In Activism, So As In Fitness… And In Teaching (a post by friend of the blog Marjorie Hundtoft)

Many of our readers know that Kim often writes for the popular academic//fitness blog Fit is a Feminist Issue. A few days ago, FiFi blogger Marjorie Hundtoft, who teaches middle school in Portland, Oregon, wrote a superb piece about the links among activism, teaching, and fitness that really resonated for us with the conversation post we shared on 26 October.

Kelsey has been worried about losing the “activism” in her classrooms among all the Zooms and the COVID panics and all the other weighty stuff that is occupying our brains and sapping our energy stores as teachers right now; Kim offered some thoughts in response. Marjorie, though – who is living and working in one of several “ground zero” spots this US election cycle – had concrete ideas to share, and has graciously agreed for us to reblog her work here. We hope it is inspiring and joyful!

[The post below originally appeared here on 27 October 2020.]

A glorious sunrise over a verdant field. We here at the AC hope hard that tomorrow’s sunrise brings a truly brand-new day.

As we all look towards next week and what so many of us hope will be the end of an extraordinary chapter in American history, I find myself reflecting upon the last four years and how my life has been shaped in the face of such tumultuous times. I’ve always considered my work as an educator serving disadvantaged communities to be a form of activism and empowerment, but after the election of Trump, I found myself needing to do more.

I got involved in my union, started going to rallies and protests far more frequently, wrote more letters, signed more petitions, spoke out more often, and attended conferences to build my skills, network with other activists, and improve my effectiveness. During this time, I also became a better runner and a more consistent, and stronger, lifter.

These two parts of my world, my activism and my fitness, reinforce each other, give me strength, and feed my soul in complementary ways. In no particular order, here are some parallel truths I’ve noted between activism, living an active life and the perseverance, tenacity, and ups and downs of doing the work over the long term.

Everything counts. Do something.

Embrace practices that play to your strengths.

Embrace opportunities to bring up your weaknesses.

It’s never too late, and we’re never too old, to get started.

Focus on what can be done, not on what limits us.

There will be “seasons” to our efforts, which is absolutely ok. In fact, it’s necessary to acknowledge so that we have the energy to keep doing the work over the long haul.

Progress is rarely linear.

Having the time is about priorities and setting boundaries.

Most of our efforts would benefit from getting more high quality sleep.

It’s ok, and maybe even advisable, to specialize for a while and develop “your thing.”

Recovery is just as important as pushing hard.

“Balance” looks like different levels of effort and commitment at different points in time.

Don’t rely on motivation, which can be fickle; instead build routines and habits to keep doing the work when passions recede.

Nothing is more inspiring than finally getting started.

Accountability and community in the form of friends with shared values and shared efforts goes a long way.

A certain amount of discomfort is required in order for there to be growth and change.

Consistency trumps perfection.

Remember this work is a privilege.

Celebrate every victory, regardless of how small. (And then go out and do the next thing.)

And finally: avoid confusing the goal for the work. Even if I lift the weight, run the miles, and hold government officials accountable, the work is not over. Next week, whatever happens on Election Day, the work of my activism will continue. The skills I’ve learned in fitness to push through the hard times, to reprioritize my time as my needs change, and to focus on the process over the outcome have served me well as I’ve shifted my energies and gotten more involved in politics and advocacy. I really want to be on the winning team next week. I’m tired of feeling so angry, and hopeless, frustrated, and scared. My life in fitness has shown me that I can weather whatever challenges face me next, but I’m really ready to take a break from what feels like endless new hurdles and celebrate some victories for a little while! Whatever comes, I raise a glass to all of my fellow activists and the efforts you’ve made alongside me these past four years. It is an honor to do this work with you!

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found organizing fellow educators, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again, in Portland, Oregon.

In praise of resting

(NB: A version of this post originally appeared this morning on Fit is a Feminist Issue, the terrific fitness and wellness blog for humans of all genders curated by my colleagues Tracy Isaacs [Western University] and Samantha Brennan [University of Guelph]. Thanks to them both for the ongoing opportunity to reflect on the ways different aspects of my life interrelate! I’m reposting this here because, well, rest is both a feminist issue AND an academic issue…)

I’ve been finished my teaching for the winter term for about a month now. Finals are over and marked; my campus office (which is moving this summer back across the lawn to my faculty’s newly – and beautifully – restored heritage building) is packed up. The book I was writing all autumn and winter is done, dusted, and in production.

So why am I still so tired all the time?

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(Peppermint Pattie, head on desk and looking glum, says: SO TIRED.)

I’m not one to give myself a break – I’m a high-functioning type-A kind of woman, and I am as productive and successful as I am professionally because of this.

But life isn’t work. And I am also 43 years old. I can’t pull all-nighters anymore. And TBH most evenings I am ready for bed by 10:30 (no more clubbing for me).

Now, sleep I get quite a lot of – and FFI is a blog that supports good, effective sleep as part of our human wellness. (Sam has written before about being a champion sleeper. I envy her ability to conk out on airplanes!)

But REST is more than only sleep. And for me rest is another matter.

I was at my friend Nat’s house for supper two weeks ago and we talked about parenting and sleep deprivation. Nat’s kids are still quite young and the 3am wake-ups are still happening. She feels insanely sleep-deprived right now, as does her partner.

We all talked about the idea that, if it’s a matter of choosing between exercise and sleeping, the sleep-deprived should hit snooze rather than clamber out of bed early to run 5 miles. (Read more here about the interrelationship of sleep and exercise.)

Similarly, I once had a cycling coach who reminded me that resting is as important as training – resting is a key part of training, in fact. And resting means resting: it doesn’t mean digging up the garden, staining the deck, cleaning all the windows upstairs, or even walking the dog for two hours in the forest.

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(Emma the Dog on a path in Cootes Paradise, Hamilton, Ontario. “Whaddaya mean rest doesn’t include walkies??”)

Rest actually means sitting or lying comfortably and allowing your body to replenish itself. It means sleeping if sleep is what is required. It means eating good, healthy food in good proportions, and/or eating specific foods required for your body’s replenishment before another day of training hard. These might include proteins, or carbs, or a variety of things.

Ice cream or cake too, if you’re looking for a cheery treat! I always go for the milkshake, personally.

I have realized over the last month of being on my summer schedule that I’m not resting enough. I’m exhausted all the time because my brain convinces me that I need always to be working – if not tapping on my computer then digging up the garden or cleaning the windows or walking the dog. I also train a lot – riding and rowing 2-3 times a week each, with one rest day somewhere in there – and the impetus to get in the boat, or on the bike for at least 90 minutes at a shot (and usually more like 3 hours at a shot) also often feels like “work” pressure for me.

So no wonder I’m tired. I’m running on empty a lot of the time!

I woke up yesterday morning realizing that, in fact, the world would not end if I did practically nothing that day. My boyfriend was visiting; we could spend the day together being pretty chill (including lying in bed far longer than usual) and hanging out and the internet would not explode. My email (as usual) could wait. So could the other 450 urgent things that do not, ever never never, constitute an academic emergency.

(My therapist once helpfully reminded me: there is no such thing as an academic emergency.)

But when I looked at the clock and realized it was 10am I also felt a surge of guilt.

And here’s the rub. Yes, I need to recalibrate my relationship to rest, but it’s not just a matter of me making a series of individual choices – this isn’t all about me and it is not all about my free will.

It’s also related to the way our culture moralizes movement and rest – in the same way it moralizes food, something we talk about on FFI a lot. (See here, for example, a post by Tracy Isaacs about food being beyond “good” and “evil”.)

In the so-called “West” or “Global North” many of us live in cultures that believe rising late is “lazy,” while getting up early to head off to toil at our jobs is a virtue. School is a terrible one for this: is starts so very goddamn early!

But why?

Research suggests this belief in early-to-rise is not by any means universally supportable: teenagers, for example, actually need up to 10 hours of sleep per night, and their shifting body rhythms are at odds with the wake-up-early-rush-to-school pace our cultures usually enforce. No wonder they are all yawning in 8:30am Bio! (See here for more on teenage sleep needs.)

My own body clock, I’ve discovered thanks to the flexibility of my job, works like this: I want to go to bed between 10 and 11:30pm (it can vary depending on when I had my last cup of coffee in the day), and I want to wake up around 9am. 8:30am is also fine. But if my alarm is set for, say, 7am, I’m usually woken in the middle of a dream (REM sleep), and I’m instantly fuzzy. The day doesn’t improve from there.

I like to sleep late. I really do. This used to drive my mother CRAZY; it seemed, well, “bad” and “lazy”. (I remember her waking me up by spraying me with water from the plant mister. No, really. Waking up as punishment! Sounds about right…)

And yet: I’m still a high-functioning professional. I was an A student. And I’m a good cyclist. And a good friend and partner and teacher and writer and daughter and doggie guardian… and human being.

So let’s all try, together, to work on our relationship to the concept of rest. It’s something we lack in our academic jobs as much as in our daily lives, and the lack of it is enforced by a series of cultural norms (aka, the good old neoliberal university…) that also value capitalism, individualism, and (dare I say it) covert or overt forms of Protestantism – that value progress over process, over taking one’s time for discovery, and over the pace shifts required to nurture proper creativity.

I’ll write more about time and space later in the summer (after I’ve enjoyed more of it, and thought more about it, along with colleagues working on my new research project). For now, though: on your own rest days, remember to put your feet up, grab a book or the Netflix, and don’t forget the milkshake. Not because you “deserve it” – but because you are simply human.

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(A photo with two milkshakes in the foreground. On the left is a brown/chocolate one, with whipped cream and a cherry on top. On the right is a mint-coloured one with whipped cream and a mint leaf on top. In soft focus behind them and staggered to one side are two stainless steel mixing containers. I’d like the chocolate one, please!)

Be well-rested!

Kim

You are, in yourself, wonderful. Even in the darkest months, it’s true!

END OF TERM. Oh god. I could not be more tired and I think I’ve cried enough in the past week that I may be accidentally mistaken for a hormonal 12-year-old. But nope, still an adult: just an adult under maximum end of semester stress. AAGGHH!!!

If I think I’m in trouble, though, just imagine my poor students! I have 42 years of figuring out how to be resilient, eat well, manage stress, get enough sleep. And still I’m a weepy mess! Which makes me think, as I walk into my classrooms in these last few days of the term and look into their eyes, how hard it must be for all of them to be keeping their shit together right now.

(Indeed, on Tuesday, our “performance action” showcase day in my undergraduate class, I learned that one of the students had just lost a loved one on the weekend. Still this student showed up and pulled out a great performance. THAT is resilience; it’s also really hard, when you’re, like, 19. HUGE kudos.)

All this to say I was both delighted and relieved to see, this morning in my daily blog digest, an uplifting and inspiring post by the amazing Carly, who also writes with me at Fit is a Feminist Issue, about student mental and sexual health.

I’m linking the post HERE; it’s called “all bodies are good bodies, my body is a good body: affirmation as a path to better health”. Please have a read, especially if there are young people in your life who may be struggling with identity issues and/or issues of shame and fear around their gender and sexuality right now. (I’m 42 and totally [ok, mostly] clear on who I am as a sexual human, but STILL I felt much, much better about myself and my own choices after reading this moving, tender post.)

What’s it about? Carly writes of an amazing project she was involved with at Planned Parenthood Toronto, creating affirmation postcards with young people for wide distribution among centres and constituencies where those in need could find them and take strength and solace from them. The best part? If you feel inspired – for your students, your kids, the kids around your neighbourhood, the kids who hang out at the community centre on the corner of your street, the kids in trouble who live in the ravine near your house (that’s me)… – you can download the PDF of the postcards the team made, print them out, and share them on your own, near and far and wide.

What a wonderful gift, this first day of Advent 2016.

(PLUS: this is a terrific opportunity to support Planned Parenthood in kind, if you cannot afford to make a donation, at this precarious time for this incredibly important organisation.)

Enjoy, be strong, feel complete in yourself!

Kim

Writing abroad (Dispatches from the end of summer…)

I’ve not posted in this space in a couple of weeks, partly because it’s the end of the summer (oh blessed goddess, where did the summer go?!), and partly because I’ve been writing and posting elsewhere. I’m very happy to be part of a couple of different online communities, and I’m also very happy to share my contributions to those communities here with you.

I’ve taken on a new monthly gig with Fit is a Feminist Issue, run by my two colleagues and friends Sam Brennan and Tracy Isaacs; I reblogged my first regular post with them at the end of last month (check it out here), and this week I contributed my second regular post, on the exercise challenges my mom faces as a person living with dementia in a wheelchair, and how she and I are addressing those challenges using retail therapy. This one is called “Shopping is my cardio (no, really!)”, and you can have a look at it here.

Last Friday I also reviewed a piece of local theatre for Keith Tomasek, the brains behind Stratfordfestivalreviews.com. Keith does his utmost to draw much-needed attention to local performance work in Southwestern Ontario, beginning with work showcased at the acclaimed Stratford Festival of Canada and branching off from there. I’m both grateful to Keith for what he does for the arts in our communities and keen to support his commitment to thoughtful, engaged, critical theatre reviewing whenever I can. My review, of Troubadour Theatre Collective‘s terrific production of David Hare’s classic 1995 play Skylight, is available here.

That’s it from me for now! I hope these treats make tasty end of summer reading, and that your days at the beach aren’t quite done…yet.

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Next week I’ll be back to start the semester with that promised post about costume dramas, redux – featuring thoughts on Outlander season 2, Orange is the New Black, and Strange Empire. Feminist historical fiction, here we come.

Till then!

Kim

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!
Kim

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

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.

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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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