Monday, September 12, 2011

Liminality and the Academy at the Beach!

Sunrise is one kind of transition, of course, between night and day, dark and light, even old and new. My recent meditations about sunrise have much to do with the dawn, if you will, of a new term, especially the one that begins a new academic year as summer days shorten, fall leaves prepare to drop, sweaters drape over tank-topped shoulders, and shorts might have another week or two before getting folded away for another year.

Liminal spaces and times fascinate me, existing as they do on the margins of possibility, all overlapping edges of endings and beginnings. For teaching academics, especially, our diurnal rhythms must adjust rapidly to new schedules. Silent rooms in which we had time to filter readings, to capture our responses in writing, shift abruptly to stuffy classrooms where eager and recalcitrant students alike demand our guidance. Department secretaries remind us to e-file our syllabi and post our office hours; the bookstore advises that the deadline for next term's order approaches; committee chairs ask us to provide possible meeting times; and we look with dismay at the calls for proposals we hope to answer before December or November, even October deadlines. Two weeks ago, we were fretting over which sentence might make the best structural transition in an article we hoped to submit this fall; today, it seems that article will be rather dusty before we find our way back to it again.
Meanwhile, on the beach, the tides shift with the upcoming equinox, more sustained highs during the day, less dramatic lows. And everywhere evidence of geological time, vast and indifferent, perspective-giving.
I've been using the intricate, inviting, evocative topography of the beach over the past few weeks to tone my feet out of some threatening injuries, into better running condition. A loopy theory, perhaps, but I've been pleased to find it working for me, my runs getting longer, my Achilles happier. Millenia of meetings between tides and sandstone have carved imaginative shelves and layers and holes for my feet to curve into with consequent muscular adjustments through my body, a natural feedback that feels good, at least, even if the therapy is questionable.
And I'm trying to apply the principle to encourage myself to adapt to the fall schedule as wholeheartedly as my feet do to the challenging terrain, embracing the difference. Walking in my all-terrain Nike sandals, the whole world was spongy rubber, safe and predictable, but lacking rich sensory detail. Similarly, a world of supposedly ideal conditions--the quiet office, just me, my books, and my keyboard during my most productive hours each day--might end up feeling rather flat.
Right now, I'm struggling to get the term's administrative requirements met to clear some desk space. I'm also trying to leave room for a pile of "my own work" -- the essay I want to finish, the CFPs I want to respond to. But increasingly, I'm immersed in class prep and anticipate the imminent deluge of papers to mark. And I'm energized! I've met with three of my four classes so far (all 1st-year) and was excited to remember the full-on adrenaline buzz of teaching, the thrill of coaxing responses from initially reserved students, exposing them to new ideas and watching their tentative responses emerge into articulation. I love facilitating this development, helping them test a new idea, hear their peers, question other responses and then modify and build on them.
My blog, I realize, has so far been situated in another liminal space.  So much advice about blogging suggests defining a niche; my original hope here was to integrate the academic and the quotidian domestic, particularly for a woman in (late) mid-life. Yet it turns out I've stayed rather high and dry on the beach of my personal life, with very little of my digital identity reflecting my working self. Not only have I written little about teaching and research here, but I've also been careful to shield Facebook updates from colleagues, hesitant to use my Materfamilias identity to post on academic sites.

Recently, I've been dipping hesitant toes into shallow waters and finding those waters rather pleasant, no sharks yet. I've joined the oh-so-addictive Twitter where my real-life identity links professional name with blogging self (see my badge in the RH column for recent Tweets); have begun posting links to my blog as my Facebook status; and even guest-posted on a site I was previously hesitant to comment at, seeing my Materfamilias self as potentially too frivolous in that more analytical environment.
Today's post is another step in moving toward myself. I hope you'll be willing to walk along with me, and I'll certainly remain mindful of the readership I value here. Ever so grateful that you take the time to visit me regularly, I will continue to post about living honestly, exuberantly, consciously, and stylishly in midlife. But I am also going to try to post occasionally about the joys and challenges of my academic life. I'm not sure what shape that writing will take, what the possibilities are for honest analysis, description, and confession when it's also so important to respect the privacy of that very privileged space, the academic seminar.
Barefoot walking is vulnerable but adaptive, especially along the shoreline. Let's see where it takes me. . . .


  1. I'm all ears- or should I say, eyes, and grateful for every post.

  2. Surely we all can handle a little complexity. Interesting people are interested in many things. Let's explore them all. I'll check in with your tweets and will try to tweet myself (although posting is enough of a challenge these days). I love all the connections and your thoughts are a particular favourite.

  3. It will be interesting to compare notes on the academic life...and I would have to say that this new approach is braver than my own though I came across an article (was in the Chronicle) this past week that suggests that this division I've created between my professional and personal lives on line may not need to be so guarded.

  4. We all evolve and our blogs should too, I can't think of any blog that has not shape shifted in some way, my own included.
    I remember being able to post on a myriad of artists and designers, now it's filled with the ramblings of a life unfulfilled and in danger of being filed away. That whole ridiculous academic meeting crapola, it kills me, why can't I just teach and go?
    Like you my work is out and gathering dust. I am determined to start next week. There has to be a better life than compiling data, doesn't there?

  5. Mater, you are so thoughtful, I enjoy reading what you have to say about all aspects of your life. I'm so glad the barefoot walking seems to be working.

    I took a barefoot beach walk in San Francisco about a week ago and loved the feeling of the sand and water between my toes. I thought of you.

  6. Duchesse, I hope you know how much I appreciate your faithful and astute readership.
    L'AgeM, thanks so much for putting it this way -- yes, complexity can be tough but it's interesting and, I think, worthwhile. I'd love to tweet back and forth with you if you have time. It's been a fun learning curve, but oh the competition for our minutes, eh?
    Terri, I missed that article. Do you have the link?
    I find it intimidating trying to bridge the gap a bit, but I think it's something worth doing, within limits, of course.

  7. Alison: It's interesting to go back a few years and compare sections of our blogs, isn't it? Sometimes it happens gradually, so that I realize one day that I rarely blog my knitting anymore whereas that used to be a regular feature. As for yours, though, I still see the artists referenced, if not quite as often, and I don't see you rambling at all but find your mix of art and life and clothing and grumbles and exultations all honest and intelligent and very funny.
    Susan: I only hope the improvement lasts -- so far, so good. And it's fun to think of a connection between two blogging friends who haven't yet met, walking beaches so far apart, barefoot. Thanks for that.

  8. I see all across the blogosphere people are coming forward, integrating their selves. Our kids of course are used to this, and if anything have to pull back. At its best, this online/offline thing is going to provide us all with new thresholds to cross. I'm glad you're doing this too.

  9. Lisa: It's interesting, isn't it? Of course, I still work with many people who are appalled at the idea of willingly exposing private life on blogs or FB or Twitter. But I admire some of our kids' insouciance around the issue although some of it makes me leery. Thresholds are always seductive and potentially threatening at once.

  10. You live in such a beautiful place!

  11. Oh my, did I lose my comment?? I was saying how much I love your posts, wherever you go, and how it thrills me that you enjoy teaching 1st year students whereas my terribly jaded relatives in academe dread teaching 1st year.

    Well that comment was too long anyway.

  12. Mardel: "too" could not apply to any of your comments. Thanks for bothering the second time. It's true that it's easy to get weary of some aspects of 1st-year teaching, but that's a huge part of our student body and I've just decided to focus on the positive or be grumpy too much of the time. And after all, it's rather a privilege getting to watch young people develop citizenship, engagement, etc.


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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