Monday, July 31, 2006

Sacred music

(***I am sorry about the block quote below...I don't know why it ended up like this and am not savvy enough to fix the formatting.)
While I was away I was reading, among other things, M. Jacqui Alexander’s recent book, Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred. One of the more compelling points she makes in this rather breathtakingly ambitious collection is about a kind of disavowal of spirituality in the academy. She writes,

…primarily because experience has been understood in purely secular terms, and
because the secular has been divested of the Sacred and the spiritual divested
of the political, this way of knowing is not generally believed to have any
capacity to instruct feminism in the United States in any meaningful way, in
spite of the work of feminist theologians and ethicists. It is a paradox that a
feminism that has insisted politics of a historicized self has rendered the self
so secularized, that is has paid very little attention to the ways in which
spiritual labor and spiritual knowing is primarily a project of self-knowing and
transformation that constantly invokes community simply because it requires it.
In spite of the work of Gloria Anzaldua, Cornel West, bell hooks, and the more
recent work of Lata Mani, Leela Fernandes, and others, there is a tacit
understanding that no self-respecting postmodernist would want to align herself
(at least in public) with a category such as the spiritual, which appears to
fixed, so unchanging, so redolent of tradition. Many, I suspect, have been
forced into a spiritual closet…

Now, this is interesting. I am inclined to agree with Alexander, though I am in no closet because I don’t identify as spiritual, really. But I think there’s a great deal to what she says. And I think it’s larger than the academy, though has very particular, possibly sinister resonance there. (I note, for instance, that the scholars that she lists are people of colour who work explicitly on the politics of race and culture, none of whom has been willing to repudiate identity politics…I wonder about the racial politics of this disavowal of the sacred…though that’s a whole other post…)

I think of my own history…I grew up with a secular suspicion of religion…It seemed to come from nowhere…I don’t think it was ever spoken in my household, but it was realized in me quite early. My father was the only non-religious member of his family – all his siblings are hard-core evangelical Anglicans, missionaries and ministers and such. I have a very keen memory of feeling as if they were weird, and, in fact, Other. I remember rolling my eyes self-righteously and almost condescendingly when my grandmother castigated me, when I was about eight, for saying “oh god”: she was obviously a representative of The Man.

The interesting thing – and this gets back to Alexander’s point – is that sense of the religious as weirdoes was really tied up with a burgeoning political consciousness that I seemed to breathe in like air from very early on. What I found odd about my relatives, even at eight, was that their religion meant they were conservative – whatever that meant to as young a girl as I: something to do, as Alexander suggests, with “tradition”.

It took me a long time to divest myself of this prejudice about Christianity, which translated for me into the suspicion of all manifestations of the sacred that Alexander talks about. It persisted even as I was around political movements from my mid-teens on, exposed there to United Church activists, Catholic workers, Quakers, and so on. It’s only been in the last five years or so that I’ve worked this out for myself, having made a few good friends who are Christians – and also seen, now that we are adults, how mind-blowingly wonderful some of my Christian cousins are.

I finally, too, recognized something in myself that I would liken or approximate to spirit – it is what comes from connecting with others. My participation in a close-knit, quite progressive community for over a decade through The Activity, for one thing, taught me a lot about spirit as the ethical commitments that are realized in me precisely through that community.

But Alexander is right – a lot of the ways I have articulated that to myself (and they haven’t quite been in her terms, the Sacred) are anathema to the academy as it is today. Certainly, I censor a bit, though I don't really feel it as terribly restrictive. But if a lot of what I have learned about spirituality is about community, then it certainly has relevance to what I and many of us do when we teach and research. So, that’s too bad.


I spent this past weekend out of town, on the tail end of my cottage holiday with GF, at a (mostly) music festival. It’s an interesting one, because it doesn’t fit the folk festival mold completely. For one thing, it has an explicitly political sensibility. And there is plenty of folky stuff, to be sure, plenty of acoustic, roots and countrified music. But at least half of the festival, these days, is devoted to “indie rock”. So there’s this interesting mix of people there…There are older hippie types wearing their tie-dye and their Birks . There are a few of their younger counterparts, all dreadlocks and hand drums. And then there are the legions of unapologetically urban coolios in their new-New Wave styles…and plenty of in-betweens (like myself) who end up combining elements of both in style and sensibility. (I really believe that style reflects sensibility and identifications, hence my brief indexing here of the fashions of the weekend…) This latter group, I think, has a lot of affinities with the postmodern scholars of whom Alexander is speaking.

I discovered some new music and had a couple of really transcendent experiences as a listener, both to musicians I had known before and those I hadn’t. And I got to thinking about music, long recognized as having great affinities with spirituality. Some of these concerts and workshops were about collective manifestations of spirit, there is no doubt in my mind about that.

I thought: For the decidedly postmodern urban hipster set, who know this indie rock scene intimately, passionately, this is sacred. (Surely this is also, more obviously, the case for the folk community.) They react to it in some of the very same ways that Alexander describes in her essay on the promise of theorizing with the sacred. And they are unabashed about it, about taking giddy pleasure in it.

And what is amazing about this is how well everyone gets along. There is no grouching on the part of the folky types about the encroachment of pomo music, nor vice versa. In fact, there are plenty of really great comings together of people of all stripes in transcendent experience…This speaks well to the political potential of sacred experience, which is what Alexander is so concerned with. After all, what goes on at this festival is really akin to a kind of coalition-building across sensibilities.

So as much as I see the validity of Alexander’s claims, I wonder if it might help to see the sacred in broader terms, terms that let in people such as these who are experiencing it through music. People who may not name it as such, but who still live it intensely in the meat of their everyday lives…

Camera dog

I'm back from vacation. More on that later...

For the moment, I bought my first digital camera and thought I would celebrate the occasion - and get to know this small machine - with a Mr. K photo shoot...of course. If we can call it a photo shoot when I'm a fumbling amateur.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Last night GF and I went out for dinner with some friends we haven’t seen in months. I just love this couple, and am thrilled that they’re expecting a baby after trying for too, too long to get pregnant.

This couple, K and J, met during their PhDs. K is finishing now, while pregnant, and J dropped out a couple of years back – to become a firefighter! She got a lot of flak from friends about this decision, but I’ve always thought it was great – it seems a good fit, to me, and who am I to criticize, anyway? She’s been waiting since then for her training to start, and it recently has. Talking with her about it last night was a revelation. I really realized for the first time the strength this takes from her. Not only is there all that’s emotionally required to deal with trauma and risk and, sometimes, death. There’s also what it means for her, as a woman – and a lesbian – entering this profession that’s notoriously sexist and homophobic. She’s finding that alienating, but she’s persevering with some hope – and even finding the good in it. Like the strong union.

I see people like J sometimes, people who inhabit the same world from me and yet also a very different one, and I think: I don’t know from hard. I must remember to remember her when I am whining about being buried under an avalanche of grading, or feeling pressured to publish. At least I don’t have to balance death and destruction, risks to my own life, and potentially hateful colleagues whom I have to trust to save me in a deadly situation.

(And you know I don't mean this in any kind of rah-rah, anti-intellectual way...)


The world really feels apocalyptic right now, does it not?

This evening, GF and Mr. K and I are leaving for a week in a borrowed-from-my-aunt cabin in the woods. The past week or two has felt so obscenely foreboding around the world that there is, frankly, a tiny worry at the back of my mind that we’re going to emerge from the woods into a very different world from the one we’re retreating from.

At any rate, we shall retreat. I’m bringing plenty of work with me…to do in between G&T’s on the dock, five swims a day, pans of brownies, the book Loren recommended to me the other day, and the first season of a what promises to be a thrillingly trashy British lesbian show called Sugar Rush. This is sure to put me back on track - ha! To hold myself accountable in the face of such distractions, let me bloggily promise to:
1. complete a book review that I’ve said I will submit by August 4
2. properly read and make notes on another book I’ve agreed to review. Create plan for not tearing it to pieces in the review.
3. emerge with some semblance of a coherent plan for the article I once told myself I would write by September 1, the one that’s been responsible for my slump over the last ten days or so…

When I come back, perhaps I will have an intelligent thought in my head again!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

In future, Mr. K and I will be unavailable on July 20

This morning Mr. K and I went for our walk to the enormous dog park, where we go several times a week. While there, Mr. K ran into two boxers owned by a young woman I’d never seen there before. Mr. K’s a boxer himself. When he finally coaxed them out of the shade to play with him, they both chased him – his favourite game – and then one bit him on the haunch. It doesn’t look too serious and the young woman volunteered to give me her number, so that was good – she was being a responsible dog owner. But it was more than a nip – it was bleeding slightly and sensitive. I had a dog walker/vet tech that I know there look at it, and she thought it wouldn’t need sutures, but that I’d need to wash and watch it carefully.

Still, pet dogs biting each other is rare and serious.

That’s why it is was very weird to realize, when I came home, that it was LAST JULY 20, 2005 that Mr. K was bitten in that very same park – seriously that time, requiring sedation, staples, and two weeks of antibiotics. It occurred to me that it was sometime in July, so I looked on my computer for the notice I'd put in the park asking the dog's owner to contact me - she never did - and found that it happened in the morning one year ago, today.

These are the only two times Mr. K's been bitten.

And that, my friends, is why Mr. K and I are hiding ourselves away next July 20. We will be on strike against the demon dogs.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

July time-sucker: 100 Things

OK, people. I decided to just say, fuck it...I have gotten nothing done over the last week, and I am giving myself over to the inner slacker today. Later in the week, I will use this forum to set some deadlines for myself, that being such a good way of keeping me in line. In the meantime, I decided to while away some precious time doing the 100 Things meme I have seen at others' places.

1. I’m an only child.
2. My identity was profoundly shaped by moving with my mother to a different city from my father, when I was eight, two years after they’d split up.
3. That identity is shy. Skeert.
4. While that really made me who I am, it was reshaped in my late twenties: less shy and skeert.
5. That reshaping was accomplished by teaching, and also by living in France.
6. I went to French public school, although I am anglophone.
7. I dreamed since I was ten of living in France, and used to save up money to buy coffee table books of photos of Paris.
8. When I moved there, it was a disaster.
9. I have an extraordinarily grief-filled journal from that time.
10. I came out when I was eighteen
11. Being the overly serious soul that I was, I decided that it was imperative that I go to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival that summer, as if it were some kind of religious requirement.
12. I went by myself.
13. Since I was still shy and skeert, this was painful.
14. I laugh my head off about that earnestness now.
15. My parents are old lefties.
16. They have no issues about my sexuality.
17. I get the distinct feeling my father is proud of me for being queer.
18. My father and GF are pretty much the same person.
19. They even have almost the same name.
20. Oh my god.
21. I’ve been with GF for four years.
22. We’re very, very different people.
23. We spent a year and a half in counseling together, learning to get over ourselves.
24. Now we have a strong relationship.
25. GF is a 9-5er, but a whip-smart film theorist at heart.
26. Our dog, Mr. K, is a rescue boxer.
27. Before him, we had another boxer, Miss Chef, who was killed when GF and I were on vacation two years ago.
28. Miss Chef was staying with GF’s mother, ran across the highway from her rural home, and was hit by a car.
29. It was a bad scene.
30. I never thought I’d have dogs.
31. I had them when I was little, but always had more cats and thought of myself as a cat person.
32. Now I’m a cat and dog person.
33. We can’t have cats because GF is allergic.
34. I want a bunny, too, but Mr. K would kill it.
35. No bunny for me.
36. I’ve been a vegetarian for sixteen years.
37. I’m the kind of vegetarian who loves faux meat. Bring it on!
38. I’m also not squeamish about people eating meat around me.
39. The only foods I really don’t like are horseradish, coconut, and marshmallows (is that a food, anyway?).
40. I am also not always onboard with creamy things, like custard.
41. I eat an enormous amount of fruit – so much that GF teases me relentlessly about my scurvy-avoidance tactics.
42. I like alcohol a lot.
43. My mother is a recovered alcoholic.
44. (Now she seems to be addicted to AA.)
45. I don’t worry about myself drinking too much, though – just can’t see it happening.
46. My favourite drink is gin and tonic.
47. I like going to watch dance more than theatre.
48. In fact, I don’t get very excited about theatre.
49. Since I won’t be doing my hobby, The Activity, anymore in the fall, I may take modern dance instead.
50. If there’s no modern available, I’ll try ballet.
51. My musical tastes have narrowed over the last five years.
52. Now I listen mostly to countryish, bluegrassy kinds of things.
53. My father and I listen to the same kind of music, trading bootleg CD’s and stuff.
54. The only two cities that have made me all adrenaline-rushed and high for aesthetic reasons are Lyon and Chicago.
55. I don’t like London.
56. My best friend, with whom I’ve been friends for almost nineteen years, moved to London a year ago.
57. I miss him, crave him, deeply.
58. We’re planning to take a trip together for our twentieth anniversary next year.
59. GF and I had a carpenter ant infestation in our place last year.
60. Since I have seen several humungous ants in the last two days, I fear we have another one.
61. Great.
62. I am notoriously fearful of bugs.
63. The worst is dragonflies, of which I am full-on phobic. (Yes, I know they’re “good” bugs. I don’t know how anything that looks like that could be “good”, but whatever.)
64. But I took care of the mice, when GF was hysterical about them.
65. I came oh, so close to dropping out of my BA.
66. It was after my third year, when I was blown away by theory but took it all so seriously, I feared I’d have a heart attack.
67. Now I have a PhD.
68. I have decided not to apply for jobs in the U.S.
69. At heart, I truly like teaching and research equally well.
70. That is why the university I’m going to be working at next year is such a good fit for me; it does both well.
71. I swoon over vintage clothing.
72. My favourite clothing period is the 1910s.
73. I bought a 1910s-styled blouse last winter and I look ridiculous in it.
74. I have a whole bunch of really beautiful dresses from the 1950s and 60s.
75. People tell me my look is “classic”, which sounds a little boring, but it’ll do.
76. I don’t wear high heels, though I admire some of them.
77. I had myself properly fitted for bras a couple of years ago, because my bras just didn’t fit, and it was a revelation!
78. Now I have a bra habit.
79. My favourite colour is dark green, but I never wear it.
80. I hate housework.
81. The dog sheds white hair like nobody’s business, so the floors are perennially a disaster.
82. My plan for this summer was to do twenty minutes of cleaning a day – like, one little task at a time.
83. Like all of my areas of productivity, this has gone out the window in July.
84. I used to write a lot of stories in my free time, when I was a kid.
85. My mother saved my stories.
86. They are twisted – people being assaulted and murdered all over the place.
87. Now, I can’t handle even the slightest violence on film or TV.
88. I am also stupidly over-sensitive to suspense: heart attack time.
89. I believe in ghosts.
90. No, I don’t have an explanatory framework for ghosts.
91. I hired an “animal communicator” to talk with Mr. K about why he was peeing on the floor, to try to get him to stop.
92. It worked.
93. No, I can’t explain it.
94. GF is horrified that I tell that story so freely; she says it makes me look crazy.
95. I’ll take my chances.
96. I used to dream about time travel; I wanted – and still want – to land myself in medieval Europe.
97. I can’t stand science fiction, however.
98. Star Trek actually nauseates me.
99. TV-wise, I have an L Word addiction, although it is like watching a train wreck.
100. Three places I’d really like to travel to are Japan, Finland, and New Zealand.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


You know, it's too freaking hot. I think I'm in the pit of hell. I worry about the dog lasting till morning - he's splayed out on the tile floor, moving not even an eyelash when you step over him. I have to sleep in the living room tonight because the bedroom will push me into madwoman territory. So long, GF...GF who still goes for her runs when it's - no kidding - 100 degrees out at 2 in the afternoon. (Mine were abandoned when the mercury started this latest rise, though I tell myself- snort, that's a good one - I'm going to try tomorrow morning.) Who comes home and tells me how refreshed she is. Who is this creature?

I used to be able to handle the heat. Like it, even. My tolerance level plummets a little further every year. Today GF and I were over at my mother's. We sat outside for lunch. While GF, my mum, and my stepfather lingered contentedly after eating, I had to go inside and lie on the kitchen floor for a while, and then sit in front of the window air conditioner. I didn't go outside again.

I feel as if I've exhausted all known-to-me strategies for dealing with this. Any good tips?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Contradiction and Randomness

I really identified with lil’rumpus’ description of her “blog block”. She describes nicely some of the anxieties involved in this game, especially for one who is new at it.

What I am finding is that I worry about what to make of the blog. So far I have mostly stuck to more focused, topical posts, because I feel that blogging about the ins and outs of my daily life would be boring – I don’t have the wit to pull that off the way some people so successfully do. So I have been writing relatively ponderously. When I write something off-the-cuff, I am afraid that off-the-cuffness lends the writing a somehow “wrong” quality…that misunderstandings can ensue. The big, classic fear about hastily constructed, electronically transmitted prose somehow misrepresenting who we ‘really’ are. (This reminds me a bit of Flavia's post detailing her anxious dream about being confronted by other bloggers' misconceptions of her.) And then I worry, like about whether I seemed an arrogant, selfish ass in the other day’s post about my ridiculously premature career hysteria, and the award I won. And that’s bad.

Immediately after posting, I had to fight with myself not to delete my off-the-cuffness with this one. Because the fact is, I am self-contradictory, as are we all. I may have been lamenting academic opportunism lately, but I must admit that I was happy to win an award that a) recognizes and fits my dissertation into a larger, communal context, and b) may boost my chances of getting a tenure-track job. The jury’s out on whether all those concerns contradict each other.

I shouldn’t worry so much, though, about how this appears in print on this site. For if I spend my posting time trying to construct a perfectly coherent, pristine persona, what’s the point of this forum? That sure isn’t me, that slice of coherent purity. If I do this, as it seems many do, in part for quasi-therapeutic reasons, then putting out a pretty “me”, one who couldn’t give a fig about jobs or recognition, seems entirely self-defeating.

A couple of other random things:

...I just read Alison Bechdel’s new graphic novel/memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Oh my. What an astonishing piece of writing. I’ve admired the cleverness of Bechdel’s comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out for, but I’ve never been a huge fan. This memoir, which traces her relationship to her closeted gay father, is simply beautiful. And witty and learned and troubling and all that good stuff. Best of all, she perfectly and unapologetically renders the complexity and contradictions of people (per above) and their relationships to each other, their loves and hatreds. It is such a frank opening of the self, it more honestly admits vulnerability and longing than almost anything I’ve read. Such a treasure.

...I have been out of the teaching loop for the last six weeks. But last night I watched some young women breakdancing – it was part of an eclectic outdoor dance performance thingy – and was reminded of one of the things that I love most about teaching. These five women’s energy and talent and fierceness drew me back to the way all those qualities play themselves out in some students…I love being around that energy in young people, which is so often manifest as a hunger to make change. I remember it in myself, and feel the ways some of it is lost in me, and being around it in my job is a privilege. Watching these young women’s performance was a lovely mid-summer bit of excitement about what September is going to bring, when I move over to this new university, which has a surfeit of this kind of energy. I can’t wait.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

My selfish side, for better and for worse

It's amazing how work/life can be so up and down...and at the same time...

The other night I descended into some sort of irrationally foul mood...about my career prospects. Though I've been happy and productive lately, and haven't whined since a bad period in February/March, I was overcome by worry that my very new career is already in the toilet, that I'll never get out of contractual work, that I feel crushed by the pressure to publish (yeah, who doesn't at this stage? - I know, it was just one of those moods...), etc., etc. My dissertation was nominated for two important awards, and though they were long shots, I was all of a sudden beset by disappointment that I hadn't won either of them. This fed into my fear that I am alreay fading into obscurity. And I whined that I hate having no job this summer, and collecting Employment Insurance, and being all crunched for money.

The next morning I woke up to find two pieces of mail. In my email inbox, an email informing me that indeed I had won one of the dissertation awards. And in the real mailbox, the cheque that came with it!


All of a sudden there were plans to open a bottle of champagne and to buy a digital camera, and to get me a goddamned tenure-track job (in a good way)!

And then today, this:

[Rest of post removed to reflect my sudden terror about revealing my identity in potentially compromising ways... buh-bye, rest of post...Sorry...]

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Canada and cultural reflexivity

In his comments on my last post, app crit wondered about the differences between the US and Canada. He was asking specifically about the question of class, and I am not going to be able to answer to that in any real way here, but I do have a few thoughts on the subject, having just returned from a trip to visit friends in the US. They used to live in Brooklyn; this was my first visit to them now that they’ve moved to a town on the Hudson, about an hour north of the city. Spending time in this context gave me some perspective on the question of intra-continental differences.

On Saturday night we went to a parade and celebration that was quintessentially, shockingly Small-Town American. It was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the local volunteer fire department. The parade featured marching bands, firetrucks, and firefighters in ceremonial dress and formation. There were a lot of flags. I felt as if I’d just landed in a movie, so insanely perfect was the scene, with its backdrop of twee Main Street storefronts. Later there were fireworks – the first display the town has had in a decade, apparently. While the fireworks boomed and echoed, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA – the whole album – played in the background.

And I thought: this country loves to look at itself. It is consumed by and enamored of its own vision of itself. This is an astonishing – and almost enviable – cultural narcissism.

It occurs to me that this is one of the chief differences between Canada and the US. Canada looks at itself, too, of course – but always in relation, in comparison. That is, the better part of Canada’s identity, if it even makes sense to homogenize it – and it may well not do – is wrapped up in defining itself against the United States. What are we? We are everything the US is not. Even elements of the Canadian cultural imaginary that appear to be simple identifications – “Canada’s military engages in peacekeeping, not combat” – are, if you scratch at them just a little, also comments on difference-from.

This means that Canada engages in very little unencumbered self-regard. And this isn’t a good thing. It may not be quite as narcissistic, but it also means that it becomes easy to tell oneself fictions about a given state of affairs – i.e. the peacekeeping thing. As many have pointed out, this may be a story we tell to exonerate ourselves, to avoid an icky complicitity in the kinds of things we associate with the US, and it’s a lot more complicated than it sounds. On some levels, it’s just not really true, in historical or contemporary terms – Canadians fought in Korea, for example. They’re essentially in combat in Afghanistan these days, though the government keeps trying to say it ain’t so. And, uh, lest we forget, some of those “peace”keepers have engaged in some truly heinous crimes while on their missions – Shidane Arone, anyone?

This kind of refusal to engage with what “we” are, except in oppositional relation to what “they” are, leads to all sorts of passivity-inducing blindness. It’s all well and good to criticize the US government for the situation at Guantanamo Bay – and the Canadian media spends a good deal of time on this story – but what about when a parallel situation happens within this country’s very own borders? Five Muslim men have been jailed for between 3 ½ and 6 years without charges – on so-called “security certificates” – because they have been deemed threats to security. This story gets zero to minimal coverage, because we tell ourselves stories – rooted in an official, federal policy of multiculturalism – about being a culture of “tolerance” and human rights, in sharp contrast to our supposedly reactionary neighbours to the south.

All of this fosters a lack of recognition of cultural complexities – both of Canadians and Americans. Canadians don’t have to confront their own myth-making machinations until they get out of myopic North America. I remember that when I lived in France for the better part of a year, about five years ago, I was forced to think through my own national identity and its relationship to the US in a way I’d never had to before. I was surrounded by outrageous misrepresentations of the United States – practically a contemporary, US-directed version of Allied mythmaking about Germans bayoneting babies in the First World War. I found myself in conflicted position – I was both trying to defend the honour of the left-wing Americans I know and love against some ghastly homogenized vision of McUSA, and to distance myself from the culture, as a Canadian. It was pretty difficult to have it both ways, and I had to start examining my assumptions about both countries.

What I think is crucial to recognize now is that political culture is changeable, and that the current political regime in Canada – the Conservative government – would like to make some pretty drastic changes to the fabric of the country, and is not even terribly interested in preserving much of the mythology. Difference-from is on the wane, in this political climate, and, unless the government changes, and quickly, it will begin to be harder to imagine ourselves as benign do-gooders united in our opposition to the evil ways of the United States.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Travel and class

I’m traveling in a few days. Going to New York, a city that I adore and have spent a lot of time in. (I crafted a PhD dissertation that was in part about New Yorkish things, giving me a convenient excuse to go there on research trips.) I’m staying with friends and flying on points, so it’s a relatively inexpensive trip. But my very precarious financial situation has me nervous even about the play we’re seeing, one pricey museum admission, and a few meals out. I’m on EI for three months – that’s UI to you Americans – because of the charming new propensity of many of our Canadian uni’s to hire full-time faculty on contracts that are less than a year long.

Even in this financial mess, I am also planning a trip I will actually have to pay for, to London in October to visit my dearest friend. The ticket hasn’t been bought yet – I can’t afford to add to an over-inflated credit card right now. The very good salary I will get once my new job starts seems perversely to cancel out the worries of the summer, and I envision a carefree fall trip.*

All this trip-planning in the midst of a financial squeeze recalls to me my class position – profoundly middling, urban middle-class, not upper- or lower-middle – and the unexcavated sense of entitlement that comes with it. Most of that entitlement, for me, comes out in the feeling that travel is a necessity. I don’t have too much credit debt because I bought shoes or electronics or endless dinners out. I have it because even toward the end of my PhD, when my external funding had run out, I continued to indulge in travel that I couldn’t afford.

What does travel represent, that I imagine it as essential? Mobility, of course, but what need or desire does that speak to? I realize that though I am a fairly content homebody much of the time, travel offers itself up as a kind of phenomenology of reinvention. It reminds me of other possibilities, other pictures of what a life – my life – could look like. It lets me live those – that’s what I mean about its phenomenological quality. This itself is class-bound…there is a very real question of who has the psychic space and the tools, much less the time, to re-imagine themselves…(which should act as a check to those of us in the Humanities who are so enamored of the subversive potential of the imagination).

Travel also – and I cringe to admit this, but it seems important – adds to my cultural capital. And so I see how intimately cultural capital can function. Where travel brings me security is in my own rendering of it to myself. I’m not a big talker or a name dropper, or really a snob, I don’t think. (In this day and age, nobody’s going to be impressed by plenty of time spent in Europe, anyway.) But having traveled, and approaching travel with ease, gives me what feels like an entirely personal sense of self-satisfaction about my own expanded experiences, my own worth. Of course, it’s not just personal – nothing ever is – and in this I am, as are we all, a perfect illustration of the reproduction of social structures through our most intimate mythologies.

A lot of this, of course, is tied in with my identity as an academic, that is, as a member of a seriously "classed" profession. It’s difficult to imagine myself in this profession as a non-traveler…I would feel inadequate, wouldn’t I? For in this regard travel is tied to knowledge, the province of academics. It lends itself both to knowledge as accumulation of facts, and knowledge as understanding – even when we don’t truly understand. The experiential nature of the voyage seems to lend it a credence that other forms of knowledge-building can’t have.

I recognize all this and then don't quite know where to put the recognition. What do we do about the way class, the elephant in the (North American) room, structures our thinking? Or, more hopefully, how can that recognition itself help to restructure what we do in our travels? And in our jobs?

*Yes, I have problems being a sensible budgeter – or any kind of budgeter at all, really.