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Monday, June 1, 2015

The Summer Round-Up: Everything but the kitchen sink

Dear Readers,

It is JUNE! We made it! The snow? Gone. The grading? Done or now in spring-grading mode. The flowers? Out! Conference time? You're in it! And the possibilities and promises of summer are rolling out before us like a wide open road. 

Here at Hook & Eye we have decided to take some of our own advice. We are taking a summer break from now until late August! We'll be back as the school year begins again, but for now we have several things for you to read, think about, and, we hope, write to us about when the mood or the inspiration strikes. 

First, a call for guest posts and faster feminist spotlights. Do you have an idea or an issue swirling in your mind that you think is suitable for our blog? We would LOVE to have you write a post for us! We are looking for posts that take up a wide range of issues related to feminism, academia, and work/life balance. Posts tend to be 500 - 750 words, and if you're not used to writing blog posts I would be happy to work with you to develop your idea and get your post in shape. I'll be organizing the majority of the guest posts again this year so please send pitches to me at erin dot wunker at gmail dot com. 

We're also looking to continually diversify our roster of regular writers, so please email me if you have a person you'd like to see write for us, or if there is someone you'd like to see profiled in a faster feminism spotlight. 

To get you inspired for your summer plans whatever they may be many of us regular writers have jotted down our plans for hitting work/life balance ... with a major emphasis on living life. Here's what some of us will be up to in the coming months:

MelissaThis summer is going to be spent settling into my new job, figuring out how to grow the Research Training Centre and my career, and doing things that push my boundaries a bit--speaking about the York strike at Congress, teaching my first course at DHSI, and taking a holiday where I'll be speaking solely in French. The summer is also going to be spent settling even more firmly into my now well-embedded writing routines and getting much of the dissertation wrapped up and ready to go in anticipation of defending by the end of the year. It is also going to be spent thinking about how best to serve our H&E readership next year--I'll definitely be continuing the #Altac 101 series, but I also want to think and write more about the gendered aspects of career choices (or lack thereof) for PhDs. I'm looking forward to a break and to seeing you all again, refreshed and ready to go, in September. 

Aimée: I’m looking forward to rounding out my first year as Associate Chair for Graduate Studies—things slow down a lot in the summer, at least until Orientation planning swings into gear in August. I’m saying “no” to most things this summer: I’m not traveling anywhere, I’m not doing any conferences, I’m not undertaking any big home projects (other than weeding). I’m saying “yes” to sitting on the porch and writing and reading (and getting my book finished), “yes” to long walks with the dog, “yes” to more unstructured time with my family, “yes” to mid-day yoga classes and hanging my laundry on the line.

MargritMy year has been packed, so I’m leaving my summer uncluttered to balance things out: there will be some international travel, some more local camping, and maybe an impromptu road trip or two. There will be reading, and there might even be some writing—which I found I cannot live without, not after structuring the last decade of my life around it—but it will be unstructured and aimless. Overall, however, I want a flimsy, balloon-light summer to even the scales. If you’d like to check in, I would love to hear from you, too: find me on Twitter @Dr_Margrit. I wish you have the summer of your dreams (nightmares not included).

Boyda: will be spending her summer soaking up the rays and the often unbearable heat of New York City, feeling generally like a wet sponge. She is aware, however, that this may be the last summer she has in this glorious metropolitan center, so will make the most of it by scoping out outdoor film festivals, fighting for beach space on Coney Island, and keeping a journal of rat spottings. She hopes to visit her people in the Great White North at least once, and she will join that art class she's been meaning to join for years. In terms of professional goals: she plans to finish drafts of two chapters of her dissertation, and is crossing her fingers about an article that she's already submitted. She will also be preparing her job market documents and fighting off the inevitable anxiety induced therein. Will miss her online H&E community!

LilyAlthough my admin work does not really slow down in the summer (hello, undergraduate program with its endless needs!) there’s no need for me to pull out my tiny violin at all because I get to represent York at the Institute for World Literature hosted by the University of Lisbon this year. It is going to be unbelievably cool to be sort of a student again. I am buying a new notebook and sharpening my pencils! I’m enrolled in Debjani Ganguly’s seminar on “The Contemporary World Novel: Hauntings and Mediations” and will be part of the affinity group on “Postcolonialism and World Literature.” Umm… so excited.

Erin: As I wrote ever so briefly last week one of the things I haven't felt able to write about this winter is the fact that I was pregnant. Being on the job market and being pregnant? That's a post I think I'll be ready to write in the fall... I just had our daughter twelve days ago. In fact, as I type this she's asleep on me. Hurrah multi-tasking! So this summer while I will be working on a non-fiction handbook about how to be a feminist killjoy (SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS BOOK!) I will also be spending the majority of my time getting to know my girl. My partner and I will take trips to the shore, visiting family and friends, walking the dog, and introducing the babe to East Coast summers. I'll be thinking about career changes and writing projects and all the rest of it, but not right away. For now it is all about my partner, our new kiddo, the dog, and the salty air of here. 

Hi from me and the newest Hook & Eye kiddo!

Let us know what you're up to, whether you have an idea for a post, or someone you'd like to see write for us. And please, above all, don't forget to make time for yourself. September will come soon enough. The work will get done. Make taking care of you and yours part of your daily practice too, will ya? (& tell us about it, because we all need reminders for self care as well as reminders that self-care is part of a feminist praxis and pedagogy).


Monday, May 25, 2015

From the Archives: The More She Sleeps

Last Wednesday our daughter was born. Every day since then has been a wonderful--and somewhat exhausting--blur of getting our bearings in this new life of ours. While I plan to write a post on navigating being pregnant and on the job market that's not what is on my mind today. Rather, after a bleary night of feeding and rocking and trying to sleep, I'm thinking about my partner who has a writing deadline. I am thinking about all of you heading to Congress. I am thinking about the summer research and writing plans. And of course, I am thinking about this wee little person who is strapped to my chest while I type.

Here, in the spirit of writing and sleeping and finding your bearings, is a post that Aimée wrote about how writing is like sleep training.
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When my daughter was an infant she and I both often sported the wild looks, red eyes, flailing movements, and terrible mood swings associated with chronic lack of sleep. Every day was a battle, both of us to try to stay awake, only one of us with reason. Sometimes, of an afternoon, I wandered glassy-eyed through the local grocery store with her staring glassy-eyed out of the sling. No morning nap, no afternoon nap, and oh dear lord the colic hours approaching. Well-meaning friends, strangers, and cashiers of all sorts would cluck and say, to comfort me, "Well, at least she'll sleep tonight for sure!"

But here's the thing: her worst nights for sleep were the ones that followed the days that she didn't nap. And, those weird days where she'd get 2 hours of day-time sleep? She'd conk out at 7pm for 12 hours.

My husband and I developed a saying, repeated like a mantra to everyone who completely misunderstood her sleep cycle. The saying is this: The more she sleeps, the more she sleeps. And it was absolutely true.

Writing is like that, too, I've been recently thinking. Looking around at my friends and colleagues online and off, the conclusion I've come to is this:

The more you write, the more you write.

I'm thinking particularly about the relationship of informal, lower- or different-stakes writing to the much higher-stakes academic writing, the peer-reviewed articles, the dissertations, and the books. Extra-particularly, I'm thinking about the role that blogging plays in my practices and productivity as a writer.

I have written a ton more, in a ton more venues, and a ton more easily* since I began blogging. That's the truth!

In the early days of academics blogging, many in the professoriate espoused the belief that time spent blogging was time away from research. It seemed to me that the view of "writing" was very narrow and very parsimonious. Certainly, blogs (and op-eds, and public talks) were held in much lower esteem than the gold standard represented by the peer-reviewed article. And that's fine, as it goes. But there was something else, too, almost as though many in the academy believed that we had each only a finite lifetime allotment of usable words, and that it was a terrible waste to let these spill out onto the screens over the internet rather than pages through the library.

[You may develop your own quasi-religious metaphor involving masturbation and spilled seed here, if you wish. I'm not going to go there.]

But in my experience, words don't work like that. Words are more like kittens: the more you have of them, the more you're likely to get. If you nurture a couple of them, they'll soon start to produce more and more of them without much conscious effort on your part to increase their number. And so it is with my words: I nurture a couple of small ones, and suddenly every computer I have has open documents full of jottings for a book project or an article or a syllabus or a blog post or an op-ed, a crazy crowded mishmash of self-multiplying words and ideas.

Why?

For me, first, blogging has developed the writing habit. I carry that mental pencil and pad with me all the time, always busy trying to convert my experience into blog bait. I'm pre-writing, that is, all the time. And this habit spills over to my research: I'm always busy trying to convert my reading into article-bait. This is a habit I did not have before blogging.

Second, the feedback I receive from blogging (and media appearances, and public talks) offers nearly immediate positive reinforcement, and that makes me write more. When people tell me they think an idea is great, I'm more likely to push harder to write something more substantial about it; when people tell me the like reading my writing, I know that the work is not solitary or without a point or audience. Writing starts to feel good.

Third, informal writing has clarified my voice and made me a more confident (and, I hope, effective) communicator. Blogging (etc.) does not tie me in compositional knots relating to disciplinary jargon (or, worse, interdisciplinary jargon). There's no onerous citation requirement. I don't have to tone down my metaphors for an imaginary international audience. I write to please myself, largely, and as a result the writing process is pleasant, and the results are more conversational. For high-stakes professional writing, jargon is necessary, adherence to strict rules of citation is necessary, and (I think) some of the enforced clunkiness of writing style is a historical artifact that I can only chip away at one little piece at a time. But that's all very tiring. High-stakes writing is an 800m butterfly swim in a tech-suit at the Olympics; low-stakes writing is skinny dipping from the paddle-boat at 11pm at the cottage. It's fun, but I'm probably still building muscle and endurance.

I know that many of you have digital lives or write in public as well. I would be very, very interested to hear how you think your own "low-stakes**" writing has an impact on your "high-stakes" work. We could maybe change the prevailing narrative!

Maybe we'll start worrying about the productivity of people who don't fart around writing stuff on teh intertubes ;-)

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* "easily" is relative. I still really hate writing. It's just that the hating part is so much less debilitating than it was before.


** the degree of stakeness is relative to your perspective, of course: in my JOB, articles count more than blogging or public appearances, but this month I've had a) an article appear in a big journal and b) a five minute appearance on national radio and I leave it to you to guess which of these events prompted more hallway talk and productive debate about digital culture, more emails from friends and relatives, more phone calls, more Facebook posts, more debates, more Twitter RTs, and more "Wow, I'm impressed."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

From the Archives: Summertime, and the Research Is...

The tents are going up on the lawn at the University of Toronto, which means that exams and grading are done and convocation season is nearly upon us. It also means that it is the season for making overly ambitious summer research plans and many, many lists. But, as Erin reminds us, there's another way! From the archives, Erin on combating summertime burnout and anxiety.


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It is mid-June. My lickety-split spring course--contemporary critical theory in 3.5 weeks--has finished. I've submitted my grading and filed all my papers and lectures in hard and digital copy. Congress has also passed. I learned that Fredericton is lovely. I made some new friends and colleagues. I was completely inspired by a panel on lyric scholarship. I had the wonderful good fortune of having generative responses to my own presentation (thanks SB, LM, and MG!) and my dear friend and collaborator TVM and I had the good fortune of chairing a phenomenally strong and interesting panel of papers given on a topic we curated! Bliss.


Now that things have slowed down a wee bit (read: I am unemployed until August 1st when my new contract begins) I've been thinking about how best to spend my summer. Last summer I flailed. I spend a huge amount of time fretting about being unemployed, an equally huge amount of time trying to generate an immense amount of research, and ultimately I spent a good deal of the summer feeling paralyzed in front of my computer. I managed to write a bit, but readers it was not a pretty or productive scene. What's worse, I hardly rested. I felt far too guilty when I was relaxing to ever properly relax.

I'm 365 days older and while I might not be that much wiser I have gathered some strategies that I'd like to share with any of you readers who like me have hugely ambitious summer research plans that don't also include lazing on the beach/biking riding/drinking wine at a cafe or whatever enables you to let the tightness out of your shoulders.

One of the things I've done this year is join an online writing group. This is a direct result ofAimée: she's written about Academic Ladder, and finally in a mid-May grading fit of despair I joined. Academic Ladder costs money, and for me that's part of what works. I've paid to join a writing group where really what I get is kind peer pressure, encouragement, empathy, and suggestions for writing block, organizing my time etc. So far, so good. I've written an article, a conference paper, and a draft of another article all while teaching M-R for three hours a day.

You might find this is a little hokey (actually I kind of do too, but I marvel at how it has worked for me). If you're not into paying for peer pressure (hmm...) then why not write a list of all the research and writing related things you want to/have to accomplish over the summer. Everything: course prep, book orders, book proposals, manuscript, research trips, all of it. Then consider sharing your list. I shared mine with my pal TVM on Google Docs and he sent me his list. We've offered each other strategies for prioritizing and we're checking in with one another regularly. I'm also a big fan of crossing out rather than deleting a task when it is finished as I feel like I can see my progress.

In addition to making lists and prioritizing my tasks I'm trying to set some fairly firm limitations on how much I work. I must work over the summer, as I suspect many of you must, but I've finally clued in to the fact that it is imperative that I relax as well. To that end I've decided that work stops at 3pm. I practice yoga in the morning and then come home, clean up, and walk Felix the Dog, so that puts me at my desk around 9:30-10:00. Setting an end-time is proving to be the most challenging for me. I don't have the family obligations that many of you do, and my partner works out of town during the week, so I have to push myself to unplug as step away from the desk. But let me tell you, once I've shut off my computer and called it a day I feel pretty darn good. Ending at a reasonable time gives me the tangible sense that I've worked, but allows me the freedom to have a huge chunk of the day to myself. I've been reading books for pleasure...!

There's no silver bullet for balancing life/research life in research, but writing down my goals, sharing them, tracking my progress daily, and quitting early regularly is really working for me. How about you? What are your strategies for balancing work/life/summer?

Monday, May 11, 2015

From the Archives: Your Five-Year Research Plan

How do you gauge the impact of a blog? And, more ephemeral still, how do you think through the practical as well as affective ways years of collective feminist thinking circulates? 

Several of us weekly writers -- Aimée, Boyda, Jana, and Melissa and via Skype -- discussed at the Digital Diversity conference this weekend, Hook & Eye circulates well beyond what you can see in the comment boxes. For whatever reasons, and I know there are many and various, we are a blog that circulates via networks of community. What I mean here is that we see more circulation through sharing amongst friends on social media platforms that we do through comments happening on individual posts. Aimée called this a facet of the blog's function as a "whisper network," which I just love.

So, in praise of the networking we are trying to facilitate, and in honour of the depth and range of our archives (not to mention our own attempts to follow our own advice) here is the first of our month-long foray into the archives. 

Today's gem is from almost a year ago to the day: I give you Julie Rak's brilliant and generous advice on how to plan your five-year research plan. One of the many things I love about Julie's advice is that it can, I think, be adapted for alt-ac and precarious working conditions. After all, she does model it on plan imagined by Trotsky who knew rather a lot about precarious times...
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As a reader of Hook and Eye, I am interested in how people newer to the profession than I am think about their work lives. A quick scan of the keywords for different Hook and Eye entries recently showed me something interesting in this regard. There are no keywords for “research planning.” There’s a post about “planners” and quite a few about work-life balance (see “best-laid plans” and the popular “saving my sanity”). There’s a few more about conference papers and writing. But there’s not so much about research life or about planning it for the long term. So, I thought that I’d write something about adapting that time-honoured radical socialist approach to facilitating change, the five year plan as imagined by Trotsky, for your research.

Having a plan is a good plan  No matter whether you are a graduate student or a full professor in the postsecondary system, you should have a long-term plan for your research career. It’s a central aspect to becoming a professional, and it’s something that we should keep on doing, throughout our careers. Otherwise, we live in a state of anxiety (omiGOD how am I going to get this essay/conference paper/grant/thesis/book/ANYTHING done) and we become reactive with regards to our careers, rather than proactive. We start responding to what others want (or what we imagine they want) and not to what we actually need or can reasonably achieve. I would say that this is particularly true for female academics, who often are asked to take up tasks for the good of a group or community. In short, we are asked to give to others because we are women, and because we are women, it can be hard to say no to the requests or demands of others. Planning is essential as you move through each stage of your research career arc so that you are not just reacting to what others want.

Since many of us came into the academy because we love research, planning for what we love can give us a measure of power and autonomy in our lives. It can help us make informed decisions about our careers. When you’re a student, other people make plans for you, and you respond to them. But when you stop being a student and start being a scholar, you’re in the driver’s seat of your research life and the course you set is your own. This can be intimidating, particularly as you move from one stage of your career to another.

I am a bit of a magpie as a scholar. I get interested in a lot of shiny objects (or ideas) and I want to pursue all of them. But realistically, I can’t. It also turns out that as you become more senior in academic life, you are asked to do more. It’s hard not to say “yes” just because you are asked. This past year, I did say “yes” to too much, and I ran out of steam. So in March 2014, I sat down and did a five year research plan to see where I was at and what I should do.

A five year plan  Here’s what I did for my recent plan. I listed these areas:

  • Research Goals 
  • Current Projects 
  • Results (Books, Edited Books, Conferences, essays, conference papers, grants, public talks) 
  • Timeline, by year (2014-2019) 


My research goals are all the things I want to do by 2019. They range from the immediate (finish a conference paper), to the extended (write an article per year) to the long-term (run a kickass international research project). Then I listed all my current projects, whether they are large or small. That was an eye-opener. Some projects have nothing to do with my goals. What the heck am I doing them for? No wonder I am overwhelmed! I assigned priorities for my projects in light of what my goals are.

Then I made a Results list and keyed it to my Projects. That was interesting too: I could see that my work tends to cluster at certain times, probably because I say “yes” to too much. I could see too that I am prone to agreeing to do some things which, given my larger goals, maybe I shouldn’t. If I do agree to something, I should make sure that it’s in line with my goals and current projects.

I keyed that projects list to my timeline. I have a lot of things wrapping up in 2014, as it turns out. By 2017, I don’t have a lot there. I could tell from the timeline that I tend to react to opportunities and not plan for them. And I am very optimistic about how long it takes to do a project.

As I moved things around to make my life look less hectic, I thought about the latter years of the plan. What long-term things do I really want to do? What do I need to have in place in order to realize my goals? When I started listing what my desires really were and keying in how to plan for them, I learned a lot about what kind of research I want to do at this stage in my career. And, for the first time in awhile, I didn’t feel overwhelmed. I could see what I should prioritize, and what I should just let go. I realized that I don’t have to do everything all at once. For a type-A person like me, that’s a big relief.

Doing a plan like this shouldn’t be another occasion for guilt. We are all going to be surprised by opportunities in our work lives, so it’s a good idea to go back and review goals, shuffle priorities and revise the plan from time to time. In a few months, I’ll look at my plan again and see where I’m at with it.

Control what you can control  Whether we have permanent academic jobs or want them, one of the features of academic life is that we have a lot of control over what we decide to do as researchers and how we’re going to do it (this is what we really learn to do in graduate school). But one of the trickiest things about working in the postsecondary system is that aspects of that control are in fact given to others. We can propose a research goal, create a plan and apply to SSHRC, NEH or NSERC for the money, but we don’t have control over whether we get the funding or not. We can submit a paper to the best journal in our field, but we can’t control how long it takes to receive a decision, or what the decision will be.

Having a research plan means that we do get control over what it is possible to control. When we are successful, it feels great. When we’re not, at least planning means that we can choose another path and learn from what happened. Our sense of self-worth does not have to be keyed to how successful we are, but to how we are working to realize our goals. And no matter what, the decisions we make can be in line with what our values are, and what kind of people we want to be, at work and in the other parts of our lives.

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Julie Rak works on all aspects of nonfiction in print and other media and is especially interested in issues of material production, in print and online. She is writing a book about gender in mountaineering narratives. In 2013 she was the Chair of the Autobiography, Biography and Life Writing Division of the MLA. She is a member of the Canadian Mountain Studies Initiative at the University of Alberta. In 2014 she organized the biennial International Association for Biography and Autobiography (IABA) international conference at the Banff Centre. Currently, she is the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies in the Department of English and Film Studies.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hook & Eye at Digital Diversity 2015!

It's Day 1 of the Digital Diversity: Writing / Feminism / Culture conference in Edmonton, AB! If you are in Edmonton this weekend (where people are saying hell has frozen over, since the left-of-centre NDP government gained power over the Progressive Conservatives the other day, and the city woke up to a blanket of snow), stop by the Lister Conference Center on Sat May 9 at 9-10:30 am for a special Hook & Eye-themed panel:










Not all named on the program were able to make it, unfortunately, but we hope to have some surprise visits via Skype. It should be a fab hour and a half discussing the origins of the blog, the challenges of blogging about higher education as a graduate student, and the power of feminist communities. Please come!