner. My years on the job market (which number more than my years blogging publicly here) have not made me bolder. In some ways, I have become increasingly aware of the risks of speaking publicly about a bruised and broken system. And yet. And yet, it is a system that has, until this year, for the most part paid me a living wage. It is a system that has, until this year, in many ways validated my work--most often in the classroom. And so, as another fall semester winds down, and I find myself looking through the archives thinking about change, one of the things I notice are the little absences. The things that have slipped out of conversations without so much as a quiet shutting of the door.

An example: four years ago this month I wrote a post on the moving imperative. A friend has suggested I write about the implicit need to move for one's degrees. This struck me as interesting and, frankly, at the time it seemed easy. I'd moved for all my degrees, and I had just moved across the country for a ten-month contract. If moving was imperative, then my track record was solid. So I wrote about it with interest, but with little understanding of the experience of someone who was either not free to move or, much more difficult for me to understand, unwilling to move for reasons of community, of family history, of filiation with the lands on which they were living.

I was, I think, living with a rather neoliberal mentality: highly mobile, no ties to place. Is that a good thing? It is for the job market, in the short term, I suppose. But in the long term I suspect hyper-mobility--as a mentality, at least--erodes connection to place. For examples of connection to place I think, for example, of the Land Protectors fighting to save Burnaby Mountain right now, of the anti-frackingblockades of last fall in Elsipogtog, of the EnPipeline project. Is moving for a job directly connected to unsustainability at the levels of environment and of community? It depends. But I offer this shift in my own thinking as an example of a topic we don't much talk about in the search for stable work in higher education.

Let me shift gears again and point to another topic that seems to have quietly vanished from conversation. It is a genuine, deeply earnest, and somewhat uncomfortable question for me to ask: does the question of fit come into play anymore? More specifically, does the question of fit come into play for the candidate and not just for the committee?

Here is where this thinking stems from: I've been writing reference letters for potential graduate students in the last few weeks. I have also been writing reference letters for applicants to tenure-track positions. And, I have been writing my own applications to jobs. Also, it is fall. All of these things put me into a nostalgic mood and have me thinking back to the advice I got when I first entered the job market, as well as the advice I have given to people applying for school or work. When I was first applying for work my mentors put me through all my paces. Practice interviews? Check. Instruction on how to write a job letter? Check. Read the hiring institution's website, collective agreement, departmental philosophy, and strategic mission statements? Check, check, check, check. I was taught how to dress (that's changed somewhat), how to answer questions, and I have learned how to be myself in an interview too. But people also always used to tell me and my cohort that fit works both ways. Obviously, the hiring in department is looking for you to fit (and there are scores of good article like this one reminding you how to make yourself fit), but I haven't heard any applicant talk about whether or not a department is the right one for them. Not for a long, long time. In fact, I think the only post we have ever had about fit was a post from the wonderful Lindy Ledohowski. She wrote about having the right departmental fit, but no agency in advocating for a spousal hire for her partner. Beyond Lindy's post, I can't find any talking about the candidate looking for, thinking about, or of being allowed to admit to caring about departmental fit.

I don't think it is necessary to rehearse why "fit" has slipped out of conversations, at least where the applicant is concerned. The market is bad and it feels as though it is getting worse all the time. Departments are fighting to keep courses on the books as retirements aren't replaced and more and more classes are covered by sessional and contract faculty--many of whom don't qualify for benefits. We know this. And yet. Sometimes, as I try to think hopeful thoughts while filling out job applications, I do think about fit. I think about me, the applicant, a person with a life that extends (as one hopes it would) beyond the institution where I work. I think about people I know who have jobs and hate where they are. I think of people in those same places who don't have jobs but stay in that pale because they have made lives. And I worry. I worry for myself, of course, but I also worry for the institutions we work in, the education systems we're fighting to better, and the people it takes to make them better. Somehow, somewhere, I think "fit" needs to reenter the conversation.

Maybe this post could just as easily have been titled "what's love got to do with it?"

But of course I feel compelled to end the post by saying this is hypothetical. This topic is like the other risky things that precarious workers can't really talk about without wondering if its the thing that lost them the interview. If you're a potential employer reading this post you can bet your boots I'll be willing to consider moving just about anywhere for the opportunity to work in your institution.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Persuasive Writing

One of my colleagues, in a workshop for new graduate student teachers, suggested an in class exercise that I'd never heard of. Get your students to draw a picture of their ideal reader, he said, then get them to draw a speech bubble on that reader: ask them what the reader is saying to them about their writing.

Students have so much trouble imagining a real writer, particularly in an academic context where producing an essay often feels like a performance in showing the teacher you read the right number of books and journal articles, and hit the right word count, and used X number of transition words, and underlined your thesis statement. This exercise concretizes the idea of a real reader, and asks students, as well, to think about what they want that reader to come away with after.

I tried it with my first years. They're writing a short research paper, a persuasive essay where they have to craft an argument for a particular interpretation of one aspect of our contemporary digital lives--I've got papers for and against online dating, social media, video game aesthetics, normative sexism and racism online, and more. So far they've written a proposal that briefly described their topic and articulated a provisional thesis they were interested in arguing. Then they produced annotated bibliographies of primary and secondary sources. Then they wrote a draft of the introductory paragraph of the paper. This week they'll do a draft editing workshop on a first draft of the full paper. Next week they hand it in.

At the very first, though, when I handed out the Research Paper assignment, I had them do this exercise with the reader and the speech bubble.

The results astonished me. In among the hilariously poorly-drawn stick figure renditions of readers (most of them imagined me as the reader; only one imagined PacMan) and the comic descriptions of writing awards bestowed, most students imagined two kinds of feedback. First, a strong majority asked for substantive feedback on both mechanics and structure. Second, and this was surprising, nearly half of them imagined me saying something along the lines of this:

"I never thought of that before, but you've convinced me!"

My students were actually focused on persuading me. On generating new, surprising knowledge. Somehow they've actually got the idea that their writing matters, generally, and that it matters to me, particularly, and that they can use their words to meaningfully interact with culture, ideas, and interpretation.

I'm floored.

Right now I'm just so grateful to get this little sign that somehow, somewhere, this group of students has had some kind of little spark lit. I'm grateful my colleague taught me this exercise. Yesterday I graded 35 quizzes and 36 intro paragraphs and got to work on 20 SSHRC Departmental Appraisal Letters and assorted other ranking tasks. This was just the reminder I need that there is a purpose beyond just a rank or a grade or a credential. That my teaching, sometimes, matters and makes a difference. That my students can surprise me, that they're trying and they care.

Have you had any nice surprises lately? Something to help us get through these last few weeks of term?

Honestly, my students this term are the BEST

Monday, November 17, 2014

What is it going to take?

A few weeks ago I had one of those rare experiences: I went to a conference in my area of study where I knew loads of people and each time there was a concurrent panel scheduled I was torn between the two panels. The conference was Avant Canada: Artists, Prophets, Revolutionaries, and it was part of Brock University’s annual Two Days of Canada conference series now run by the inimitable Gregory Betts. There were panels reigmaining the avant-garde in Canada, reframing what and how we might envision the work of the avant-garde, and the ways in which the often-narrow category of the avant-garde can be productively re-read through history. There were creative performances, invigorating roundtables—the most epic of which boasted six speakers on the topics of dub poetry and Indigenous avant-gardes and lasted nearly three hours—and Lee Maracle (Lee Maracle!!) gave a stunning hour-long plenary talk entitled “Two Days of Canada, 53, 785 days of colonialism” using no speaking notes. The conference was followed by a day-long symposium on the generous and innovative writer bpNichol (you know, concrete poet, sound poet, and a key person behind the childhood-shaping show Fraggle Rock). The atmosphere was warm, the presentations were thoughtful and thought-provoking, and there was dancing. Readers, even the food was good.

My experience of this conference was really positive. I had excellent conversations and learned much. My thinking was challenged. So the title of this post, and indeed the thinking that follows, is an attempt to provoke generative discussion that honours the work that was possible because of this conference. My intent—indeed, my aim—is not to nag, but to think through what is and is not possible in the current conference model, no matter how innovative and generative it may be.

I gave two presentations at this conference, and the second was on a roundtable entitled “The Feminist Future Garde of Canada.” This panel, organized by my friend and colleague Tanis MacDonald, came about last year in the midst of the David Gilmour debacle. Remember him? And then, though we couldn’t necessarily have predicted it, our panel presented in the weeks following the public revelation of Jian Ghomeshi’s long history of abusive behavior and the less publicized but equally important revelation of abuses of mentorship relationships in CanLit circles. As my friend and CWILA critic-in-residence Shannon Webb-Campbell kept saying, everywhere a trigger.

Five women spoke—Tanis, a.rawlings, Carmen Derkesn, Shannon Maguire, and myself. The room was full of people, and the room was also full of what Sara Ahmed might call sweaty concepts. For Ahmed, a “sweaty concept” implies that “conceptual work is understood as different from describing a situation.” She explains:

I am thinking here of a situation as a situation that comes to demand a response, a situation is often announced as what we have (“we have a situation here”) as well as what we are in. Concepts in my view tend to be reified as what scholars somehow come up with (the concept as rather like an apple that hits you on the head, sparking revelation from a position of exteriority) as something we use to explain by bringing it in. For me, concepts are ways of understanding worlds that are in the worlds we are in. (Feminist Killjoy)

In other words, sweaty concepts make us physically feel the thinking we are doing, and the colliding experiences that people are living.

On this panel there were frank first-person narratives of experiences of violence, of gender-based harassment and abuse, and of the quotidian aggressions that happen in a colonial, patriarchal, and yes, capitalist society that are easily dismissible by some as non-sense, and lived by others—those outside the circle of the same—as constant abrasion. I couldn’t look away as my co-panelists spoke. I had goose bumps. I started to sweat. My heart raced. I blushed. And during the discussion it was clear that to one degree or another most people in the room were also having visceral listening experiences.

So what, then, is my problem? It is this: outside of that room of sweaty thinking there was no collective sustained discussion of gender-based violence. Certainly, some of it happened in the breaks, in the hallways, and over meals, and certainly that matters. Certainly, this lack of sustained discussion is in part due to the nature of all conferences—even the very good ones, as this one most definitely was. There is a schedule, people have prepared. The panel ends and things move forward. That is how it is, and I understand. But the lack of sustained discussion—especially amongst a group of people who, to one degree or another—are in the same small circles of people working, caring, and thinking about the past, present, and future of Canadian literary culture worries me. What will it take to keep these discussions in the foreground?

Social media is exhausting, and I will admit I am relieved for a reprieve from the constant flood of Ghomeshi-news the various platforms I use. And yet.

And yet, there is constant evidence of gender-based violence. And there is constant evidence of the ways in which it is ignored, erased, or swept under the rug. Take for example, Rehtaeh Parsons, whose name I can say because I am not a journalist. Take, for example, her father’s redacted victim statement. Or, for another example (which Lee Maracle dealt with in a holistic manner in her talk on the legacies of colonial violence) take the fact that while Tanya Tagaq performed alongside a scroll of names of more than 1,200 missing and murdered Aboriginal women she was taken to task for wearing seal fur.

Rape culture, gender-based violence, racially-based violence, and discrimination happen. Constantly. Are the events I flag here “equal”? No. They are events on a spectrum. My question is this: what is it going to take to talk about these issues in a sustained way, long after the two-week shelf life of being viral on the Internet? What?

If you’re in the Halifax area on November 25th please consider joining us at Safe Harbour which is a community gathering to talk about these issues. It is free and open to the public.