Sunday, August 19, 2007

a bit of this, some more of that

In Vancouver, sharing a lazy morning indoors, bacon and eggs, the papers -- a nice contrast to the sound of the cars whizzing through the rain on the busy street just below us. Later on, I think we'll check out Two Days in Paris (Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg), but for now, it's time to relax.
Seeing Derek Walcott Friday night was worth all the ferry and car traffic I had to navigate to get out to UBC by 6 -- an early start for an evening event, really. And I think it was also worth the hour plus of speakers we had to listen to before Walcott read for ten, possibly fifteen, minutes. The reading had been announced in the Books section of last weekend's Vancouver Sun, and although the announcement did mention that it was the opening event of an academic conference on Commonwealth writing (CACLAS, I believe, is the acronym) the public was welcome to pay $15 and attend. On that basis, it didn't occur to me that I'd be dragging my dear husband to listen to the current Chair, the previous Chair (who spoke for at least as long as Walcott read, probably longer), the university president, the chair of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize committee, and the introduction for the university president, for Walcott (understandably) and for the young Maori woman who sang (stunningly, beautifully) for us. Still, the Musqueam First Nation drumming and welcome speech, the comments by Jeannette Armstrong, a First Nation Okanagan writer, the Maori musician, and Walcott himself were all very much worth hearing, but wow! academics have a lot to learn about how to interact with the public. Couldn't help thinking they shouldn't have bothered inviting us (and getting some help subsidizing their use of the beautiful Chan Centre auditorium -- a "stately pleasure dome" if there ever was one, as one of the speakers pointed out -- if they weren't going to warn us that we'd be listening to business proceedings from the last conference, material better covered in an AGM, one might think.
As an academic who has been at those awkward opening events, it was interesting to observe the ritual of meeting and greeting -- those high-profile participants (my former supervisor was there and I got the big public hug) who tend to cluster together or be surrounded by acolytes, those shy folk at the periphery, trying to look comfortable with their glass of wine. And many, of course, happy with the opportunity to renew friendships with farflung colleagues.
As usual, observing the very ambitious, very published academics tweaks my sense of under-achievement or even inadequacy, and I oscillated between self-flagellation over my commitment to blog-writing (rather than more career-appropriate stuff) and determined defiance -- the time I'm spending blogging isn't going to get me published, but I'm not in a publish-or-perish institution. I'm a good teacher committed to keeping up with the research needed to support my teaching and I'm having more fun writing since I started this blog than I've had since I was an undergrad.

Anyway, enough about that -- gets boring even to those of us who "get it" and I suspect the rest of the world beyond academia just thinks it's a very strange concern -- why shouldn't one write what one wants to and do what brings joy in one's spare time?!

Other fun I've had this weekend: running! I had a good run along the seawall and I am starting to feel confident I might be able to get back to decent distances again. Maybe two weeks ago now, I decided to try running for longer stretches, altho' my physio had urged me to stay at four minutes' running, one minute walking. I've been starting with 5-1,5-1, then going to a 7-minute run and a 2-minute walk, and even to 8 minutes before moving back to a few 5-1 sets. I think the difference this makes is that I get to a point that I'm hitting my own stride and I've had less discomfort in either my right knee or my left Achilles, knock on wood. My short-term goal is to run twice around our island by the end of this week and then gradually add seven minutes a week or so 'til I'm back at four times 'round the island (approx. two hours' running). If all goes well, I'm hoping I can run the Fall Classic Half Marathon at UBC again this November. Cross your fingers for me!

While I was out running, I passed the walkers who were out on their Weekend to End Breast Cancer, walking approximately 60 kilometres over the weekend, camping out on Saturday night, each one representing $2000 raised to fight breast cancer. One trio of young women were particularly noticeable given the nude-coloured inset on the front of their white t-shirts -- the inset featured very lifelike breast shaping, nipples and all, for an amusing and eye-popping attention grabber. Made me think about the mammogram I finally had (first in over 15 years!) on Friday. The staff at the Screening Clinic were so warm yet professional and the whole process was so efficient and respectful. In the small room with the briskly-moving technician and the big "squisher" machine, I felt oddly comfortable standing nude from the waist up having someone poke and prod my boobs into the best position. Somehow it felt like a respite from a lifetime of having my breasts scrutinized continually for size, shape, sexiness, adequacy, bounciness, droopiness, and the list goes on. Here they were just what they were, one pair of the thousands this tech must have seen in all their variety over the years of her career. The momentary discomfort was really nothing more than that, although I do understand that many women find the process quite painful. Still, I finally went -- should you schedule your screening too?

btw, Derek Walcott is a Nobel-prize-winning Caribbean poet and playwright. I wrote my MA thesis on his long poem, Another Life. I'd give you a link to find out more about him, but I'm writing on my husband's laptop which has an earlier Windows program and finding the links while still in the blogpost is awkward. I'll try to update later.

also btw, I ordered a pair of boots from B2 (sold out since I spotted them last week!) -- more on those later.


  1. "Interesting to observe the ritual of meeting and greeting -- those high-profile participants (my former supervisor was there and I got the big public hug) who tend to cluster together or be surrounded by acolytes, those shy folk at the periphery, trying to look comfortable with their glass of wine."

    I've been pondering your thoughts on this one Frances, and I'd like to throw in my two cents. You describe the occasion quite well, and I believe that most of us have been in similar situations at various times in our lives. In my 20's, I would have considered myself to be one of "those shy folk at the periphery" and even as I read those lines those old feelings were easy recall. It wasn't until someone told me or I read somewhere that "shyness is just another form of snobbery" that my perspective on those experiences began to shift. Is it that we're all "snobs" in one form or other, either snubbing the well-published, or dissing the wall-flowers, or do we just find our place of belonging, knowing what matters most? It takes a huge amount of energy to keep oneself in the centre, and often to stay there we are required to give up a great deal of self. While I may at one time have thought I wanted to be there I am generally very happy and content with the choices I have made in my life. So when I stand on the edge with the glass of wine in my hand I'm happy to be the observer, of those who make the choice to be upfront and centre.

  2. A thoughtful comment, Leona, and you're right to want to mistrust any simple generalizations. At the same time, I think it's dangerous to say that "shyness is simply a form of snobbery" -- I'm more introverted than truly shy (and I'm often the one at the centre of the crowd, expending that large amount of energey -- witness my work, for example!), but true shyness can be painful, and I believe there's considerable evidence that it's congenital, hard-wired, rather than a choice.
    I also want to say that the circumstances I'm describing are pretty typical of the first meet-and-greet of a conference. I'll bet that by today, there will be all sorts of new friendships and the patterns will look quite different. But to be truly honest, yes, some of my comments have to do with unresolved stuff (probably will never entirely be resolved, such are the politics of academe) between my supervisor and myself, the politics of the borderlands one passes through between grad student and prof as well as the entrenched hierarchies that differentiate those of us at teaching institutions from those at important research schools. It's complicated.
    Love to have you commenting here -- is the blog a distraction from thinking about a certain early-September date and the return to the classroom?!

  3. There are so many things in your post and the above comments that resonate with me I hardly know where to begin, and, indeed, I doubt I'm yet at a place where I can adequately articulate some of my own thoughts about academic/life choices--or blogging. Suffice it to say that I'm glad both of you are talking about these issues, and I'm glued to the screen as I think them through for myself.

    Thank you.

  4. thanks for chiming in, puttermeister -- I understand the hesitation about articulating. In fact, as I reread my post, I see how much I was holding back, even more than I'd intended to. I tried to speak of this as of any comparable crowded event, but there's something here that's really specific to academic hierarchies. And while Leona implies that once one is happy with one's own choices, the discomfort of being on the edges goes away, the trouble is that in academia, a spot on the edges often means real material consequences. Less likelihood of getting shortlisted for a job interview, more chance of getting relegated to senior instructor rather than tenure-track prof, no chance of being picked up at a "university that counts." While it's all very while to be contented with one's life choices and to be happily devoted to one's research whether it gets published or not, that contentment's harder to come by if one's scrabbling together four courses a term as a sessional getting paid shit! I'm fortunate to be at a small liberal arts, degree-granting instution that still values teaching (altho' the push is on for the research more and more), but it's still galling sometimes to see how materially the prejudices against my choices manifest themselves -- especially because these hierarchies and hegemonies are protected by people who often teach something different.
    Whoops! this little wildfire could smolder for sometime -- hope I pulled back before that became a full-on rant! Time to quit for now, but again, Leona and Puttermeister, thanks for joining in. I'd love to hear other voices -- are you out there?


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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