My 2016 resolution: work less and live more

I wrote this post for Sam and Tracy at Fit is a Feminist Issue, and wanted to share it here as well. In many ways it’s a continuation of my last post, about unplugging and learning to manage work stress better. Enjoy and be well this new year’s week!


Two weeks ago I made a New Years resolution, sort of by accident. It was the end of the semester, I’d just finished a pile of grading and was looking ahead to ten days of panicked administrative work, with a shoehorn or two of panicked research labour shoved down the sides. I suddenly realized it was Christmas time – aka, the winter BREAK – and I was about to be in a situation where, in the words of the great Dr Seuss, no break would be coming.

That’s when I REALLY started to panic.


I’m one of those lucky women who, at least on the surface, appears to have a really flexible life. My job’s only set hours are the time I spend in the classroom and in my office hours. I can ride my bike in the middle of the afternoon whenever the weather permits, and I can spend…

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On unplugging

So here we are again: end of the semester, end of the year. Roaring fires. Stacks of exam papers. Too much sugar.

Yo ho ho.


It’s been a tough one, this term, for me. I taught a full course load: two modest-sized classes (20th Century Drama, a third-year, full year course, and History of Performance Theory, a half-year course at seminar size), but each required enough prep per week to occupy the better part of a day, apart from my teaching days. In addition, I’ve found myself at the head of a small team running our brand new Theatre Studies program, which is currently cruising on a wing and a prayer; everyone is very excited about it, to be sure, but nobody really wants to fund it. We need to prove ourselves first. So my hard-grafting colleague MJ Kidnie and I are pretty much IT, along with a spectacularly talented staffer from our home department, English and Writing Studies, who is, let’s just say, working for us on the sly. She, MJ and I are the marketing team, the recruiters, the academic planners, the teachers, the boosters, and the administrators. And we’re pretty tired.

(Follow us on twitter: @westernuTheatre. Please.)

Also, did I mention I’m co-organizing a major conference coming up in May, have just become Associate Editor of Theatre Research in Canada, and am trying desperately to finish a book?

Pass the eggnog, people.

I’ve been describing this as a “perfect storm” situation to colleagues, friends, and my therapist, all of whom look at me in horror as I describe the work situation. (All except the therapist. He knows me far too well by now – he just bursts out laughing.) Here’s what happened: I said yes to a bunch of things at different points in time, enthusiastically and with genuine commitment, because I love my job and believe in the positive impact of the work I do. But somehow, without my noticing, all of it has come due all at once. And – honestly – I’m drowning.

I also know I’m not alone in this feeling of slowly sinking into the paperwork. Many of my friends and colleagues report a similar feeling these days – and before you trot out Rudolph and wonder if we should shoot and eat him to put all of us out of our holiday misery, let me assure you that this isn’t a feeling unique to December. It seems, rather, a feature of 2015. And maybe 2014. And probably 2016. We’re all working harder for less. Making do with less. Encouraged by peers who want us to succeed, we all nevertheless know that it’s down to us to do the stuff that makes the success happen. Because nobody has any money to give us for help – EVERYBODY is cutting back.

Don’t be fooled: there’s a lot more money out there than ever before. It’s just not for us, the little ones scrapping in the corner. It’s for the Already Haves. Ask the Occupy gang. Or ask my colleagues in Arts and Humanities at Western University, where our business school is second to none, and no expense is ever spared. For them.

Deep breath.


This isn’t meant to be a post about austerity, or neoliberal crisis culture, or even about university economics. In fact, it’s a post about mental health. Because mine has suffered immeasurably over the last few months, to the point that, one morning a few weeks ago, one of my friends and colleagues listened with generosity and open-heartedness as I melted down before her and confessed feeling, at times, like, well – like I didn’t want to be here anymore.

She talked me down off the ledge that day, mostly by reminding me that we’re all in this together. (And then by inviting me to dinner. Thanks, Mandy.) But she also reminded me that nothing is more important than taking the time to regroup, recharge, reboot – to look at your life, look into the faces of the people that share it, smile at the brightness that life can be, and then STOP WORKING.

How hard is it for us to stop working, my fellow academics? It’s pretty damn hard. A lot of the work we do is idiosyncratic; it’s important, of course, to the futures of our students and to the livelihoods of all who work with us. Many of us do the kinds of research that yield breakthroughs and propel social change, medical innovation, and much more. But, mostly, it’s also not quite as urgent as we sometimes strive to believe. Mostly, it can wait – for us to rest, to go home to our families, to fly someplace warm and lie on a beach. To read a book for a change.

So here comes the end of term, and I find myself sitting on my therapist’s couch, talking about this very thing. How do I, still facing a mass of stuff undone that is due yesterday and all seems profoundly urgent, stop working and take a proper break this Christmas? (You wonderful readers who’ve been with me a while know I like a gorgeous break; somehow, though, this term I’ve forgotten how to take one.) This afternoon, Andrew reminded me: you need to set some limits. We feel overwhelmed when we don’t have boundaries in place: between us and our students, who flail a lot and need us more often than we can be there for them; between us and our colleagues, who cope differently than we do with stress and sometimes spill their stress onto our plates; between us and members of our family, however much we love them, because, let’s face it, family is a tricky one.

Between life and work – because no, my fellow scholar-teachers, they are emphatically NOT the same thing.

Here I sit, then, writing this post in front of the roaring fire, with a delicious martini at my left, the snoozing dog on the sofa, and the Good Lovelies on the stereo. I’m resolving, two weeks early, to acknowledge my limits in the new year, and to remind those who expect me to make rain from parched grass that I’m only human, and that I can only do so much.

And yes, you bet: I’ll be reminding me, too.


Happy Christmas to everyone celebrating – and happiest new year to all of you.



From London to London: A Student’s-Eye View

[Friends: this guest post is by Caitlin Austin, a final-year Theatre Studies student at Western University, and the amazing student intern/”guinea pig” I wrote about in my report on our recent “field trip” to London, England. Here, Caity offers her perspective on her time with us in the U.K., and reflects on what study-abroad opportunities have to offer students like her – heading for teacher’s college, and addicted to the stage. Enjoy!]


“From London to London,” reads the caption of my Instagram post as I departed London, Ontario for a very exciting weeklong trip to London, England! The photo (below) features British and Canadian currency, and the magic ticket that would allow me to cross overseas: my passport. This trip to England marked my first time to Europe and I couldn’t have been more excited! Just carrying the foreign currency in my wallet made me feel worldly, sophisticated, and gave me a real hankering for tea and crumpets.


The trip’s purpose was to help design and plan the future Destination Theatre course (for more details, see Kim’s earlier post here), and to build relationships with academic institutions in England with which Western students will eventually have the chance to be involved. I accompanied my professors, Kim Solga and M.J. Kidnie, on this journey across the pond and gratefully became an intern of sorts. I participated in meetings, took notes, and offered feedback from a student’s perspective, trying to answer the question, what will future Destination Theatre students REALLY want in a trip such as this?

Well, if future trips are anything like this one, those students are in for a treat! I was lucky enough to see 5 plays in 5 days. This was nothing short of heavenly. The first play I saw, Teddy Ferrara at the Donmar Warehouse, I caught on our first night, still jet-jagged, with a friend I had met only a few months prior during a summer acting program in NYC. All hail the connective powers of travel! The other shows, ranging from a West End musical, The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre, to a nearly 4 hour Greek Epic, Oresteia at the Almeida Theatre (Trafalgar Studios), each offered something unique. However, all productions are not created equal and the scales were tipped heavily in the favour of the West End musical scene when I saw The Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon was, without a doubt, the most fantastic thing I have ever witnessed. I smiled from start to finish. Actually, I was smiling long before the show even began because of the good fortune that had brought me to the front row of the greatest musical ever created (my apologies to all other pieces of theatre EVER). This good fortune began when, during some souvenir shopping near the end of our trip, fate had me stroll down a street called Coventry. While walking to find lunch, I happened upon the Prince of Wales Theatre where two representatives invited me to enter the ticket lottery for the matinee performance. Spoiler alert: I won the ticket lottery and was able to purchase a £100 front row seat for a mere £20!


Caity in musical theatre heaven.

The lottery process itself was quite the event. A real ceremony, full of pomp and flair. The theatre representative draws a ballot from the large, spinning drum and teases the crowd by saying something to the effect of, “One ticket… Going to… America…” – and then pauses for all the hopeful Americans in attendance to squeal with excitement before announcing the lucky winner’s name. Once my name was called (yay!) I claimed my ticket and began to feel like a real V.I.P.: I was barraged with congratulations from theatre staff and fellow ticket winners. Such fun! So, if you should ever find the chance to attend a production of The Book of Mormon, do it! I’ll even cross my fingers that you’ll win the ticket lottery, too.

Besides the many examples of incredible theatre I was lucky enough to see, I had a blast exploring London as well. Kim and M.J., both with years of London living under their belt, were superb guides as I got to know the city. They offered insider knowledge only privy to someone who has held a London address (did you know you can order in the express line at Monmouth Coffee if you buy coffee beans at the same time? Also, the falafels at Gaby’s Deli on Charing Cross Road are unrivalled), as well as supportive encouragement so I could feel confident exploring the city for myself. I’ll proudly tell anyone that I learned at least a few of the major Underground train lines while away and returned to Ontario envious of London’s superior public transit system.

Though we stayed in Mild End on the Queen Mary University campus (very comfortable beds, by the way), we journeyed by train to Stratford-upon-Avon for a half day to scope out how Stratford might fit into the Destination Theatre schedule. What a quaint little town! Though it would be easy to be distracted by the many shops, cafes, and photo opportunities – Ok, maybe we were…


Caity meets Sir John Falstaff…


…while Kim ponders her next move with Prince Hamlet.


Oh, and that dog is made out of sand! MJ + Caity are impressed.

But we also participated in several really productive meetings with different Stratford institutions and returned to Queen Mary with lots of exciting Stratford opportunities for future students. 

Amidst all the excitement of a first time trip to England, one of the features that struck me most was the genuine kindness of almost everyone I met. Locals, and perhaps fellow tourists, helped me when I asked for directions and cashiers patiently waited while I tried to make sense of the British currency in my wallet. Along with the nameless strangers I encountered, I met several of Kim’s and M.J.’s many friends and colleagues in London, all of whom made me feel very welcome. It was really lovely to see how incredibly well-respected and well-liked my professors are, though for anyone who has known them, it doesn’t come as a surprise.

Kim and M.J. have got to be two of the hardest working, most determined, creative people I know. I’m convinced their days have more than 24 hours because the amount they accomplish from sunrise to sundown is hard to believe. I marvel at their work ethic and was honoured to be welcomed so warmly into their process. As an English and Theatre Studies student graduating this year, I will remain incredibly grateful that I was able to experience Destination Theatre in its first iteration and am so excited for the future of the program. To any and all potential students reading this: renew your passport, pack your bags, and get ready for the experience of a lifetime!

Back in the boat

Here’s what happens when Kim the teacher becomes (once more) a novice rower. Learning is for life, folks!


Kim with some of her Masters Rowing friends. Kim with some of her Masters Rowing friends.

Back in the spring I wrote about being incredibly inspired by the women of the Oxford and Cambridge rowing teams, who competed for the first time ever in 2015 on the Thames Tideway course that has been reserved for men for… well, forever. They got amazing publicity, thanks to their unadulterated awesomeness (and the novelty of it all), and I know I was not the only athlete out there moved by the sheer joy I saw on the faces of the Oxford squad when they won, or harrowed by the expressions of the strong and amazing Cambridge women who had to settle for second place.

Yet the tideway race (the first of many) moved me in particular because I was once an aspiring rowing champ, too. I was part of the University of Alberta crew in 1994-5, during my third year as an undergrad…

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