Joanne Tompkins Interview Part II

This is the second part of a two-part interview with Professor Joanne Tompkins, who currently seconded from her position at the University of Queensland to work with the Australian Research Council as Executive Director of the Humanities and Creative Arts panel. (Click here for part one.)

Joanne Tomkins

Joanne Tompkins

On Classroom Behaviour and Technology in the Classroom

KB: How do think technology has shifted in the classroom for you? Or has it?

JT:  Hugely … I’m still getting used to the fact that people are on their phones throughout my ARC presentations for many different reasons. I get a lot of people leaving half way through. An academic may be upset if a student leaves their class, but they have no compunction about leaving my presentation. There may be 50 reasons why they’re leaving and that’s fine. But, I find it fascinating that most don’t make the connection that in effect they are students in this context. And they are doing exactly what bothers them about their students.

KB: 100 per cent. I came up against my own learning moment around that in September. I don’t love it when students take pictures of my slides. And, during my French classes last month, I totally caught myself taking pictures of the board. On the one hand, I was like: “Kelsey Blair, you’re doing the thing that you hate when students do it to you.” And, on the other hand, I thought: “But, it’s way easier this way!”

JT:  Yes … yes. But, I guess if I think back to when I first started teaching, we would also have to remind students to bring a notebook and pencils. We’d get the students who would come to a tutorial and assume that they were just going to ‘perform.’ It’s been a huge shift.

KB: And, as a teacher, there is always the issue of how to use technology. I often have heated debates with myself about whether or not to post lecture slides, and, if I do, whether it will affect in-lecture attendance.

JT: One of the things I’ve seen over years with students is exactly that: assuming that lectures are optional. Apparently “nothing really happens in them; I don’t need this material. I can find it myself.” I would explain to students at the beginning of the year, perhaps too soon in the semester, sure you can find all of this information out there on the Internet. But think about how much work I’ve done to narrow it, to select the best information, to shape it, to winnow out the stuff that is out there. Take advantage of the work I’ve done: I’m giving you this information.

Looking Backward; Looking Forward: Advice to Past and Future Selves

KB: If you could offer three pieces of advice to your former teaching self, what would they be? And: where do you want to grow in your teaching self, whatever context that might take on?

JT: Good questions … Three pieces of advice to my former: relax, trust, enjoy. Don’t be so panicky. Trust that you do know more than you think you know. And, enjoy the experience. Not that it’s always enjoyable. Sometimes it’s hard work. But, it’s wonderful in those times when you actually make that connection, whether it’s with students or, for me now, with my peers.

Looking forward: It’s really hard because when I finish next year at the ARC, I have a semester of study leave to work on a book and then I don’t know what I’m doing in 2021. I’m thinking that I will still inevitably be in a role that has a pedagogical element to it but it’s very much a “watch this space,” for me. I don’t know what I’m going to be doing but I’m actually happy with that. That’s not the scary thing I would’ve thought it would be. Can we talk in the future?

KB: Of course. You can expect to hear from me in 2021!

Joanne Tompkins Interview Part 1

Professor Joanne Tompkins — currently seconded from her position at the University of Queensland  to work with the Australian Research Council as Executive Director of the Humanities and Creative Arts panel — kindly agreed to chat with me about performance and pedagogy, and I couldn’t be more excited to share what emerged from our conversation!

Joanne Tomkins
Professor Joanne Tompkins-

We talked across a range of subjects from performing in a classroom over time to costuming to teaching to different audiences.  We chatted so much, in fact, that the conversation will be spread across two posts!

Rather than edit our conversation into the appearance of formal interview, Joanne and I curated excerpts around key topics.

This post’s topics include: “Performing in the Classroom” and “On Teaching to Different Kinds of Audiences.” Part II will feature “Classroom Behaviours,” “Technology in the Classroom,” plus “Looking Forward and Looking Backwards: On Teaching Over Time.”

Teacher

A teacher, performing in the classroom.

On Performing in the Classroom:

KB: I tend to approach teaching from the perspective that there is always a performance-element to teaching and that element is immensely personal. Is that true for you?

JT: Yes. Absolutely. I’m not a performer in the formal sense at all. I’m not an actor or director. But maybe if we all have a percentage of a performer in us, that’s where mine comes out.

KB: Do you think your performance has changed overtime? How did it look in that first classroom as a TA? How did it look somewhere in the middle? How does it look now?

JT: It has changed. Certainly, if I could look at now first: my confidence levels are much higher. One of the things that I have taught new teachers is to remember that you know more than the students do; remember that you can answer their questions, and in the cases where you can’t, this is what you do: say “Interesting question. Let’s all think about this for next time” – but make sure you return to it next class.

Now, I know I can rely on experience to answer those tricky questions, and in my current position, it’s politically tricky ones as well as the intellectually tricky ones. There’s that confidence of knowing how to do it and knowing I can do it. That assurance is what comes with age and experience.

In the middle, I would’ve gone into a classroom, adrenaline always running, and having enough materials with me to be prepared for anything. So, if the class plan failed, there was a backup plan, even if not a formal one. If the students had all of a sudden read the material and wanted more, I was ready. If they hadn’t read the play at all, I had different ways of dealing with that. Because, while I knew I had the reserves, I wasn’t always sure I could rely on them in the moment.

At the beginning, it was just fear and trepidation (laughs) and the constant self-doubt about “can I do this?!”

KB: How do you feel that your outside, formal work and your self in the classroom integrate? Or do they integrate?

JT: I think they do and they don’t. I would go back to what I said about the performance comment. I think I do perform in a classroom. People I know well might be surprised to see me in the classroom. It’s not Jekyl and Hyde but I am more expressive in the classroom, trying to bring the students or audience with me physically as well as intellectually. So, I think that’s the big difference. I know I did that when I was lecturing at the University and I know I do it in my current role now. I ask questions like “do you understand what I mean? Am I making sense?” a lot.

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Scarf: essential wardrobe piece for Kelsey’s teaching costume

KB: Has that changed over time?

JT: I don’t think it would’ve been the same when I was in my Masters (when I first began teaching) because I was still very much developing that persona–or what an appropriate persona was and trying to keep it together. I can remember wearing suits: dressing up (it was the 80s!). I had a costume. I was young too, so it was my way of setting boundarires which worked for me. It probably didn’t matter to the students!

KB: That’s super interesting. For me, who was an athlete in my undergrad, I was always the kid in the back of class in sweatpants. So, when I was first TAing, I really had to figure out the costuming, to find the balance between setting a boundary and my personal style – which tends to be more laid back.

JT: It does take a while, but you’ve hit something. Every time you move geographically or move into a different teaching role, there are those specific geographic/contextual differences.

KB: Yes, and I’ve found that it shifts over time as well. I have tended to read a little closer in age to my students than I am. They’re often checking my cultural references to place me in time. It doesn’t bother me but I realize eventually I’m not going to going to read that way anymore. It’s already happening as a basketball coach. I used to read like their older sister. That isn’t true anymore. And, it changes how I can relate to players, which changes how I coach them.

JT: I find the cultural references fascinating. I had prided myself for a long time on being able to maintain them. Certainly more with the main television programs. Then, I could tell I was starting to lose it.

That’s one of the things that — to be totally honest — terrifies me about walking back into a classroom after having been out of it for so long in various administration positions: that I will have truly lost a connection to the students. I’m not sure how to engage with young people now in a way that gives them the examples they need.

But I can still do it in my ‘teaching’ now, which takes the shape of outreach to universities, because they’re more my peers. They need the cultural referents as much as other kinds of connection, and I have those at my fingertrips.

On Teaching to Different Kinds of Audiences

KB: What are the differences between teaching to peers vs teaching to people that would identify as students?

JT: Let me separate first, students in a university vs academics in a university and the kind of work I’m doing now. One of the things I’ve been thinking about in advance of this chat is the kind of teaching I do now. One part of my job is going out to universities or to academic organizations to talk to people who want to know how better to understand and be successful at getting Australian Research Council grants. What I do now is kind of equivalent to teaching but it’s to my peers.

With the university student, I would typically demonstrate how fascinating and exciting I found this material to be and use that as a means to bring them along. Obviously, it doesn’t work every time. But, by and large, I could make it work.

Now, my audiences are, I guess one of the best ways to describe them, is skeptical. These are my peer audiences. They know how competitive ARC grants are and they’re skeptical about their abilities to get them and they’re skeptical about my abilities to tell them anything they don’t already know.

I work very hard to get past that skepticism with tips and tricks, changes to the rules, ways to shape your wonderful project to engage your assessors.

The more transparent I can make an otherwise opaque system, the more likely audience members are to feel that they got something out of a presentation. And that’s my aim in my current form of teaching: to make the system much more transparent than it often is. I try to make it seem doable without ever hiding how low, shall we say, the success rates actually are.

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In a classroom, the people who sit in in the chairs matter.

KB: Are there any prep or structural differences in your approach to teaching peers?

JT: I have to leave a lot of time for questions. I’m not one of those people that insists on presenting and then leaves time for questions. I always insist that if you’ve got a question, you ask it as I’m going through. But it always takes a while for the first person to get the courage to put their hand up.

That’s not something that you can always do in, say, a lecture context. But, what is interesting, even with colleagues, is that I still get that fear of asking the dumb question. That fear doesn’t go away. You don’t want to be embarrassed in front of your peers.

Tune in next post for the second half of our conversation!

 

Being a Student Again: How Taking Classes Made Me Reflect on Teaching Classes

I feel like I’m in high school again, and it’s been an unexpectedly good thing for thinking about teaching.

I recently moved to Montreal and decided to take French classes. As I filled out the online registration forms, I thought to myself, “A little morning routine, a little french, and the possibility of interaction with other humans in the brand new city I’ll be google-mapping my way through? This is a great settling-into-a-new-city-plan.”

I wasn’t wrong: the classes have been immensely useful for grounding my first couple of weeks. They have also been unexpectedly helpful for thinking about my own teaching.

Here are the top three things that being a student has got me thinking about:

The Vulnerability of Learning

As a kid, I was in French immersion – a Canadian public school program where students from non-French speaking families take most of their elementary and high school classes in French. So, technically, my French is decent. Practically, it is not.

Trying to find my knowledge of French has been felt like being in the movie Inside Out: I spend my morning classes running around my brain, searching for old memories. Much to my dismay, it seems that many of these memories have been dumped to make room for new skills and knowledge.

To the shock of no one that knows me: I have a robust set of feelings when I’m not instantly good at something. So, when my teacher hands back my homework, and I see the 1003 minor grammar errors, I can’t help but wince a little.

Other than the hit to my ego, this has been a critical reminder of the the vulnerability of not knowing, of not understanding, of trying but not getting it right the first, second, or even the third time. I try to acknowledge this vulnerability when I teach but sometimes I forget how amplified it can feel for students.

Exams

Three weeks ago, I could not have told you the last time I took a midterm. That changed, last Wednesday. And, much to my surprise, I think that’s a good thing.

As a university instructor, I know that tests can be good evaluative and pedagogical tools, and I do incorporate final exams into some courses. But, I also know that tests favour certain learning styles over others and can prompt huge levels of stress and anxiety for students. In the context of rising mental health crises across American and Canadian post-secondary campuses, the stakes of stress and anxiety can be concrete and significant. It doesn’t help that, even when test-related stress is contained to the classroom, students generally hate exams.

Actual archival evident that I took a French midterm some time after high school.

In my French class, I was no different. I did not want to take my midterm. In fact, I briefly considered refusing to do so (me: at my most mature).

After having a little chat with myself, however, I decided to write the midterm. This meant I had to study. And, you know what? Studying prompted me to engage with the material in a way I’d been avoiding: I went back and reviewed some of the core concepts; I memorized the rules; I did mock exercises.

Did it bring back a whole bunch of weird want-to-succeed-in-evaluative-contexts feelings? Why, yes it did. Did it also light a fire under my learning feet? Most definitely.

On Mattering

As a university instructor, I’m aware that, within the context of a classroom, I am in a position of power. As a student, I am am actively reminded of how this power looks and feels.

The teacher – who is like every french teacher I can remember: energetic, kind, passionate, precise – is the point toward which I, and all the other students, are oriented physically and intellectually. And, boy oh boy, do we notice everything she does:

  • I notice that she tends to stand on the right side of the white board (likely so she doesn’t have to cross when she needs to start to write a sentence). This means that she often unintentionally favours the right side of the class, who are physically closer to her.
  • Another student feels that she pays more attention to those with stronger language skills.
  • Another student feels her pedagogy is better than any of the other instructors they’ve had.

Even for adults with diverse areas of expertise and experiences (the class of twelve includes adult learners from 7 different countries who work in a range of fields from health care to hospitality to academia) the teacher matters, and that mattering often articulates in very embodied, and sometimes very emotional, ways.


I already knew all of these things, of course.

After all, I’ve spent big chunks of my adult life as a student. And, even though I’m done with formal coursework (phew!), I’m an active learner. I take professional development workshops, praxis sessions, and all kinds of classes. And not all of these classes are in areas where I excel either. I, Kelsey Blair The Historically Inflexible, take yoga classes.

But being in a semi-intensive, pass-or-fail class with medium-level stakes for most of the students has reminded me, at a bodily level, of what it feels like to be a student.

This, in turn, has reinforced something I already suspected: being a student, particularly in moderate- to high-stakes environments, is invaluable to the development of my teaching practice.

Learning from the un-schedule

Back in September I wrote about my cunning sabbatical plan to organize my life according to an “unschedule”: a daily planner that begins with life stuff, and fits work in around it (or leaves “free” time blank for work, should work wish to happen). I respond incredibly well to deadlines and boundaries, so this seemed the ideal solution to my perennial sabbatical problem: TOO MUCH UNSCHEDULED TIME (IN WHICH TO PANIC).

I’ve now been following, to greater or (mostly) lesser degrees each day, my unschedule for about 3 months; it’s therefore time for me to take stock, and to report on how it’s worked out.

Was it the raving success I was hoping for? Was it a total disaster?

As we might have predicted, it was a bit of both. Which is no bad thing!

First, the good news: I achieved pretty much exactly what I had intended the unschedule to help me achieve. I have a book due in February, of which I had written not one word when I created the unschedule back on 21 September. I now have just over 42,000 of the 50,000 words expected by my publisher, and the book is shaping up really well.

Next, the less good news: while the unschedule helped me to prioritize a very decent balance between “work” and “life”, as I noted in my last post “life” does not equal “rest”, and I did not manage to achieve much of the latter (so much so that my chronic joint problems have been acting up, and I’ve been at least as exhausted as usual much of the time).

That’s not reflective of a problem with my unschedule, though; in fact, it’s something the next version (see below) may help me address.

Third, the fine print: mostly the unschedule wasn’t something I was ever going to use as a schedule. It was, rather, a kind of self-initiated Rorschach Test. And in that, it succeeded brilliantly. Below, I’ll try to take stock of what it taught me about myself, and I’ll share my revised unschedule for winter.

To start, here’s a reminder of what my unschedule, circa late September 2017, looked like:

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The unschedule was never meant to be a test of my resolve; I did not create it in order to follow it to the letter. Quite the contrary: I made it in part to measure my aspirations for my sabbatical days against the reality that is my daily life. I expected the two not to line up perfectly, but I also hoped to learn from the comparison.

To that end, I decided, for the first 20 or so days on the unschedule (roughly, a month of workdays), to keep a brief daily diary with times and tasks noted. The two could then easily be compared to see where my time was actually going.

Here are a few photos of my notes from those early days:

Looking back on the notes, a few things stand out.

First, Stuff Happens. Moreover, the Stuff that Happens is probably not worth judging (because judging it won’t change it). So I got up later than scheduled many times; I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON, AT ALL. Trying to schedule myself to become a morning person is unlikely, at this stage in my life, to change me. Other mornings got taken up with personal things when the man I’m dating stayed over; I panicked about that a bit until I remembered that having a life (including a sex life!) ultimately makes work bearable. And, after a time, he and I settled into a routine where I would write and he would work, too, after breakfast; that solved it. Sometimes I had to travel, or there were meetings, or… or… or… Again: STUFF HAPPENS. What matters to me, looking back, is how I dealt with these intrusions into the hoped-for ideal, since the ideal wasn’t ever going to be fully achievable.

My diary entries also reveal that, despite getting up later than scheduled or having other things get in the way around my scheduled writing time, I still prioritized writing daily, for about 2 hours give or take. After the writing, more or less anything could happen: I’d penciled in workouts and/or house things, maybe more work for afternoons, but the reality, I found, was that after the writing had happened I felt a mix of satisfaction and relief that would then let me get on with my day, in whatever form it took.

Notably, I rarely missed walkies with Emma The Dog. This made her very happy. It also brought me joy, which I think is incredibly productive.

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(Emma on a woodland trail near our new home. She’s distracted by a squirrel, or something even tastier.)

I’m generally a very active person, and my original unschedule included a lot of workouts; the challenge, I found, was that my new living situation (I moved to a new city in August) necessitated me getting into fresh activity habits based on the resources around me. I can ride my bike anywhere, but not when the wind is blowing at 50kph – and it helps if I already know the route home, in case of emergency. I love to row, but with winter coming on I needed to find a reliable place for land training. There’s a yoga studio near my house, but I haven’t loved many of the classes I’ve tried there. I’ve been experimenting with stair climbing, since there’s a lot of that available free in my new neighbourhood. And I’ve been swimming more than I expected.

All of this means that I did not keep to my un-scheduled fitness plan, in part because of all the trial and error. The trade-off, however, was a lot of useful learning about my new surroundings, and some valuable time spent settling into my new place.

Taking stock of the patterns in my diary, one thing has become crystal clear: the ONLY thing that was essential for me every day was writing. I can’t tell you what a revelation this has been!

I have resisted for a long time the common advice given to academics to write every morning for an hour, to “pay yourself first”, just to sit down and do it. Staunchly, I  insisted that such a strategy would not work for me/that I didn’t need it/that my writing does not work that way/fill in any excuse here.

The truth, my activity log showed me, is that sitting down with only my computer (but no email!) for a modest but set amount of time each day is an incredibly productive way for me to write. Requiring myself to make the time to think and write, and thus to think by writing, meant my vision for the book evolved, deepened, and changed for the better as I went along.

Most importantly, after a good couple of hours’ writing, I always felt renewed and strengthened, much as I often do at the end of a good workout. This I found remarkable, surprising, and so valuable – so much so that writing will be at the heart of any “un-schedule” I make from now on.

I also learned one other very important thing about myself from my (predictable) failure to adhere to the letter of the unschedule. I learned that I over-schedule myself, no matter what I do.

If I have down time, rest time, I judge myself: MUST GET BACK TO SOME KIND OF WORK! This might be housework, work-work, or athletic work. I do not permit myself to just sit there with a cup of tea, staring out the window.

But why the hell not? If anything, the fact that – despite unschedule, and despite sabbatical – I am at least as tired as usual this December is indicative of the problem with this sort of thinking.

If I had rested more this past term, might I have been more “productive” in my work-work? Maybe. Truthfully, though, more productive was not what was needed: I objectively produced a hell of a lot of research-related stuff. Had I rested more, though, I suspect I might be better prepared, right now, both physically and emotionally for Winter 2018 – in which I will start commuting to my campus responsibilities in London, Ontario, and in which all manner of winter-related crap is bound to rain down (probably on the highway while I’m driving, among other places).

Rest is in itself productive! We know this – sort of. Culturally, we’re still learning this message; personally, I’ve realized that I need to trick myself into rest, because I am a type-A, professional, middle-aged North American woman and old habits die hard. That’s why my new, simplified, improved un-schedule contains Less Stuff, and more room to manoeuvre.

Kim's winter 2017 unschedule

You’ll note that there’s still something in every block of time (save two), but I’ve made the blocks larger and less specific on purpose. The point is: within that block, everything I’ve listed either has to happen (teaching) or is likely to get done (row, or yoga, or walkies – though only walkies is *truly* essential. Dog owners will understand).

The only other fixed thing, for me, is the writing: I’ve made it a reasonable amount on purpose, just one hour each morning of the week that I am not commuting to classes. I’m hoping thereby to maintain my good new writing practice, and to nurture its tangible benefits, while also freeing myself to move a bit more flexibly around other tasks (and hopefully give myself time for rest, too).

Have any of you tried the unschedule, or variations, since September? If you have, I’d love to know how it’s going. Leave a comment or shoot me an email.

And meanwhile, have a really, productively joyful holiday break!

Kim

 

Rethinking “Work-Life Balance”

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Ah, end of term. The race to the end of Week 12; snagging some advent chocolate here, or a festive cocktail there, to help the marking go down. Dreaming of sugar plum dreams – dreaming of getting to stay in bed.

Of course, I know nothing about this. I have been on sabbatical.

Being on sabbatical is supposed to lead directly to a recalibration of work-life balance. Spending the majority of my days *not* working at my academic work, and yet still more or less achieving all of my academic work goals, means that I’m supposed to have spent the remainder of my time on this fanciful thing called “life” – and thus that I am meant to be rejuvenated, happier, more fulfilled.

Right.

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(Finding images for this post was like shooting fish in a barrel.)

What have I done this sabbatical? Well, as I’ll talk about in my next post, which will be an update on the “un-schedule” I made for myself in September, I’ve written 3/4 of a book for students. I’ve organized a small conference. I’ve vetted and accepted proposals for a special journal issue that will be coming out in 2019.

I’ve also moved house, renovated parts of said house, gotten used to a new community in a new city, traveled to England twice and Germany once, and worked at sustaining a new relationship. Note: these are all the “life” bits.

Sounds a lot like like work, though – doesn’t it?

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(Here I am enjoying melted cheese in a baguette in Konstanz, Germany. I can officially say that eating this was work. Tasty work.)

This revelation – that “life” is also “work”, and that this fact might pose a problem for the elusive thing we call “work-life balance” – had not occurred to me until about a week ago. That’s when I felt the tell-tale pinching in my right eye that indicates I’m about to suffer a spell of anterior uveitis (aka iritis, the inflammation of the iris joint).

I have an auto-immune condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis; don’t worry, I have terrific healthcare and it’s mostly fine (thanks, Canada!). But it gets active when I’m feeling unusual levels of stress. It manifests in my hip, my jaw, and my eye.

Early in November, I could barely open my mouth. What’s up? I thought. The TMJ isn’t usually a big deal! Where is this coming from?

Eventually the jaw pain subsided. Then my hip started to ache; for a couple of days I struggled to get up out of beds and chairs, and walking was tough. I blamed the shift in my workout schedule, what with the move and everything, and I blamed my new penchant for stair-climbing on the Niagara Escarpment, one of my new home town of Hamilton’s many outdoor pleasures.

But, after the hip pain passed and my jaw was back to normal, I began to notice that looking into the light hurt my eye. (I’ve felt this many times before – I carry the drugs with me.) The iritis typically arrives in times of significant stress. I was confused. I wasn’t stressed! I was ON SABBATICAL!

I looked at the date on the bottle of drops I’m currently carrying in case of iritis while traveling (I’m in England this week). I was sure my last bout had been this time last year. But: the prescription date said 27 April 2017.

What was happening in late April? I thought to myself. My term was over. Marking was complete. Sabbatical was just ahead!

And: I had just started house-hunting.

The penny dropped.

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Where does stress come from? For me, it comes from any labour I need to do, or expect myself to do, or am expected by others to do, that pressurizes me in some way. If I do not do this thing I will let someone down. I will let myself down. If X is not done now, Y cannot get done next. Things to do, work ahead.

“Work” in this case is a pressure born of expectations internal as well as external, and it does not actually distinguish between “paid” and “unpaid”, “professional” and “personal”. Ask every woman who has ever worked at home for free, keeping a house and raising kids. Not stressful? Not pressurizing? Not labour? NO WAY.

As a feminist scholar and a cultural materialist, I am very well aware that what has historically been called “women’s work” – the work of caring for lives, maintaining a life, for self and others – is every inch “work”, though it is often disregarded as “just life”, which is one key way that patriarchy systemically denigrates domestic and social labour as bon-bon eating privilege.

(FYI, I’d like to invite everyone who has ever had someone else maintain their home comforts for them to give home-work a shot for a week or so and see how many bon-bons you manage to swallow.)

So, anyway, as a clever feminist, you’d think I’d have cottoned on, long ago, to the fact that I was not actually working less on my sabbatical, that I was not just busy recalibrating and bouncing through the daisies.

Nope. I was actually working more.

Here, let me revisit again the things I have done on my sabbatical. This time, I’m going to list everything, all mixed together, that has been a source of pressure or anxiety – a source of physical, intellectual, OR emotional “work” – rather than distinguishing between “paid job” and “just life”. Suddenly things get both scarier, and clearer.

On Kim’s sabbatical she:

  • wrote most of book (37,000 of 50,000 words)
  • bought house in Hamilton, ON
  • sold house in London, ON
  • organized conference (with four other amazing humans who read this blog – thanks friends at Central!!)
  • moved out of house in London, ON
  • moved into house in Hamilton, ON
  • read a whack of article abstracts for Research in Drama Education
  • had new house painted up and down
  • prepared new issue of journal I edit (Theatre Research in Canada)
  • had new bathroom, carpets, skylight installed in new house
  • helped dog manage moving stress
  • discovered asbestos in new house, coped
  • peer-reviewed book manuscript for a major university press
  • peer-reviewed applications for fellowships at a European university
  • collected non-driving new boyfriend from his house 30km away many times
  • coped with having new boyfriend in house often, which is wonderful but also a source of disruption, of course
  • wrote a bunch of reference letters for students as well as peers
  • answered about a thousand emails
  • met about 25 new neighbours (all of them splendid – yay! – but small talk is hard work)
  • found new cycling club and new rowing club, tried them out, joined
  • forwarded a bunch of emails not meant for me because SABBATICAL
  • cooked a Thanksgiving turkey.

I know there are things I’m forgetting. But even so, oh my, what a lot of work I’ve been doing! And when you factor in the part where I’ve only actually been considering about 1/3 of the above list as actual “work” in my mind, and therefore shaming myself for being so tired and anxious all the time, it’s no wonder my lovely AS has gone into overdrive and knocked me sideways since early November.

I’ve been mulling all of this stuff over for the last week or so. I began by thinking to myself, “work-life balance” is total bullshit! But then I realized that what we are up against here is not a problem concept, but rather problem language. Words actualize our expectations; they caused a problem for me this autumn because I failed to see the “work” in “life” and therefore was very hard on myself.

What I really needed was not more “life”. What I needed was more REST. A lot of it.

Work-Life-Balance 3d

What would it mean for us to recalibrate our expectations around work-life balance by renaming it “work-rest balance”? I don’t mean here to suggest that there aren’t many among us who could not do with a lot less time at the office, and a lot more time with spouse and kids and cooking and so forth, however much work those things might also bring with them. And I know for some of us the work of things like cooking and vacuuming is actually quite pleasurable. (In fact, I relax by ironing. NO REALLY.)

But we can’t stop there, because playing with your kids is ALSO tiring, right? And dressing them, feeding them, and taking them to soccer most certainly is. It’s essential we get enough rest, outside of all the work commitments in our busy work-lives; otherwise we will not be at our best, and we will not feel good in our bodies, and we will not feel good in our hearts.

This is a lesson I first learned from a cycling coach years ago, and it’s a lesson that I think applies universally. You need to rest your body and your mind in order to improve your performance next time. In order to sustain the gains you make, and make more gains, you need a lot of down time. It’s part of the cycle of renewal that leads to doing the good work we all want to do more of at home and at the office and out in the world.

It’s almost the winter break, for most of us. Let’s pledge to rest for real. Take stock of the work you need to do over the holiday – the home-work as well as the paid-work – and then set aside times for rest that equal, as much as possible, the time needed for the tasks on your plate.

This is the true purpose of the un-schedule, I suspect. More on that next week.

Warmest wishes,

Kim