Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Emotional attachments

I’m back at work this week, after that fall break last week.

I have to admit that I surprised myself with a certain amount of dread about coming back. I was surprised because I love this job, this university – I tend to have a good time here. I suppose, though, that it was because I had a quiet, productive week at home, and that put me in touch with what it feels like to have space of my own, and home-cooked food, and relationships (with people other than students) – all things that are in short supply in Uni City. I also desperately missed Mr. K before I even left, and all day yesterday, my first day back. I missed him on a very visceral level – the feel of him. It was hard, too, to watch him panic as I left. (Boxers naturally look sad because of their droopy cheeks, it’s true – but there is no question that Mr. K was feeling especially down yesterday as he watched me get ready to leave after ten lovely days together.)

Returning to my fourth-year seminar last night, though, wove me back into this life. I walked in there exhausted and relatively unmotivated, and left energized and happy. And today I’ve had another very productive day, what with finishing up and sending off that thing I was working on last week, and doing up a frightfully complex job application, and looking into some research travel (my book project involves work in Paris archives and museums…fun but daunting – expensive!). I feel back into this world, and I like it.

My Chair also reminds me how much I like it here. I’ve mentioned before how excellent she is at her job – she falls into the category of senior scholars I deeply admire, for various reasons. I try to watch and learn from what she does that makes me feel so good - things that are also deeply appreciated by many, many others, judging by people’s loving responses to her, the extent to which they praise her if I mention her name. She is unfailingly genuine and generous with her time and her spirit, and with her ideas. Her commitment to the program is deep and, I think, emotional, but she is pragmatic; she gets things done. The amazing thing is that she manages to make this little department, our little corner of this campus, feel like something approximating a real community.

Today we chatted a lot – about life and work. And then, as she was leaving to go and carve her pumpkin, she spontaneously asked me if I wanted to come over for pizza and Halloween treat-dispensing this evening. This will give me a chance, she said, to meet her partner and her dog.

Of course I’m delighted to be asked, and I’m about to head over to her place…I love the energy in the air on Halloween nights, the people in the street. I miss handing out candy – GF and I live on a major street and no kids come by, sadly.

But I’m also ever so slightly wary. Not of my Chair – she’s lovely, obviously. I’m wary of my own capacity for attachment. Let’s face it, as hard as I’ve been trying to remain nonchalant about what I’m doing here ,I’m already deeply attached to this place that I have no future guarantees with. Christ, I was attached before I came here, what with it being my dream job and all! I would like more than anything in the world to get the tenure-track job they’re on the verge of posting, but the chances of that are slim to middling, because of the combination of fields they need to hire in. I’ve spent the fall trying to balance the need to protect myself emotionally, with my immediate and visceral love for my students and for some of the things that go on here. I’ve told myself it’s a good thing that I’m not really integrating into the community terribly much for that reason. But here I go, integrating.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Friday Recipe Blogging: Savoury Scrambled Tofu

Good lord, I'm blogging yet again.

But I'm allowed to, I guess, because what a productive day it's been. I have nearly finished the encyclopedia entry, done up an abstract for a presentation at my university, looked over Medieval Woman's awesome syllabus and corresponded with her about it, and decided to organize a panel on Exciting Topic for good, big, intimidating conference next fall - and potentially got one presenter already (besides me). I have also done four loads of laundry, cleaned the floors, and gone for a run in the wind and rain. And blogged twice before this. And it's not even 7:00.

I'm going to make the tofu scramble below for dinner, before the Queen of Dereliction comes over for a long evening. This is a recipe GF and I eat all the time around here; we love it. I find that other tofu scrambles aren't flavourful enough, often. This one is all flavour - I sort of think of it as vegan junk food. It's not about subtlety. But it's gooood. We usually eat it for dinner, with salad or something. But it can also, of course, be had for brunch - and is good in a tortilla, as a breakfast burrito. Also, it's exceptionally easy...I find that this is a theme with the recipes I post here, even though I do like to cook. I don't do much complex cooking these days.

From Juice for Life: Modern Food and Luscious Juice

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/2 cups tofu
3 tbsp Engevita (nutritional) yeast
2 tsp dill
2 tsp garlic powder
Pinch turmeric
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup water

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over meduium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent. Crumble the tofu with your hands and add to the pan. Cook for two minutes.

Combine the yeast, sill, garlic powder, turmeric, sea salt, and pepper in a small bowl with just enough water to make a think sauce. Whisk with a fork to remove all lumps.

Pour this mixture onto your tofu and stir frequently. The turmeric will give the tofu a nice golden glow. Cook until liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat.

NOTES: I use a 454-gram/1 lb. cake of tofu. I think 1 1/2 tsp salt is way too much; I use a scant teaspoon. I have never put the garlic powder in, because I don't have garlic powder. It's fine without it.

Friday meme-ing

I feel as if I'm nearing the end of this encyclopedia entry, and the last 800 words are easy to write, I think, so I think I can reward myself with a frivolous meme seen at Polyopia.

Explain what ended your last relationship?
Hmmm. Almost impossible to answer unless I write a terribly incoherent book. Let's say "a confluence of factors" to guide us away from the fact that I really don't know.

When was the last time you shaved?
Erm - about two weeks ago.

What were you doing this morning at 8 a.m.?
Standing outside in the cold with the dog. At the park across the street.

What were you doing 15 minutes ago?
Making ginger tea.

Are you any good at math?
I am not good. I failed Grade Eleven math through sheer lack of effort, and that was the end of my math career.

Your prom night, what do you remember about it?
I didn't have a prom. I went to alternative schools.

Do you have any famous ancestors?
The Pankhursts, English suffragettes par excellence!

Have you had to take a loan out for school?
Only twice in twelve years; I was lucky with scholarships, and, in the beginning, dad help.

Do you know the words to the song on your MySpace profile?
What MySpace profile?

Last thing received in the mail?
A quarterly statement on ethical funds.

How many different beverages have you had today?
Three. Water, two cups of English breakfast tea, and ginger tea.

Do you ever leave messages on people’s answering machine?
Voicemail, sure.

Who did you lose your CONCERT virginity to?
Unfortunately, it was Lionel Richie (fall 1986). This wasn't because I was a fan, but because some friend's dad had comp tickets he gave us. Sheila E. opened, and she impressed me. My first chosen concert was U2, 1987. Those remain the only stadium concerts I've ever been to.

Do you draw your name in the sand when you go to the beach?

What’s the most painful dental procedure you’ve had?
Wisdom teeth removal, I guess - though I was under, so it was post-procedure pain. And then it got infected a week later - that was painful. (I've had so few dental procedures, and they were mostly 25 years ago - except the wisdom teeth - that I'm terrified of them. And have to have a filling replaced a week from today, and I'm worried. I'm a wimp.)

What is out your back door?
Stone steps to the backyard.

Any plans for Friday night?
Er, illegal substances, to be honest. With my friend, the Queen of Dereliction.

Do you like what the ocean does to your hair?
Very much, though I know I wouldn't like it if the ocean were an everyday thing for me - since I am very fastidious and obsessive about having healthy hair.

Have you ever been to a planetarium?

Do you re-use towels after you shower?
Of course.

Some things you are excited about?
GF returning from her trip a week from tomorrow. Going dancing tomorrow night. Being finished with this encyclopedia entry soon.

What is your favorite flavor of JELL-O?
Red. (I know, I know, that's not a flavour.)

Describe your keychain(s)?
Way, way too many keys, including two for bike locks and four for various uni offices and doors. They hang on a keychain from the Swansea (Wales) Summer Festival, or some such, which I got at an outdoor production of Pride and Prejudice in Swansea in 2004.

Where do you keep your change?
In my wallet, which means the wallet very, very heavy. Down with pennies!

When was the last time you spoke in front of a large group of people?
Well, last week, I guess, though my largest class is only 25.

What was the weather like on your graduation day?
High school: I don't remember. Warm, I think.
BA: Freezing and blustery and grey.
MA: I didn't go.
PhD: February-y. Grey.

Do you sleep with the door to your room open or closed?
Open. There's no one to shut it on.

Requiem for a university

Yesterday I went to Grad School University for the first time since my PhD convocation in February. (I know, February - weird.) A student of mine from the last time I TA'd there - two years ago - has been in touch, and really wanted to see me if ever I was on campus. So I planned a visit there since I also needed to use their library to get some articles for my winter term teaching.

It was a strange feeling, walking the crowded trajectories of that institution I'd spent so very many years at. On one level, it is so familiar that it's in my muscle memory. I walked like an automaton through corridors I'd passed through probably thousands of times. It took conscious effort to remind myself that I wasn't the same person I was when I was there, that the me on these paths had grown away from this place, that I wasn't on my way to the lecture for the course I TA'd for, or to buy myself a banana bran tea biscuit at the coffee shop or whatever else I used to do there. But if I wasn't doing any of those things, if I wasn't really here any longer, what was my relationship to it?

I went to the library - again, the almost oppressive sense of familiarity closed in - and then made my way to where my PhD program lives. Things have changed so drastically there that when I stepped off the elevator, I felt immediately lost, was convinced that the offices weren't there anymore, and almost gave up. I spent a few disoriented minutes wandering around the hallways before I got to the office.

I sat and chatted with the program's admin assistant for half an hour. I emerged with the clearest sense of liberation from this place. The assistant told me endless tales of the woes that have beset the program and the institution. Add to that what I heard from grumpyabdadjunct at our blogger meetup the other day (she is there, too!) and the vicious fighting that takes place among students on the departmental email list (which I am still on - though not for much longer, thank god). Frankly, it seems like it's going to hell in a handbasket. I can't express the relief I felt about being gone from there. It seems to me as if the institution's current direction crystallizes everything that is wrong with higher education today. And the grad program - that ultimately unfriendly program populated in part by self-righteous, emotionally stunted twits - is just as bad, though it styles itself as the opposition to the institutional disaster.

If I were starting there now, I realized, I don't know if I would finish. I think I'd be out of there within the year. Ouch.

So I left that chat profoundly relieved, but also sad. I went to find my former student, Antonio. We had a lovely lunch in a sunny window. Antonio remembered minute details of our course. Things I said, things other students said, the details of arguments he made in a paper on a text he'd fallen in love with, one that I love too. The way I'd come out to him - he is a very openly and flamboyantly gay man - toward the end of the year, shocking him. What I drank (cider) when I took a few of them out to the pub after our last class! He told me, "You were the best TA or prof ever!" Which was so nice to hear from him, a student I respeted greatly. I told him - and it was true - that he'd been perhaps the principal reason our class had succeeded so well; it was his commitment, his work ethic, but also his openness to ideas and willingness to cooperate, that set the tone. Last year I very happily wrote a letter of recommendation to that effect, for the concurrent education program. He got in. He will be a great teacher.

The time with Antonio mediated the earlier, rather distressing time I'd had. Even as the institution loses its way, there will still be people like Antonio, who will forge bonds with people like me, and those relationships will be precious. What is terrible is to realize that they will increasingly be lived under duress. And that should be fought against very hard.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The goodness of today

This is turning out to be a nicer day than usual...not that my days have been bad, per se, but they have admittedly been characterized by a kind of searching/questioning/uncomfortable orientation of late:

Why is this a nice Wednesday?
  • The sun came out! Hurrah!It was only for about 15 minutes. But still - it's about damn time.
  • I have been battling a cold for the last 48 hours. It has been trying to worm its way in to wreak havoc, but I have been struggling valiantly against it. I sense that I am triumphant.
  • There are roasted beets in my fridge and in my life.
  • I just spoke to my great friend in Berlin, whom I miss and don't talk to enough. We made a plan to have her be accountable to me with her dissertation writing, as she tries to finish up a PhD that has dragged on too long. She will send me 20 pages every two weeks. I love being involved in something like this; it makes me feel productive, too.
  • Today I was able to let my hair down as I wrote my encyclopedia entry, and say, "to hell with structure - I'll fix it later!" I've never really been able to do this before, as I wrote the other day about my difficulties with revision.
  • I am having dinner with a good friend tonight at my favourite Japanese restaurant.
  • I have been having such a satisfying off-blog email conversation with a blogger about work/life. Also I had a lovely blogger meetup on Monday. This "community" rocks!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Editing skills, or lack thereof

I am writing a long encyclopedia entry this week.

It is putting me in touch with the naked fact of my inability to edit.

I've never been in a situation where I've needed to deeply edit my writing - at a structural level, I mean.

My mode has always been to edit as I go...I don't just freewrite and then go back and cut and rewrite. I write, carefully, once. I work sentence by sentence, deleting or restructuring individual thoughts at sentence level before I go on to the next thought/sentence. It has meant that I am not the world's fastest writer (nor am I, by any means, the slowest), but also that I have never had occasion to tear apart something I've written. Because I've gone over something so fine-toothedly at the micro-level, I effectively understand the finished product as...well, completely and forever finished.

In retrospect, I wish there had been significant structural problems with my dissertation, so that my supervisor or committee members had asked me to restructure. (Actually, I think there are structural problems, but nobody else ever said there were.) Rather, what feedback I got on this largest piece of my work to date, which could have made me an editing machine, was at the level of a missing reference here, an idea that needed pushing there, a context I might want to mention way over there. I didn't actually have a lot of revisions at all. And that was nice then, sure. But now it is leaving me flailing a little.

That conference paper I gave ten days ago? It is a mess, in terms of structure. I could feel this as I wrote it, but couldn't figure out what to do about it (possibly because I wasn't willing to just start slashing and burning, such an approach being too painfully novel to me). I showed it to a friend, and he said it was fine. But when I was giving the paper, I thought, "Oh dear. This doesn't work." I feel quite certain about this. But the task of fixing it is completely daunting. In the end, it will be okay with this work because what I'm going to do is significantly expand and lengthen it. And I feel as if that expansion will have a healing effect, so to speak. But if I had to just restructure in the context of the truncated work that it is as a conference paper, I wouldn't know where to begin.

And now I'm writing this encyclopedia entry, and the challenge I gave myself was to just write, and to worry about the big-picture structure later. To train myself in this. Could I do it? No. I still niggle over every sentence, line editing as I go, so that when I am happy with a sentence or paragraph, it feels as if it is effectively set in stone. But I know that this one, too, is going to have some structural problems. And again, how will I fix them? Argh!

I sometimes tell myself that it's okay, that this is just my style, and blah blah blah. But I don't think it is okay, because it's getting me in hot water lately.

If anyone has any fantabulous and less painful editing techniques they'd like to share, I'll be all ears.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Two weekend highlights

This was going to be a post trying to work through some reflections I have brewing about the loneliness I wrote about last time...but I think I'll save that for another time. Because there were two great things about my weekend:

Remember how I posted, last month, about my mourning the very close friendship I had made in last year's Uni City? About how it seemed to be over with Faux-Girlfriend? Well, I won't bore you with the details - they have to do with a major problem I was having with my ISP, which was screwing with my emails to and from a few people...and what I didn't realize was that she was included in that small group. We literally weren't getting each other's messages. Anyway, we are so back on - have talked a couple of times, and are emailing. And it feels so good - such deep relief.

Faux-Girlfriend was in Home City for the weekend, and she and her boyfriend stayed overnight with me last night. As if that weren't enough - and it really was special, it really felt like an emotional reunion - they had stocked up on fine food. They'd bought five artisanal Quebec cheeses, and the best olives I've had in North America, and homemade caramelized onion flatbread, and sparkling wine, and Riesling, and handmade caramel/sea salt truffles . And we made that our dinner, and it was divine. Since one of the things Faux-Girlfriend and I share is a deep love of good food - and of drinking together - it was about the loveliest thing I'd done in months. And the cheese! Good lord, the cheese...

And then tonight, there was this: A CBC TV movie called Booky Makes Her Mark. When I was ten or eleven, I had an obsession with these Canadian young adult books by Bernice Thurman Hunter, about a character named Booky. I reread those books - especially With Love From Booky - more than any other. I'm not sure what it was about them that appealed so much - probably the depiction of everyday life in a historical period, the Great Depression..I continue to enjoy that. And the books were set in Home City - I think it was in part that I was able to map out Booky's life. Also, Booky wanted to be a writer, a fantasy that appealed deeply to the voracious reader - and writer - that I was in those days. It's funny - I recall that I was on to adult books in general, but I just could not get enough of that series...Many of the scenes in those books are really etched in my consciousness...

And yet, of course, I'd forgotten about them. So to have them made into this Sunday-night, classic-CBC, gritty-but-feelgood TV movie was just such a thrill! What a way to be reminded. Best of all, Megan Follows starred as Booky's mother. Megan Follows! Could Sunday night have gotten any better? Megan Follows, of course, played Anne of Green Gables in the two CBC miniseries of those LM Montgomery books - TV events with which I was similarly obsessed, in the same period as the Booky books.

Sigh. I even ate my dinner (which involved roasted sweet potatoes - yum!) in front of the TV, watching Booky and Megan. My mother never allowed me to eat in front of the TV. That's a policy that I agree with in spirit (imagine being a single mum, cooking dinner for your ungrateful kid and having her eat it slouching in front of the TV instead of talking to you). But I have to say that eating a meal while I watch TV still resonates with forbidden decadence.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Lonely Friday

I am at the beginning of my fall break, since I don't teach on Fridays - next week is a week off. It comes just in time, too, in terms of work I have to catch up on; I have a long encyclopedia entry due on the 31st that I haven't started yet, because writing that conference paper for last week took longer than I imagined it would...I also have more job applications to do, and I have been requested to submit an abstract for a research presentation at my university. And I have to finish getting copies of readings for a new course that starts in January, so I can get the coursepack produced. So I'll be productively busy for the next ten days. Amidst all of this, since I'm in Home City, I have a whole lot of catching up to do with friends...and am filling my week up with little dates. Including my very first-ever blogger meetup, scheduled for Monday!

What is sad is that GF isn't here. She left, on Monday, on a three-week trip. (The company she worked for essentially folded in mid-September...in lieu of a traditional severance, she has salary continuance for seven months...so is happily off in Europe before she starts a new job later in November - a job she's really excited about.) This is great for her - it's what she needed after months of stress about the job ending; I'm so happy she's taken this trip - she's been wanting for years to get to Italy, and is finally doing it.

Except, except...I'm lonely for her. I feel as if we're incredibly distant from each other right now. I spend half weeks in Uni City, so only see her on weekends. And we have both been on these trips of our own that cut into that time together. We have plans to go away for a few days over Christmas (both of us really like escaping that fuss), but all I can see in the foreseeable future, besides that, is time apart. More trips taken on our own - I have a weekend next month, and ten days in February, and conferences in April and May...All without her.

This would be okay - we're both very independent - except that it feels as if what little time we've had together has also been strained, of late. Our day and a half together before she left for the trip was characterized by low-grade irritation...she seemed profoundly annoyed by me. Not a good way to leave things before three weeks apart. This isn't new, really. We talk most days when I am away...I call her. This seems normal to me...we have alife together, have lived together for over three years. I don't want to talk at length, just look for a ten- or fifteen-minute check-in. And I save things up to tell her about. But almost every time I call, these days, the dynamic is the same. I never feel as if she's happy to hear from me, and in fact feel as if I'm irritating her. I always say, a minute or two into our conversation, "well, sounds like this is a bad time...I'll talk to you later..."And she, wanly and unconvincingly, tells me it's fine.

I brought this up last weekend, and she explained that she just doesn't do well on the phone, especially when our moods are so different...I'm usually calling her all excited and with things to report...and she's just...hanging out.

But still. Last year, we lived apart. I actually moved to last year's Uni City...and only came home for a few days every two-three weeks. And we did so well! Talking on the phone and all.

So now I feel slightly paranoid and a little bit uncertain. I don't want more uncertainty - I have enough, with not knowing whether I'll be employed after May 31, and not knowing where I'll be in a year from now. I want this relationship to feel like a rock, and it doesn't right now.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Performative dressing and teaching

The other day, New Kid on the Hallway posted a really interesting musing about the way teaching academics’ dress changes as their career progresses – she was thinking especially about the ways that things shift in the transition from TA to professor. In response, I’ve been thinking about my own history of dressing to teach, and it seems to me that the change reflects something larger about teaching and how the place it takes in my life…

When I was a TA for six years, I didn’t think much about what I wore. I was fine with wearing jeans; I didn’t look terribly different from my students. When, last year, I became a full-time professor, I began to think quite consciously about my sartorial presentation. I began to dress up, to some extent. I don’t wear jeans to teach, for example – the only time I’m comfortable wearing them in the classroom is on those rare occasions when students are writing an exam or test – i.e. when the spotlight isn’t on me. I don’t wear suits, generally, either – I only own one suit, and it’s fairly dramatic. But I do think about achieving a pulled-together look when I am teaching. Part of this is about projecting authority, since I am mistaken for being younger than I am. But there is, I think, much more to it.

This year, since I am spending half of each week away in Uni City, I have to pack on Sunday nights. This demands that I decide on Sundays what I will wear on each day Monday through Thursday. So there is a very deliberate quality to my dressing…On Sunday night, I imagine each day, feel for myself anew the tenor of that day’s class, and decide how I might best match it - or, more accurately, meet it – with dress. There is some subtlety in this decision-making; I imagine that the theory class, in its Main Campus incarnation, demands a different presentation than the tiny, seven-student version of that class at Satellite Campus.

All of this clothing-related deliberation might sound trite and ridiculous. But I don’t think it is. I realize that it has much to do with the way the performative element of teaching. By performance I don’t mean masquerade in the sense of hiding anything about myself…I mean an enhancement of who I am. Teaching was a major step for me, as someone who was shy when I began; the first year I TA’d was excruciating. But it has changed me, as I’ve written before. And that’s because it puts me in touch with elements of myself I’d never have seen without it, elements that seem clearly linked to the self I thought I knew, but that are differently articulated, because they are so public. One example is a sense of humour that creeps into my teaching – it is not the one I have in my regular life, but I see that it is related to an outlook and humour that people would recognize in me; it is like a magnification of it, or something.

The clothing I wear when I teach is critical to this staging…it helps me feel prepared for it. In a sense, then, rather than covering who I am, the way I dress when I teach helps me learn and know who I am.

Lack of discretion

So there are students (not mine) standing outside my door as I type this...waiting to speak with one of my department colleagues, who is on the phone in the office across the hall. My door is wide open; they know there's a professor in here.

This is why I can't believe they have the gall to talk about another prof (who is not in my department but who teaches a course that is cross-listed with it) like this, at the top of their healthy lungs:

Student A: I can't even believe it...Simon de Bouvar [sic]...The Second Sex is 700 pages...
Student B: I don't even read it.
Student A: It's an okay class, it's just the reading is ridiculous...
Student B: It's not even an okay class...I hate it. [Prof's name] is an idiot [enraged]...
Student A: Yeah, but isn't he going on sabbatical next year?
Student B: I can't wait to be a professor and go on sabbatical all the time... [!!!!!!!!]

Then Student B says, about the course taught by my department colleague, the one they're waiting for: "I love this class...it's the only one I don't show up hung over for..."

Then, about another of my colleagues: "I hate how she takes four hours to make one point...she's so boring...What is the point of that class, anyway?"

I can't get over students' lack of self-consciousness; doesn't it seem as if this is the kind of thing they shouldn't be shouting, to be overheard by my colleagues and I?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Pretty accurate, I'd say

Seen at Lucyrain's, among others. I'd say it's not a bad representation. Huh.

The Maid of Honor
Deliberate Gentle Love Master (DGLMf)

Appreciated for your kindness and envied for all your experience, you are The Maid of Honor.

Charismatic, affectionate, and terrific in relationships, you are what many girls would call a "perfect catch"--and you probably have many admirers, each wishing to capture your long-term love. You're careful, extra careful, because the last thing you want is to hurt anyone. Especially some poor girl whose only crime was liking you. We've deduced you're fully capable of a dirty fling, but you do feel that post-coital attachment after hooking up. So, conscientious person that you are, you do your best to reserve physical affection for those you respect...so you can respect yourself.

Your biggest negative is the byproduct of your careful nature: indecision. You're just as slow rejecting someone as you are accepting them.

ALWAYS AVOID: The Battleaxe, The Stiletto, The Sudden Departure, The Dirty Little Secret

CONSIDER: The Maid of Honor, someone just like you.

Link: The 32-Type Dating Test by OkCupid - Free Online Dating.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Canadian policy update: ugh

This afternoon I am sitting in my office on a dark, gloomy day, rereading A Room of One’s Own for the millionth time so that I can teach it tomorrow. This text never fails to amaze and inspire me – I find new gems in it every time, and am always astounded by the sensitivity of Woolf’s wit…

Rereading this text today has inspired me to finally get down to the important business of addressing the grave danger that women – and poor people – are facing where I live (in Canada, I mean). I’ve been wanting to follow up on the important post by Medieval Woman, who is newly resident in Canada. The press release she posted detailed the way that the Conservative minority government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper had just introduced a measure that prohibits women’s groups from any lobbying activities using federal funds.

What the press release only mentions in passing is that the Tories also cut 38.5% of the budget for Status of Women Canada. 38.5%!? Is that not a staggering figure?

The theory behind this is that the government wants to see “results-oriented” work; they want “less talk, more action”. Give me a fucking break – talk about co-opting and sickly twisting activist language to smash activists.

So the government announced that they would no longer be providing money for general research. The anti-intellectual bent of this move – the separation of research from an ill-defined action – is terrifying. And, to anyone with a brain, it presents itself as an impossibility. How do we define targets for action without researching the issues, understanding the contexts in which they arise??

And wait, there’s more where that came from:

- The government also changed the mandate for Status of Women Canada, removing the word “equality” from its list of goals.* Instead of achieving equality, the goal of the department is now to “facilitate women’s participation” in social life. Christ! Women’s participation is compromised because of gendered inequality!! The denial of context in all of these moves is mind-numbing. And part of that context is that other federal bodies – chiefly Statistics Canada – routinely confirm the existence of basic inequalities in men’s and women’s lives.

- The Court Challenges program was also entirely cut. As in, bye-bye. This program existed so that ordinary Canadians could finance legal challenges based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that human rights document that apparently makes Canada the envy of so many around the world. A freaking basic, basic understanding of social inequality, of course, tells us that people whose Charter rights are threatened are generally marginalized people. People who can’t afford to mount million-dollar legal challenges. Now we find ourselves in the absurd situation where the only people who can afford Charter challenges are people who don’t need to make them.

So that’s what’s been going on up here. This is a scary, scary place these days.

And what is even more upsetting to me is that the opposition has just let all of this slide by – and so has the media, for the most part. It made a small splash, and then disappeared.

Now, it seems to me that this kind of thing is enough to bring down this minority government. The last minority government was brought down over a corruption scandal – this is just as important (much more, in fact, I think). And yet the other parties aren’t even talking about it. I don’t expect the Liberals to tackle it, necessarily (they’re too wrapped up with their leadership race), but where the hell are the NDP, the social democrats? Why are they staying silent on this issue? I know we’re suffering from election fatigue (and worse, cynicism), but what’s going on here is a systemic dismantling of foundations of Canadian democracy. Yes, this is about women. But the implications are much, much wider, as the court challenges program makes clear.

What this really suggests to me is the fundamental Liberalism (and by this I mean capital-L Liberal Party) of this country. There is a strong lack of imagination in Canada, I think. It’s as if everyone says to themselves, “Boy, electing those Conservatives was a bad move. But the Liberals are all tied up in a leadership race, so we better just sit around until that’s sorted out and a new leader emerges to carry us through on our boring, gutless, middle-of-the-road way.” As if there’s no alternative. It pisses me off. In fact, I’m going to write a letter to the leader of the NDP (the party to which I, with a great deal of ambivalence, belong). You want to be an alternative?? Act like one!!

*And this is not because Harper and his friends are up on poststructuralist feminist theory…they’re not sitting around reading Joan Scott et al. on equality-vs.-difference to inspire their policy decisions…

Monday, October 16, 2006

End of conference "adventure"

(Sorry, this is long...those of you with short attention spans might want to tune out...)

I left that conference on Saturday, early in the morning. My panel was on Friday morning. It wasn’t great. I became surprisingly nervous, something I hadn’t expected – and I think that showed. I’m not sure what this was about. I do know that something needs to be fixed, structurally, when I expand it. I just don’t know how to do that…(post about my lack of self-editing skills coming soon!)

But the good thing that came out of this is that the chair of the panel wants to publish my paper in an edited collection. So that’s a positive. I guess I’ll think of it as an early version of something that will end up in “my book”.

Anyway. The real story of Friday took place after that. While I was standing outside the conference lunch banquet waiting for my panel chair, who’d arranged to have lunch with me, a friendly, youngish man came up to me – shall we call him Pink Tie (PT?) We chatted about what we did, workwise - he seemed very interested in what I do, and I was interested in what to me is the novelty of what he works on - and said goodbye and that maybe we’d run into each other again. That was that.

Late in the afternoon, I walked into the hotel bar for a drink and PT was there, chatting with a few other people. We nodded hello. A moment after they’d gotten up to leave, he came back and asked me, in a very light, friendly way, “Would you like to come out to dinner with us?” He said they were going to a restaurant and then to some sort of club for drinks, and assured me that it wouldn’t be a late night. Having been mostly confined to the hotel and the nearby running track for two days, I said sure. I anticipated a nice, geeky academic dinner with a bunch of other conference folks – he’d said one of his department colleagues was there, for instance.

But, oh no. Said evening out, it turned out, was to be with his dear, non-academic friend (shall we call him Insane Driver, ID?) who lived in town, and a bunch of ID’s friends, whom PT had never met. When I learned this as we were leaving the hotel, my heart sank. (Funny how that happens – I was prepared to go out with a bunch of people I’d never met as long as they were academics, but totally freaked that this was going to be just some random people!) I didn’t know how to extricate myself, though. I was also starting to feel a little oogly about how touchy PT was being – lots of ruffling of my hair and squeezing of my shoulder…I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally ruffle and squeeze unless I’ve known someone for more than five minutes. I put on my friendly-but-emotionally-distant mask, made some joke suggesting that the ruffling and squeezing wasn’t cool, and tried to remind myself that life is an adventure.

So there was insane driving to ID’s place so he could get changed (me thinking, Christ, what have I gotten myself into?!), and then insane driving to some faraway restaurant, where a group of eight or so friends, almost all of them women, were having drinks. It was a Sex in the City-type crowd…thirtysomething professionals all dolled up for partaying in a kind of on-the-make way. So not my thing. And they weren’t very warm to me from the moment I got there. It felt like that way that straight women sometimes get jealous and competitive about other women…again, foreign to me and not pleasant. I wasn’t exactly feelin’ the love…except, of course, from PT.

We then went to another bar (I didn’t beg off because I could sense that taking a cab back to the hotel was going to cost me a fucking fortune, so far away were we. And I didn’t feel threatened at all. It was the kind of place that gives me the shivers just to think about. A packed, faux-glamorous meat market, all about seeing and being seen – and picking up. It was revolting. It was the kind of place I usually avoid like the plague – there is a whole district of clubs like this in Home City, and I never go near there at night.

I thought I was home free, at this point, having given nothing but cold shoulder to PT. I thought I’d just have to wait out the grim scene. But no, this is where PT laid it on thick, although I’d made clear since about two minutes into our outing that I had a partner, and that she was a She. He told me that he’d been attracted to me from the first time he saw me – he liked my “unconventionality”, he said. (Since I wasn’t exactly looking unconventional that day, I like to imagine that whatever he detected was my sexual orientation – small consolation to me, who never gets read as a lesbian…although in this case, of course, he read it wrong…But at least something was read…Sigh. Too bad it was by him.)

I told him categorically that I wasn’t going to do a damn thing with him. And we just sat there and had a long, tedious and oh-so-predictable conversation about sex and attraction. In fact, PT monologued, and I ridiculed. Some gems?

- His theory that it was unfair to feminine beauty to limit himself to one person, in a monogamous relationship. “It would be like me going into a museum and choosing only to look at one painting…that wouldn’t be appreciating all the rest of the beauty it housed, and that’s not fair.” Sigh. Whatever, buddy. I’m up for critiques of monogamy, but spinning them in such terms - sexism disguished as gynophilia - is pathetic.

- His boasts about what a good lover he is because he really understands women deeply, spiritually.

- His stealing a white rose from some flower arrangement to present to me. I overheard him telling the waiter, “I’m stealing a rose for a kiss.” Yeah, I’m a big old lesbian, but I can be bought by some self-styled Casanova with a flower. How fucking insulting. (I told him so.)

At the end of the night, ID and PT dropped me off at the hotel, not without a final attempt by PT to seduce me. I was frowningly displeased, by this point. Buh-bye.


So the thing is, this is not the first time this has happened at a conference. In the last case, it wasn’t until I got together for dinner with this person I thought was my new “friend”, when I happened to be doing research in his city months later, that I realized what his intentions were – again, even though he knew about my sexuality and my status from the beginning. (Oh, he was a charmer, he was – took to insulting butch lesbians at that dinner. Um, guys? That’s emphatically NOT the way to get a lesbian into bed.)

I wonder if it’s because I’m not a part of any heterosexual scene that I don’t pick up on cues. Cues that should be telling me what’s really going on in the seemingly innocent and friendly attempts of guys to chat with me at these things. Which tend to feel exactly the same as random chats I have with women at conferences. If I think about it, there really are no cues – and I’m really not a social dolt. I mean, I can generally tell if someone is flirting with me. Does this just mean, then, that I should assume that when I’m approached by a man at one of these things, those are his intentions? I can’t stand that implication…it’s along the same lines of “men and women can’t be friends,” which I’ve always railed against. But I wonder if I’m starting to realize it’s true.

GF sometimes gets frustrated with me because she says I’m so open to people. She thinks it should cultivate more suspicion. (This is one of the big differences between us. She’s an admitted misanthrope, which I, in turn, find hard.) I’ve never really understood that frustration - frankly, I don't think the world needs more suspicion. But I guess I’m starting to see it. I guess I shouldn't respond in such a friendly manner, which is what I tend to do. I guess I shouldn’t have gone for dinner – should have assumed that there was an ulterior motive in the invitation.

And I guess I think that’s really too bad.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

On "misinterpretation"

I went to a couple of linked conference sessions today that relate to my work in fairly general terms. At one of them, there was a paper whose ideological foundation I disagreed with fairly profoundly, though I listened with some interest. But I do acknowledge that perhaps the fact of my disagreement with the author is the cause of my irritation at the way she used the term “misinterpretation”, which I’d like to talk about here.

This paper was about a particular thinker (Often Overlooked but Brilliant – OOBB). The author said, in passing, that another theorist (Seriously Major Bigwig – SMB) has misinterpreted OOBB. And, what’s more, SMB’s stature and influence have resulted in an entire generation of new theorists carrying on that misinterpretation. The scandal!

I was bugged, and it has stuck with me. The reason this bothered me so much was the very passing, off-the-cuff nature of the author’s claim that SMB had misinterpreted OOBB. I don’t think it’s fair – or very good scholarship – to simply assert that a scholar has misinterpreted another’s work without explaining in some detail why one is making such a claim. And perhaps it is misguided or snotty of me to say so, but I also think that when the scholar to whom one is attributing misinterpretation is such a Seriously Major Bigwig, the impetus to explain one’s reasoning becomes that much more important. If only to avoid making one look like an ass. Obviously, claiming misinterpretation is fine – more than fine, it’s a big part of what we do as academics – but not to give teeth to that claim seems to me to be bad form on so many levels.

A progressive Christian friend of mine, who works on the history of religion, has mentioned several times that it bothers her when religious progressives battling religious conservatism say “oh, those fundamentalists – they’re just misinterpreting the Bible/Koran/etc.” Her beef is that interpretation of these texts is not fixed. With faith, she has said to me, we’re not dealing with the kinds of rights and wrongs that such a claim implies; the claims entirely miss the point. They also elide the life of the sacred texts in history - their changing contexts.

I have been thinking of that refrain of hers in relation to today’s claim of SMB as a foul misinterpreter. When we do theory, we are negotiating a multiplicity of possible, contextual interpretations (which doesn't, at least to me, negate the possibility of more correct ones). If we make such accusations as lightly as was done today, I think we impoverish the project of theory-making (which today’s author was trying to venerate in its OOBB form). And that means theoretical monoculture. And that’s no fun, and can do nothing for us.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Random whining

So here are my post Happy Hour thoughts on my day:

- Air travel reeeeaaally sucks these days, does it not? I got to the airport in very good time, after double-checking Air Canada’s check-in time for US departures. After much stress – being whisked out of crushingly long lineups as my departure approached (once to check in – to use the freaking automated check-in thingy, which isn’t supposed to create hundred-person lineups – and once in Customs), I arrived at my gate when they were almost finished boarding. Crazed with that peculiar airport stress – this time created by Air Canada’s absolutely outrageous inefficiency. Not having had time to buy myself something to eat for breakfast, nor even a freaking bottle of water, which I couldn’t bring with me because of these ridiculous restrictions on all liquids. Then I had to buy myself a horrid thing on the plane for breakfast, when I was so hungry my stomach was gnawing at itself. It cost an arm and a leg.

- By the time I got to the connecting airport, very late indeed because of unexplained delays on the runway on the previous flight, I had my first-ever dehydration and/or caffeine headache (due to lack of water and caffeinated tea in the pre-flight craziness). I bought a tea and it turned out the lid was defective or broken or whatever, because every time I tried to drink, it dripped scalding water down my shirt. Nice.

- That flight was also delayed, by an hour. While we sat on the runway.

- When I finally arrived in conference city, I tried to walk downtown from my hotel. Ha. Fat chance. This is sprawl hell, where every block is ¾ of a mile long and every pedestrian conspicuous, an utter novelty. I gave up after about 45 minutes of trudging in hot sun, getting nowhere…I went to Target and bought much-needed new workout clothes instead. And then came back for happy-hour margaritas. And nachos.

- I really can’t stand urban sprawl, having grown up in the heart of cities. My one experience of sort of living it was with my ex-girlfriend, the usurper of my field…the city she grew up in (where I am applying for this good job) is one of those. We would visit her parents for a week, and we would be getting in and out of the car four times a day. There was nothing that could be done without a car. It always drove me crazy after two days. Someone needs to legislate sprawl out of existence altogether, for its soul-crushingness, among other qualities.

- I got a slightly new hairstyle yesterday…some soft bangs-type things added. Usually I respond very badly to new hair things for a week or so – even when I request them. Not this time…I’m all about the bangs…

- Now I remember why I didn’t wear makeup…’cause it’s all so complicated. You see, I have been interested in eyeliner lately…this as a person who hasn’t worn any makeup except lipstick since I was in junior high. So I consulted with my hair person (he who is GF's oldest, dearest friend, and a rockstar, and a makeup knower) and bought some eyeliner yesterday. Besides the fact that I don’t really know how the hell to put it on (and was too embarrassed to say to the MAC salesperson, “you need to show me how to do this”), there is the fact of its needing to come off. So I had to buy yet another product today. This bugs me. This is why I don’t go in for makeup (well, one of a couple reasons), and why I am loath to put any product in my hair, or any colour…all too much labour…

- And now I’m going to get in to bed in my pyjamas, even though it’s 7pm, and watch a movie. With my York peppermint patties. I was very virtuous today altogether – graded many papers in my awful travels – and now I’m going to watch some kind of cable thing…what decadence.

- But: why do baseball stars’ lives and tragedies matter more than other people’s?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


I'm off to a conference tomorrow morning. It's in a hot place. This is exciting and also fortuitous. For the conference, you see, has very little to do with my work, ultimately. I mean, I replied to a CFP for a particular panel - which then turned into two panels - because it's very rare to see anything conference-y that is specifically on the topic I research. So it's a great forum to make my first stab at this new work, which will become a book (I still laugh when I write that). But the rest of the conference? I've looked at the program, and there's almost nothing for me; just a few panels of interest. However. I am not sad about that. Partly because this means I have excuses to swim in what is apparently a very nice outdoor pool, and sun myself while I catch up on my grading, and look around the sprawly city - if I can figure out how to manage that sans vehicle. Also, I am a major fan of hotels. So just having the luxury of a hotel room - with cable, for cableless me! - is a draw in itself.

And it's good, because I kinda hate conferences. No matter that they have been useful for making connections and have led to publications, etc...I don't like them. I don't find that listening to people read complex pieces - pieces that are meant to be read - is a very effective way to absorb or learn anything. And I hate the frantic undercurrent of competitiveness, the silent screech of everyone's nerves.

I also loathe presenting; it makes me very uncomfortable. But I note a difference this time...The last time I went to a conference was just under a year ago; it was a month before I defended my PhD. I was, as always, very wrought up - even though I wasn't even presenting, but only part of a seminar, for god's sake, for which I'd had to write and share a paper. But this time, I'm not feeling wrought up...I feel confirmed in the notion that I have something of at least a tiny bit of value to say...all because of that little old doctoral defense. It's that "will you look at that, I have some authority after all" thing, which I wrote about here as a nice post-PhD state from which to approach writing. It sure is calming to see that translate, even just a little bit, in terms of presenting, too. I won't lose sleep over my panel. And I can just be in it, for probably the first time after a dozen presentations...It's nice to get to grow into this career, if you know what I mean.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Random weekend update

This weekend is just what I needed...it is the perfect mix of outside in beautiful weather, with Mr. K, and inside watching drama on the telly, which I almost never do. Sadly, GF is not here, and I miss her since I don't see her during the week, being away in Uni City. On the other hand, it is nice - and exactly, exactly, what I'm craving - to speak to no one except the dog and dog park people for multiple days. Talk about recharging the batteries.

Yesterday I took Mr. K out for over two hours in the stunning, sunny morning, then came home, ate favourite/treat foods for lunch (veggie salama sandwich with pickles on - yum!), then spent the afternoon watching the three-hour BBC miniseries-ness of Tipping the Velvet (which I loved - I thought it had a great deal more complexity than the book, which is rare). I discovered, then, that I had forgotten to pick up a key ingredient for mac and cheese, so made myself lemon fettucine instead, and then settled in to watch the three BBC hours of Fingersmith (a bit upsetting for over-sensitive me, but satisfying overall). What a great day. I didn't do a stitch of work.

Today I took the dog out to another dog park - on another beautiful morning. I marvel at what lovely places dog parks are. Dogs bring out the best in people, they really do. I will have another sandwich, and then go out again into the beautiful day - this time on my bike, which is my preferred mode of transportation in Home City - to do a couple of errands. Pick up a book or two at the library so I can finish preparing for this conference I'm going to this week, and maybe check out a skirt I've had my eye on, and pick up the key ingredient for the mac and cheese. I will settle down with my comfort food tonight and watch another DVD...a friend who's a film critic has given us a big old stack of good films to watch. I also should do some work - some grading, and some reading for my little reading group/dyad tomorrow - but it's so nice to just be able to fit that in among all the treats of the day.

I love having this block of time with the dog, just me and him, hanging out. Here's a recent picture of Mr. K that captures him in all his jauntiness, which is really on display this weekend in the beautiful weather. This was from a couple of weeks ago at my friend's cottage:

Friday, October 06, 2006

Weekend and story

So the relaxation weekend has begun, the one I realized last weekend I was so desperately in need of. I'm here with my new cozy throw on my knees, eating homemade soup, just back from buying shirts (I went to return one sweater I'd bought that GF confirmed made me look like Stevie Nicks, and came back with five new ones!) and picking up some of the fixings I need for a freaking huge, marathon-weekend pan of macaroni and cheese, as well as green olives, fresh pineapple - it's comfort food/pyjamas/dvd's of Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet weekend, people. Also, my good friend - the one who was visiting when this incident happened - is staying with us for a couple of days. The circumstances of his visit aren't great, unfortunately - his father had surgery for prostate cancer in Home City yesterday. Still, it's wonderful to see him, and to share parts of my relaxation weekend with him - he sure needs it, too.

Anyway, the other thing I was doing while I was out buying comfort food and shirts was mailing off a job application, for a job that is absolutely perfect for me. And that got me thinking about my ex-girlfriend. Let's call her JZ. Why was I thinking about JZ as I was mailing off this application for a job for which I'm eminently qualified? Well, let me tell you the story...

When I was in my MA program - my second year - I met JZ. There were immediate sparks, and the leaving of my already precarious relationship with someone. If there was ever such a thing as a soulmate (and I don't really believe in this concept now, but let's just use it for effect), we were it for each other. It was one of those world-shaking experiences...it seemed there was some sort of transcendent, quasi-spiritual connection between us. It was an interesting match, in some ways, given how quiet I was, and how very charismatic and outgoing she was.

JZ and I moved in together. We started our PhDs in the same program, proposing very different projects. The dynamic between us, and our personalities, were such that she always claimed that I was the "true academic", the "smart one", and she was just a joker who knew how to talk the talk.

As soon as we started the PhD, we both became disillusioned (in fact, I think I simply fed off JZ's unhappiness), questioning why we'd not taken some time off. So we hatched a plan, which was to spend the following year in France. I got myself hooked up with an exchange program so that I could do some of my PhD coursework over there, and teach. JZ withdrew from the PhD program altogether.

Long story short, I came home ahead of her. A lengthy breakup followed, initiated by her (the first time). We got back together and broke up three more times, until the final breakup came in late 2001. JZ had decided she wasn't ever coming back to our PhD program, but instead started in a new one in a different city. The way that this played out, for a number of reasons, is that she was the one who was hurt more than I was, in the end. And she proposed, a few months later, that we start all over again. I turned her down.

Now, my area of research had been established since the first year of my MA. I had a very specific topical, theoretical and temporal focus that continued through my PhD and that I still have. JZ knew my work inside out, but did very different work herself.

But what happened when she started this new PhD program? She announced to me that she had taken a course in "my stuff" and loved it, and now it was her stuff, too. This area I'd been working on, at this point, for years - she'd become a player in it.

I found this a little odd, but I got over it. We remained friends, staying in touch by email from time to time, getting together when I was in her city. Her dissertation work is uncomfortably close to my own work, but I was able for a long time to put this out of my mind. We had a good rapport, and I even hired JZ to do some grading for me last year.

But now. Now, it's job market time. JZ finished her PhD just last month, I believe, and she's really on the TT market for the first time. And I know we're competing for all the same jobs, with practically the same qualifications - although my achievements skew toward the teaching side, and hers toward the research side. And today's job, the one I'm eminently qualified for? Well, I can say with certainty that she's applying for it. And it's at the university where she did her undergrad degree, in the city where she grew up. The major player in that department was her undergraduate thesis supervisor. And JZ is a consummate charmer - people just love her. This job is practially in the bag for her, it seems to me.

And it just feels sickening. And you know what? It sorta makes me angry. Rationally or not, I resent that she encroached on this academic territory I'd carved out for myself several years before she decided on a topic and focus. Doesn't it seem a bit creepy and controlling? Especially with the way she claimed that I was the "true" academic, and she was just a joker. Yeah, right. The award-winning joker..."Oh, I don't know what happened...I just accidentially stumbled into your exact field...and just happen to have won all these awards and fellowships...shucks darn, I don't know how I did it. But don't worry, you're the "real" academic..."

What do you think? Am I overreacting to be, only now in retrospect, resentful of this, to feel as if it's just too much, too close to home, too coincidental?? Is it just job market hysteria making me feel this way? Or does it sound a little weird?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Things other than teaching?

I wish I had anything of substance to say besides blah blah about teaching. It’s reflective of how intense it is, I suppose – it consumes nearly all of my brain space. Last year GF found it hard by the end of the academic year, because all I ever talked about was teaching. That, and my job search. There were arguments about this. It becomes exhausting to be around, I’m sure. I even bore myself, sometimes, with my own thoughts. But I haven’t much else going on up there. Which is probably bad.

That said, I am trying right now to actually stay on top of writing and thinking as complementary activities to teaching. I am just finishing up a conference paper to be presented next week – I get to go to a warm place, yay! In my mind, this is the first microscopic piece of new research that will go into a book project about which I’m pretty excited. (Hey, Sfragett – although I dithered about it all summer, and even declared just over a month ago on here that I would be trying to do major revisions to my dissertation to turn it into a book, I have in the end taken advice you gave me back in a comment in June: to turn to another project, if that’s where my energy is, instead of pursuing the dissertation. Diss has already given me one publication, and I think I will turn out at least one more article that builds from its theoretical framework. And that will be that. On to new, better, fresher things! Thanks, S.) Last year I couldn't really get anything accomplished in terms of research and writing - the teaching and grading load was so extreme, I had no room for anything else. I love that I can work this into my life again.

Also, a grad school friend and I – he lives in Home City – are doing a little reading group. Or reading dyad, I suppose. We’re meeting on Monday for the first time. This is exciting, though sort of terrifying. He and I both do cross-disciplinary work – both of us do Field X combined with another field (a different one for each of us). And since my teaching is all about Field Y, and not this Field X, I worry that I will become rusty on Field X! Is that even possible? Anyway, he shares the same concerns – so we’re meeting to read some essays that I picked out in Field X and get our brains thinking in those terms again. This is crucial because, of course, Field X informs my research as much as does Field Y, the discipline I teach in. No rustiness allowed.

I’ve always said this is a good idea – this reading group thing – but I’m nervous about it. What the hell? He’s just one other person, and a friend, at that. But I guess it reminds me of being a student again – and I hated going to classes, even as a grad student. So it’s bringing up all sorts of shy-person reactions. Which is probably good, because it will get me to work through those intellectual fears.

But I’m excited because of what it symbolizes in terms of possibilities for collaboration. He and I do overlapping work, and I love the idea of editing a volume together, or running a seminar at a conference where that’s done, or organizing a panel. I hope this will inaugurate a long-term intellectual partnership – I could use that.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Community and classroom

It has recently struck me just how important campus community – in various incarnations – can be to the overall quality of thinking, the actual content of the course, for students. I am really coming to see how much “extra-curricular” activities can inform and enrich curricular activities, at that level.

I’ve had an opportunity to inadvertently conduct a kind of experiment, to use an alarming word. I am teaching my theory class twice – once at the uni’s main campus, and once at the satellite campus. I have about 25 students in the main campus class, and a mere 7 at the satellite. I do essentially the same thing in each class…and what students know to begin with, and get from the material is really different.

The main campus one is the class I’ve been raving about – and it has now officially become the highlight of my week. Full of engaged, challenged/challenging students who us all think - including me.

At the satellite campus, students do the reading and listen attentively and participate and all that good stuff. But there’s not the same kind of spark, and heightened intellectual discussion, as in the other class.

And so I’ve been thinking about the profile of the students in each class. The students at Main are, very many of them, involved in activities on a very politicized campus. Queer groups, film societies, student-run organic cooperative cafes, women’s centres. They live and breathe political-intellectual issues, some of which have a great deal of overlap with the issues we cover in our class. Their life on that campus is like one big salon.

At Satellite, students are largely part-time. They exist in this amorphous realm, with no community, no women’s centres/queer groups/film societies/cafes/salons to speak of. They’re mature students, many of them, returning to school, juggling work and school, crazy-busy with mundane things. No time or space for salon dicsussions. It’s a very different context for being a student.

And I really think the students at Main do so well, and that class is so electric, because of their involvement in non-scholarly activities that really inform and bleed into what we do in the classroom. They’re privileged – even the learning part of university is a richer experience for them because of that campus/activist life, in which they spend time hashing out and experiencing some of what they then cover in class. And it’s too bad, because it seems to me that my students at Satellite, many of whom have such tightly constrained lives, could use a little bit of that richness.