We need to fight for community care

Content Warning: suicide, suicidal ideation, sexual assault, rape

 

 

I almost didn’t make it out of high school alive.

That probably sounds extremely melodramatic, but it’s just a fact.

One evening, in the spring of 2002, after my parents had gone to bed, I took every prescription pill I could find in the house, and swallowed them. Not sure about the process I’d halfway unwittingly started in my body, and worried that, this time, like all the times before, I’d be unsuccessful, I crept downstairs to the kitchen and grabbed a paring knife. I wanted to slit my wrists. It turns out that I couldn’t bring myself to cut very deeply.

At some point, something in my mind shifted. I realized that my parents would wake me up the next morning, see the cuts on my wrists, and force me to go to a psychiatric hospital. I panicked.

After a very long, painful, and terrifying time staring at my parents’ bedroom door, I knocked.

“I think I need stitches,” I said.

This incident followed years of self-harm, anorexia, and risky sexual behavior.

When I was eight, I was sexually assaulted by an older friend. It happened in the middle of the night at a rowdy sleepover. It must have been witnessed by at least one other party attendee, because not long afterwards, I began to be ruthlessly bullied at school by students, and eventually, teachers too.

The first time I remember wanting to die, I had climbed up to the highest point (that I could reach) of the apartment building we lived in, and tried to find the courage to fling myself from it. I was nine years old—not even one full year after my sexual assault.

It only seemed natural, then, that seven years later, I almost succeeded in taking my own life.

In many ways, I was lucky. I got the community support, therapy, and medication I needed to cope better with my trauma, depression, and anxiety.

Despite continuing to struggle with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, for many years I was more or less stable. I even stopped taking anti-depressants for a long time. I felt like I really knew how to handle my depression; that nothing like that horrific night my sophomore year would ever happen again.

Then, in the spring of the second year in my PhD program, I had a very private emotional breakdown.

My grandfather had passed away the year before, slowly and painfully. My then partner was emotionally abusive, and had raped me more than once (though I was completely unable to articulate it at the time). I was being bullied by a few students in one of my sections of a writing course. To top it all off, my neurologist had changed my meds again. While Keppra, which I take to control my epilepsy, has no nasty physical side effects, it turns out, though I didn’t realize it at the time, that for me, it has the effect of massively increasing my anxiety and depression.

At no point did I think to ask for help. I didn’t want to be a burden on my already heavily burdened network of grad school friends. And I didn’t want to worry my parents or my friends at home. I was afraid of being labelled as a problem or a failure by faculty, so I said nothing. I asked for nothing.

Before long, I felt like a complete failure as a teacher, scholar, romantic partner, and friend. I still went to work. I still went to classes. I still managed smiles and laughter. I don’t think anyone knew anything was wrong.

And then, just before spring break, I’d had enough. After being bullied by students for months while struggling to remain completely neutral and professional in the classroom, I learned that I had not been successful in any of my applications for administrative roles. It seemed like the universe was telling me: “You’ll never cut it. You’re not good enough or smart enough.”

A thought began to control my mind: “It would have been better for everyone if you had just cried yourself to sleep when you were 16.” It would have been better if I had just succeeded.

In the space of a single night where I neither ate nor slept, I came up with a suicide plan. It was elaborate and thorough, and I obsessed over it.

I was going to slowly pull away from all of my friends, break up with my partner, re-home my cat, and donate all of my things to those in need. Then I’d clean out my car, drive to the middle of nowhere, step out of the car, and shoot myself.

Of course, this never happened.

Again, I was saved by access to insurance to cover therapy sessions and anti-depressants, and, most importantly, a supportive community.

Recently, a woman in my field died by suicide in her own office. She was, by all accounts, successful, well-liked, engaged, and engaging. This death is a reminder to all of us of the suffering that so many are experiencing in academia, whether they are students or faculty. Part of my decision to tell my story, gratuitous though some may view it, is to share that, ultimately, the only reason I’m still here, still working, still writing, is access to medical insurance which means I never lose access to my medications, as well as access to therapists when I need them.

It’s important to point out, however, that comprehensive medical coverage is not enough. In my case, every time I’ve been struggling, the first step to actually making use of my insurance is reaching out to and/or being reached out to by friends and family. This community provides ears for listening, voices for  encouragement, companions for exercise activities, hands for food prep, and anything else I might need, and vice versa.

We have had to build this, however, and it’s been difficult. No institution I have ever been at has had any official channels for supporting this kind of community care, and it becomes even harder to come by after the PhD, in the ever-so-lonely and stressful years of the early career academic.

I take time now to sleep, and to go to the gym during my work day. I refuse to answer emails on weekends. I eat when I need to. I do my best to only take on work that I care about and have time for. But, like so many others, my current institution provides no real support for this. It asks just as much of me and others, as any other business of late capitalism. It expects me to work far more than 35 hours per week (the current benchmark for full-time work in the U.K., where I live), without any expectation of remuneration for my surplus labor, and no time for real, extended rest. According to the university logic, if I am to be successful, if I am to keep my job, then I must literally become and live my work.

We need to do better at the institutional level and at the departmental level of academia not only in bargaining collectively for access to comprehensive medical insurance coverage, necessary paid time off, and more humane expectations of productivity. But we must do better to check in on people, and, even more importantly, to de-stigmatize mental illness. To refuse to valorize work for work’s sake. We must develop a culture that values space for reflection, relaxation, and rest.

Our very lives are at stake.

 

 

Should you always complete the fic?

Everywhere I go, I meet someone new who loves fanfiction. It’s pretty great, actually. Recently, I went out to dinner with my spouse and one of his colleague’s project partners. As it typically does for academics (and maybe any group of adults meeting each other), the question—And what do you do?—came up. I explained that I worked at King’s, and that I studied online fanfiction writers.

The dinner guest of honor, let’s call her A, suddenly got what I’m beginning to think of as “the look.” “The look” is that strange combination of mild embarrassment, sly acknowledgement of a shared code, and mostly, delight at meeting another fan.

Image result for andy dwyer excited gif

[I wish everyone responded like this.]

“I love fanfiction,” A said.

I smiled in response, and dove in.

My research usually gets only one of two responses: either, “Huh. I didn’t know they awarded PhDs for that kind of thing.”

bored board meeting GIF by Veep HBO

 

Or, following “the look,” “Oh my god, I’m really into X fic right now!”

picard is excite

We spoke for a while about fanfiction we loved, and, as I usually do, I let A run the conversation. I always enjoy learning about others’ fan experiences, especially since I’ve been so deeply embedded in studying my own. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear from another fan, especially in an unexpected place—like dinner with three biologists.

Eventually, we came to the subject of writing versus reading fanfic. I explained that I had actually written very little, since I started writing a massive opus around the end of my college years, but I stopped about two years later, when grad school took over basically everything in my life.

“I hate unfinished fics!” A lamented. “Though I understand why they happen.”

“Maybe I should just finish it,” I said, “I mean, I know how it ends. I just haven’t written it yet.”

“You should!” she replied enthusiastically.

I’ve been thinking about this conversation ever since, and the question I keep coming back to is: Should I really finish this fic?

It’s been twelve years since I started this story. At the time, I was 21 years old, and just completing an undergraduate degree in linguistics. At the time, I had been reading almost exclusively Hermione-Severus fic, and I had never stopped thinking about the fic that got me into the ship in the first place—a 50-odd chapter epic about time travel, changing history gone wrong, and, ultimately, love. I set out to write my own epic about time travel and love starring a mostly young Severus Snape and an original character, OC, based heavily on some strange internal fantasy I had of “ideal story me.” I day-dreamed the plot in its entirety one evening after hours in the fic archives, and I’ve never forgotten it.

The problem is: I don’t identify with the person who wrote that story anymore. I certainly don’t identify with the OC/Mary Sue I wrote then. I no longer seek some strange Hollywood-type beauty, and I’ve grown beyond writing cisnormative and heteronormative characters. Most importantly, when I was 21, after reading thousands of H/S fics, I was less worried about a 23-year-old character becoming fond of a 17-year-old Severus Snape, and, eventually, once he turned 18, becoming his lover—at least within the confines of a fic.

When I look back, so much about this fic captured a moment in my life that I remember, but do not necessarily feel close to anymore. What’s more, I feel like much of fandom, especially my own, has moved beyond a number of the tropes I was working with at the time.

I’m stuck between knowing how much fans hate an unfinished story, and feeling icky about the clichés in the story I started more than a decade ago. I love aspects of it, still, but I’m not sure finishing it is the right thing. (Not to mention that I’ve got plenty of writing on my plate as it is, at the moment.)

My fan self, and my academic self, has grown so much since then, and it’s hard to look at that story with anything other than squeamishness.

I’ll continue to consider A’s comment that I should finish the story. But maybe sometimes a reader’s disappointment about an unfinished fic is a writer’s disconnection with what that fic represented when they started it.

 

 

Taking Steps to Address Structural Whiteness—Fan Studies Network Conference 2019

Before I review this year’s Fan Studies Network Conference, I’d like to take a moment to signal boost some scholars already doing fantastic work on race in fandom:

 

The Conference

FSN

The Fan Studies Network Conference 2019 took place this past 28-29 June in Portsmouth, U.K. As usual, there were multiple fascinating panels with a wide range of foci, from fandom across generations, to the particularities of fan labour and copyright, to music fandom and the role of the digital playlist on platforms such as Spotify. However, by far, the recurring theme of this year’s conference asked us, as fan studies scholars and fans, to begin to account for the structural whiteness of our field (and in fandom). This theme came up multiple times throughout the conference—namely in Lori Morimoto’s keynote, the panel on fan methodologies, specifically in Dr. Rukmini Pande’s presentation, and of course the conference fishbowl discussion.

The conference kicked off with Lori Morimoto’s keynote, “What a difference a name makes: Transculturating fan studies,” where she talked about how to move beyond early scholarship’s view of “the fan,” who was often left unmarked in the literature, yet was almost always white, middle class, English-speaking, cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, and from the United States or U.K. Lori spoke insightfully and candidly about her own experiences discovering transcultural (and transnational) fandoms, when her family moved to Hong Kong during her teenage years. In that moment, she was faced with a whole different world of entertainment and fandom that has continued to affect how she identifies as both fan and fan scholar.

Her key points about how to do transcultural work are:

  1. Name Your Subjects: Be specific about the fandom and fans you’re working with. Don’t leave ‘white, middle class’ unmarked.
  2. Read and Listen Outside of Your Comfort Zone: Read and listen to multiple different fan works and fan research.
  3. Collaborate: One really important and effective way to overcome language and knowledge barriers in our work is to reach out to fellow fans and fan scholars.

Lori’s keynote set a good precedent for the conference, but it became clear very quickly, as the fishbowl began, that while we might be comfortable discussing transnational fandoms (as well as gender, sexuality, disability, and mental health) as a field, we are not yet sure how to discuss race, or the structured whiteness so many of us not only work within but benefit from.

The room was filled with tension and uncertainty as the fishbowl began. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a fishbowl discussion is where a smaller group of people discuss a topic while an audience looks on. In this case, speakers could leave when they felt ready, and/or agree to make space for new speakers entering from the audience.

fishbowl

 

I am still not sure this was an ideal format, given the size of the audience and the room. Not to mention that while the use of menti.com allowed for many interesting and important questions to be raised, very few of these were actually addressed during the fishbowl. What’s more, by the time participants became slightly more comfortable with the format, it was already almost time for the discussion to end. Finally, as perhaps might be expected, the majority of participants in the fishbowl (and I count myself among them) were self-identifying as white (with all the complications that alone can bring) and did not, with a few exceptions, address what structured whiteness might be/look like and how it affects them in their daily lives, research, and work. (Again, I’m not without blame here—I did point out that we all had the responsibility of clearly naming our subjects, including when we are working with white, middle class, US-based, English-speaking participants—but I did not have the courage to point out an example.)

However, while there were many issues with the format, as well as some of the questions that were raised, ultimately an important conversation was started this year that I can only hope will continue into future conferences, publications, courses, research topics/proposals, and more. For now, there are some important take-aways that I’d like to highlight here:

  • As white scholars, it is our responsibility to begin naming structural whiteness in the fandoms we research and in the work we do. We need not only make it clear what we are studying, but how the structural whiteness of some of these topics affects the participants themselves, as well as other various fandoms. Finally, we need to be prepared to question and critique fandoms’ racist behaviours.
  • Moreover, as white scholars, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves about race, whiteness, and transcultural fandoms and fan studies by reading widely, and learning how to listen rather than speak.
  • We must practice citations politically. We need to cite multiple scholars, including transcultural, transnational scholars of colour. We need to change the fan studies canon.

Finally, importantly, as Rukmini Pande put it during her presentation, “How (not) to talk about race: A critique of methodological practices in fan studies,” (D1):

 

“Repeat after me, ‘white’ is a racialized identity!”

 

We’ve got what we need to get started, now it’s time to start.

Before I go, here’s one great resource for interdisciplinary and transcultural work in fan studies: https://airtable.com/shrN9VTKPFLdPOlzI (Made by my lovely colleagues Ludi Price (@LudiPrice) and Nele Noppe (@unjapanologist).

Seeking Survey Participants – How do fans find stories they like?

 

CALLING ALL FANFICTION READERS!

Dr. Kristen Schuster and I recently started a study focusing how fans find, read, and evaluate stories in online fanfiction sites such as fanfictoin.net, Archive of Our Own, and Tumblr. If you read fanfiction, and you’ve got about 20 minutes to spare, please consider taking this survey (and sharing it with others!). Information regarding the survey is included below.  

[King’s College London Ethical Clearance Reference Number: MRA-18/19-12588]

Invitation Paragraph

We would like to invite you to participate in this research project which forms part of our ongoing engagement with online fanwriters and their community practices. Before you decide whether you want to take part, it is important for you to understand why the research is being done and what your participation will involve. Please take time to read the following information carefully and discuss it with others if you wish. Feel free to ask us if there is anything that is not clear or if you would like more information.

Our contact information is here and below:

Brittany Kelley: brittany.kelley@kcl.ac.uk

Kristen Schuster: kristen.schuster@kcl.ac.uk

What is the purpose of the study?

The purpose of the study is to better understand how our fellow fans search for the kinds of fanfiction stories they like, and how they evaluate these stories as they read, comment, and continue to search for fan-made content. Because we participate in online fanfiction communities, we understand some of the ways that fans might find, rate, and comment on certain types of stories, but we also do not want to speak for all fanfiction readers. Therefore, we would love to hear from you, to see what kinds of differences exist across the fanfiction community online.

Why have I been invited to take part?

You are being invited to participate in this study because you consider yourself to be a fan, and because you read fanfiction online. You may read this fanfiction at a range of sites (including fanfiction.net, Archive of Our Own, and/or Tumblr), or only at one specific site, such as Sycophant Hex.

Please note that, due to ethical concerns in the United Kingdom, where we are based, you must be 18 years or older to participate in this survey.

What will happen if I take part?

If you choose to take part in the study you will be asked to complete the following survey. This survey includes three sections, and should not take longer than 20 minutes to complete. All questions are entirely voluntary, and you can stop at any time for any reason. As part of participation, you will be asked to provide some demographic information (including gender, race, sexuality, nationality, etc.), but you may choose not to answer any question you feel uncomfortable with. No personal information will be gathered as part of this survey, and all results will be completely anonymous.

Do I have to take part?

Participation is completely voluntary. You should only take part if you want to, and choosing not to take part will not disadvantage you in anyway. Once you have read the information sheet, please contact us if you have any questions that will help you make a decision about taking part. If you decide to take part, please press the continue button below.

What are the possible risks of taking part?

There are no foreseeable risks to taking part in this research. The questions regarding race, gender, and sexuality may make some participants feel uncomfortable, but you can choose not to answer these questions.

What are the possible benefits of taking part?

The benefit of taking part of this study is that you get to share your online fan experience with other interested fans who have a vested interest in fairly representing the amazing community work that fans do in online fanfiction communities.

Data handling and confidentiality

Your data will be processed in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation 2016 (GDPR). No personal data will be collected as part of this survey; all answers are completely anonymous. In addition, after the completion of our survey on 31 August 2019, we will download all data from our online form, and delete the data from our online, password-protected space. We will purge all raw data within three years of the completion of this project, or by 31 August 2022.

Data Protection Statement

The data controller for this project will be King’s College London (KCL). The University will process this data for the purpose of the research outlined above. The legal basis for processing data for research purposes under GDPR is a ‘task in the public interest’. You can provide your consent for the use of your data in this study by completing the survey.

You have the right to access information held about you. Your right of access can be exercised in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation. You also have other rights including rights of correction, erasure, objection, and data portability. Questions, comments and requests about your personal data can also be sent to the King’s College London Data Protection Officer Mr Albert Chan info-compliance@kcl.ac.uk. If you wish to lodge a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office, please visit www.ico.org.uk.

What if I change my mind about taking part?

You are free withdraw at any point of the study, without having to give a reason. Withdrawing from the study will not affect you in any way. However, once you have completed the survey, it would be difficult to pull your data, since all data is entered anonymously, and no other personally-identifying information (such as email addresses, pictures, etc.) will be taken as part of this survey. Please do contact us if you have any questions or concerns regarding this.

What will happen to the results of the study?

The results of the study will be summarised in scholarly publications, including an article and a larger book project. If you would like access to these reports, please feel free to contact us.

Who should I contact for further information?

If you have any questions or require more information about this study, please contact us using the following contact details:

Dr Brittany Kelley

Teaching Fellow in Digital Cultures

Department of Digital Humanities

King’s College London

brittany.kelley@kcl.ac.uk

 

Dr Kristen Schuster

Lecturer in Digital Curation

Department of Digital Humanities

King’s College London

kristen.schuster@kcl.ac.uk

What if I have further questions, or if something goes wrong?

If this study has harmed you in any way or if you wish to make a complaint about the conduct of the study you can contact King’s College London using the details below for further advice and information:

The Chair, Ms Elsa Ludlam, rec@kcl.ac.uk

Thank you for reading this information sheet and for considering taking part in this research.

 

SURVEY LINK: tiny.cc/14ri7y 

Seeking Participants – Study on Family and Fandom

Are you a fanfic writer? Do you think of fandom as your family? Do you write about different kinds of families in your stories? Do you just want to talk about your fanfic with someone who loves fandom? Consider taking part in my study. More info below.

What is the study?

I am starting a follow-up study this week on family and fandom. This is an extension of earlier work I did where I looked at fandom, reading and writing, identity, and emotion. Basically, I want to know more about the complex roles that family plays in: discovering fandom; staying in fandom; and writing fics. “Family” is defined very broadly here. It can mean: the family you were born into; being adopted into a family / or adopting a child; family that has chosen you and/or that you have chosen. I’m looking to interview you about your own fannish experiences.

This study has two major components: a general interview about your participation in online fandom, the stories you write, and how family fits into that. With further consent, I’d love to do a guided interview to discuss how “family” was written into different fics. Interviews can be done: in person, over Skype (or a similar application), or via email. The hope is that any individual interview will not take longer than 45 minutes, unless you want it to.

What is the goal of the study?

As a long-time fan and sometime fanwriter myself, I am curious to better understand how and why we fans do what we do. In addition, because I am a teacher, I continually seek to better understand how and why people continue to do the reading and writing that they do in various communities and spaces. I have always been struck by the emotional richness and generosity of online fanwriting communities, and I believe that these communities have a lot to teach academics about how people learn and act in the world.

Therefore, the purpose of this study is to work towards developing better theories of learning and identity formation, particularly when it comes to reading and writing that happens in online spaces. In particular, the purpose of this study is to better understand what role family, however that is defined, plays in the overall emotional elements of reading, writing, and learning in online fan spaces.

Who can take part?

Are you 18 years old or older, and you love fanwriting? You’re in! (If you want to be.)

What will happen to participants?

If you agree to take part in the study, we will discuss the study and negotiate a consent form together. You can choose to: 1) go by your online fanfiction penname, or 2) choose a different penname. If you choose to go by a different penname, you will not be associated with any of your online writing.

If you choose to go by your original fanfiction penname, I will ask to conduct a guided interview to discuss how you decided to write about family in a specific story of interest. In this case, it is very likely that I will quote and analyse both the fan stories and interviews.

I will always share my writing with you before sharing it publicly in any way, which can include: in a teaching lecture or seminar, in an academic conference, in any kind of popular or academic publication. I welcome any and all commentary on what I have written. In addition, if you would prefer I remove something from the research record, I will.

I will stay in touch with you throughout the study. In addition, I will always contact you in the future if I would like to use the information from our interviews in a different way from the original study.

Why take part?

You get to talk to a super excited aca-fan who wants to know all about your fan experience (and, if you’re interested, share hers. Also, you get to have a say in how fans are represented to academics.

Are there any risks?

While you can always choose not to answer any questions you feel uncomfortable with, or to strike anything you may have said in an interview from the research record, it is possible that, because the study focuses on writing as well as emotion and family, that you may feel nervous or uncomfortable during the interviews. You will be asked questions about how you represent family in the stories that you write, and why. It is possible that these representations may not be positive, and may relate to negative experiences you may have had. If this is the case, you always have the option to refuse to answer a question, to stop the interview process, or even to pull from the study entirely. However, the interview questions will overwhelmingly focus largely on your stories and writing process, as well as how you got into fandom, rather than your specific family history.

What will Brittany do with the results?

The results of the study will be used in academic conference presentations and workshops. They will also be published in academic journal articles and/or book-length publications. The results may also be shared through my professional blog, www.bnkelley86.wordpress.com, but never without your prior consent. Finally, some findings may be shared with students, particularly in courses that focus on research methods and ethics. I will never share any raw interview data without your prior consent.

Interested? – Contact me!

brittany.kelley@kcl.ac.uk

You can also find me at Fanfiction.net and Archive of Our Own, as PhoenixSongFalling.

 

 

It’s time to stop valorizing workaholics

For a while now, I’ve been keeping track of the hours I work—just out of curiosity. In part. In part it’s also a way for me to comfortably assuage and affirm my fastidious nature. But, perhaps, even more so, it’s also—in part—a response to so much damaging discourse on work in academia.

When I was working on my MA degree in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I quickly enculturated into the more hours/less sleep competition. Or, in other words, the endless complaining-bragging that goes a little like this:

“Well, I only slept six hours last night.”

Or

“I’ve been working twelve-hour days.”

Of course, this activity provides well-needed bonding for graduate students. It’s one way for them to signal to each other: graduate school is hard and I am exhausted. Help!

But the responses to these kinds of statements were almost never: “That’s terrible! I’m so sorry!” Usually, they would go something like:

“I know! I worked seventeen hours yesterday, and I only got four hours of sleep!”

Add to this the “well-meaning” warnings from some of the tenure-track and tenured faculty that “faculty life is a lot harder than graduate school,” and you’ve got a recipe for an extremely unhealthy culture of work.

Just take a look at Nicholas A. Christakis’ recent tweet:

christakis tweet

Sure, it’s likely that, just like some of my professors, Christakis tweeted this from a disposition of goodwill—to prepare his students and post-docs for the reality of academic life in the sciences.

However, no matter how well-meaning his intent, his tweet is absolutely addressing the wrong part of the issue. In Christakis’ response, he paints the problem as:

“students aren’t adequately prepared for the realities of academia”

Instead of

“the academic culture of work is unhealthy and unsustainable.”

A much better approach would have been to admit to students that some weeks would be hard. That they’d work 80-100 hours sometimes. But, nonetheless, to encourage students to set firm boundaries on their time. To encourage them to rest and recuperate. To remind them that some of the best work comes from people who are well-rested—physically, mentally, and emotionally.

It might seem strange, then, that I count my work hours. But, despite my humanities training, and my penchant for slow, qualitative research, I enjoy bits of quantification. I like to count things like: hours worked, chapters or articles read, words written, deadlines met. It’s a way I use to congratulate myself on the little things (in fact, I reward myself with literal. gold. stickers in my calendar). This keeps me motivated to keep working in a job that’s so often defined by rejection and seeming (or real) failure. (So, so many job, conference, publication rejections—so, so many.)

In counting my work hours, though, I began to learn to negotiate what “work” means. When I first started this practice, I didn’t include meals or transport or official department events. But, this approach led to the same unhealthy work habits I mentioned before, not to mention crushing levels of guilt. So, I slowly started to work in things that really do count as work, even if they don’t always look like it. For example:

Department events (short of parties/informal drinks/meal meet-ups):

  • Recruitment events
  • Student-faculty meet-and-greets
  • New faculty hiring
  • Faculty (re)orientation
  • Faculty seminars
  • Faculty-student clubs (like the Digital Humanities Film Club I participated in last semester)

While many of these kinds of events are often not officially included in a faculty contract (except maybe under service), they are expected by your fellow departmental citizens, and they do require labor—a professional demeanor and emotional openness that is so often very tiring.

Transit time:

It took me sooo long to finally include this, despite the fact that I have often spent so much time traveling to and from work. For example, now that I work in London, I have about an hour commute both ways by train (with some walking). I often take that time to read and/or work on things like lectures, seminars, talks, or even responses to student work. (This morning I read Bourdieu’s Logic of Practice and started to mentally compose this blog post, for instance.) But even if I spend some time dozing—like I also did this morning on the early train—I still count this transit time, because this is time I could otherwise be doing other things. Like sleeping. Or drinking coffee and reading the news.

Meals:

I always used to count these as breaks—or “not work; deduct from work hours.” But this meant that I started to skip meals in favor of more work. So, not only was I not eating well, but I was deducting time that companies are legally obligated to pay for in any other job. So, I began to count that time too. (Of course, like so many of my colleagues, I’m usually doing some kind of work anyway—reading for courses or research, or checking more email.)

Exercise:

Again, I had to count this into my work day because, otherwise, I’d never go to the gym. I do not count every time I exercise as work (like if I go for a walk on a Saturday, for instance), but certainly if I go to the gym for about an hour during my work day (that includes getting there, changing into clothes, working out, and cleaning up, mind you), then I absolutely count this, because it’s good for me to move my body.

Finally, now that I work in the U.K., my contract specifies that I am expected to work 35 hours per week. It turns out that, on average, I work about 42 hours per week (which is above even the U.S. expectation of 40 hours per week). In addition, I almost always work all seven days of the week. (I’m trying to reduce this habit.)

But, because I count things that are good for me, like meals and exercise, I’ve started to feel so much better during the rest of my work hours. Moreover, because I have some firm boundaries, such as—no email on Saturdays; no work after 3 pm on Friday (whenever possible);  I stop working when I feel exhausted and/or emotionally drained (especially when grading)—these hours don’t seem quite as onerous. Do I sometimes work more 60 hours or more in a week? Sure, but not every week. Not even close.

I have a life outside of work, and I believe in honoring and celebrating that life. And it’s that, celebrating of the life outside of work, that should become part of our overall culture of work.

Vulnerability as Strength

A month ago (I really can’t believe it was that long ago already), I visited York to give an invited talk about online research ethics. It was an immense honor, because I was asked, for the very first time, to be a keynote speaker. Even more so it was an honor because I got to meet so many fantastically-engaged scholars willing to geek out about ethics all day–on a Saturday no less!

That day, I talked about vulnerability, and I’ve been thinking about it in some shape or form ever since. I decided to make myself a bit vulnerable that day by exposing the deeply emotional links I had to my own research–because of my own fannish past, but also because of my persistent sense of imposter syndrome. I was already vulnerable, because I didn’t know how to be a ‘keynote speaker’. I mean, who would ever have thought to invite me to do such a thing, anyway?

I started with my , perhaps, most vulnerable, but also most intense fannish past.

It was September or October or November. Or maybe it was February. I honestly don’t remember the month. I only remember that I was smack-dab in the middle of my seventh-grade year, meaning I was 13 years old, and up late watching MTV. I had seen that they were going to replay Nirvana’s Unplugged performance (from 1993), and I was curious, since I had only recently “discovered” them in the form of their most enduring song—”Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I knew some cool kids at school were really into them, and, naturally, wanting to be cool too, I decided I liked them. I don’t think I was paying attention at first. I can’t really remember. What I do remember, however, is the moment when Kurt began singing “Pennyroyal Tea” by himself.

kurt

Suddenly, the rest of the world faded away, and it was just Kurt’s head hanging over his guitar as he belted out the lyrics. I was mesmerized. I felt like I was under some sort of spell. I couldn’t help it. I started to cry. Something about that moment was so beautiful and so sad to me that the tears began to flow without me quite knowing how it had happened. When the song was over, and the audience cheered, I knew something major had shifted within me.

I knew I would be a Nirvana fan for the rest of my life.

These days, I no longer seek out any and every performance, or beg my dad for $500 to buy the elusive “Love Buzz” single on eBay, or buy every book I can on Kurt’s life. I’ve left behind that moment of my fannish obsession. But I do still listen to them after a long day. And, yes, I admit to being pretty snotty when I see younger people wearing Nirvana t-shirts, when I know that many of them are only familiar with Smells Like Teen Spirit, if that. I feel this way despite the fact that I was only a young child when Nirvana hit the big time with their album Nevermind. I still rankle when people put Pearljam and Nirvana under the same label of ‘grunge’. I still can’t quite explain what happened that strange evening under the influence of teenage hormones and MTV, but a bond was formed then, and, so far, it really has stood the test of time.

I started here, I guess, because this was absolutely one of my most intense, all-consuming fan experiences. I not only obsessively listened to the music or learned about the band, I also dressed in plaid pajamas (when I could get away with it). I begged my parents to buy me a guitar so I could start learning how to play. My goal was to eventually write my own songs. I did write a couple. They weren’t very good.

I started there because I’m still just a tiny bit embarrassed by how obsessed I was for so long. I started there because it was, truly, my first entrée into fannish life. I started here because it so clearly demonstrates, as Larsen and Zubernis (2013) argued in their absolutely fantastic Fangasm: Supernatural fangirls, “Falling into fandom is like falling in love” (p. 8). And isn’t falling in love such a vulnerable thing to do?

I really do think that vulnerability is the key: owning it and feeling it and using it as a guide. As a strength. I argued that day that I came to vulnerability honestly–because of my own embarrassing obsessions, but also because of my own relationship with writing. And fanfiction is writing. As we all know from our own writing, while we may feel some sort of urge to share our writing with others, most of us also tend to feel extremely nervous about that very prospect. In his new book, Embarrassment: The emotional underlife of learning, Thomas Newkirk addresses how learning more generally, but certain learning how to write, is a bumpy process often beset with embarrassment, shame, and anxiety. There’s something very personal, very raw, very vulnerable about writing. As Riche (2017) has argued, however, this vulnerability is part of what makes writing so powerful. As he says in his article, “Toward a theory and pedagogy of rhetorical vulnerability,” “‘my existence as a rhetorical being necessitates my existence as a vulnerable being, someone whose life is contingent, perpetually exposed, and always subject to the effects of language (among countless other factors)” (Riche, 2017). In other words, vulnerability is the capacity to both affect and be affected by something. Considering the very vulnerability of writing overall, it becomes, perhaps, much easier to understand why Jones (2016) would argue that, for fans, posting a fanfiction story is similar to “A woman talking about an abortion with a friend in a café” that it is “a private act in a public space.”

But vulnerability can take us beyond this too, as it reminds us that we are humans. As Riche (2017) argued, vulnerability is “rooted in our embodiment, our affective lives, and our material connections to the world around us, which closes in on us and at the same time keeps us open.” It’s our ability to be affected just as much as or even more so than we can affect.

I’ve continued my argument so far that “doing vulnerability” as an academic means being willing to admit our ability to wound others, and to be willing to take on the risk of being wounded. Vulnerability is not and should not be one-sided. But my discussions with people that day raised a lot of really important questions for me to continue working through:

  • What about the danger of taking on the double meaning of vulnerability for academics in less privileged positions?
  • How does “doing vulnerability” relate to an ethic of self-care?
  • What about the danger of “accepting risk” becoming a paternalistic stance?
  • How can the concept of vulnerability help us when it comes to things like big data?
  • How can we mitigate the problem of traceability and vulnerability when it comes to publicly-funded research that might require us to share our raw data?
  • How can we balance between the strength vulnerability can wield against us, and the ethical strengths that vulnerability can provide for us?

I’m still working through these questions, slowly. The process, lately, has made me feel very raw– like an open wound. But can’t that be something of a good thing? That moment just before the transformation? The persistent itch before the skin heals? I’m not convinced yet, but I sure hope so.

Am I Being Productive Enough? (or Struggling through Summer Writing)

Why can it often be so hard to write, especially in the summer? How does that come to happen? I don’t remember this struggle in high school or college. I wrote pretty much daily—journaling turning to poetry turning to essays and the occasional short story. At the time, it always seemed like a relief and a release. A joy. Now, some days, it can seem both tedious chore and terrible risk.

Perhaps it’s because, now, I’m trying to create writing that can and will go beyond me. Perhaps it’s because writing really is my job now. I teach writing, so I craft assignments and lessons and, most importantly, feedback. I’m also an academic, which means I should and do craft at least one conference presentation per year. And I strive to get manuscripts out for consideration. That work is especially risky and exhausting as I long to write something meaningful and at least somewhat new.

Perhaps it’s because, despite how I philosophize in the classroom and in my scholarship, I don’t value much of my writing as writing anymore.

Today, for example, I’ve already written a fair amount, and I’ve only been up for six hours. I started my writing day penning messages in two cards to send to very dear friends. I found the cards (one of which says “You’re the cat’s meow”—see below) in this cute little store/coffee shop after a writing session the other day, and I knew they were perfect.

cats meow

The perfect card.

 

I carefully printed my messages, though I usually write in cursive, so I could be sure that my readers would be able to decode my writing. The fact that handwriting, in either mode, serves little to no challenge to me now obscures years of training and practice and, yes, failure. I then had to find and include the addresses in their proper places. These genres and rhetorical acts were pleasant, and they mostly escaped my notice—even though I would read them as valuable and powerful literacy practices in my role as researcher.

I then settled in to a few hours of academic reading and note-taking. As always, the progress was slow but engaging. My sound-cancelling headphones and Pandora channel set to Classical for Studying allowed me to become completely immersed in the stories of others’ literacy negotiations. I took copious notes, mostly just of quotations that struck me, which I keep color coded. Sometimes these are also annotated. But even that, while it felt more productive than friendly correspondence, still didn’t feel like enough.

So, I sat down to write this, just so I could say that I wrote “something” today, even though I’d already been writing for hours.

The key words here are “productive” and “enough.” They so often translate to: Am I good enough if I haven’t produced enough?

production line

Why am I not this production line?

 

This is a burden of the academic writer that arises out of a capital-driven value system. I cannot have worth without my work, and my work cannot have value outside of very particular structures. It must be individual, novel, and accepted by the right people—the gatekeepers.

But, in fact, all of my activities today, and the days before, are part of my embodied-emotional experience of writing. They are part of what I want to call an emotioned theory of writing. Or, to put it more simply, these activities are part of writing. The pleasure of casual correspondence is writing. The reading and engaging ever more deeply with ideas is writing. When I make lists of goals to achieve, that’s writing. When I talk to friends and family about my goals, that’s part of writing too. The process is slow, and so often agonizing, because I almost always render it invisible.

So much of this writing process can become invisible because it does not fit the imaginary model of “real writing.” Writing with a capital “W.” Writing being the conference presentation turned article accepted for publication in a highly-respected and competitive peer-reviewed journal. Writing by one person that is completely new. Writing that needs little to no revision.

During the academic year, it’s so easy to submerge this imaginary concept of “real writing” beneath my teaching and administration, because these are so immediate. So pressing. And in the summer, it gets replaced by words like “laziness” and “avoidance” just because I choose to surround my writing with rest and books and family and friends and even exercise.

This is not an individual problem, however. It’s a problem of capitalistic logics that value only the productive citizen—the one who literally produces things. Or, even more so, the one who can establish themselves as in control of the production.

The emotioned element I keep seeking to theorize becomes all the riskier because it is so at odds with, as bell hooks called it, the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. It is at odds with a capitalist logic. It is at odds with the production line. It is not linear. It is not even necessarily cumulative. It is not always (or even often?) rational. It is growth but not necessarily progress.

I’m not there yet. I don’t have a neatly-wrapped product. But I’m getting closer to understanding what I mean by “emotioned theory of writing.” Sure, it’s the actual, physical act of writing. But it’s also the living and breathing and being that is part of writing. And, no, writing isn’t everything we do, but everything we do can and often does get wrapped up into writing. Is emotioned writing a way to both acknowledge and sidestep the capitalistic logic of academic production? Of the romantic figure of the individual author-genius? I’m not yet sure, but I think I’m on to something. And I am writing, and growing, even if I’m not “producing.”

The Emotional Scholar?

Emotions and their link to learning have been on my mind since maybe the second year of my doctoral program. I’m sure, actually, that they were on my mind at some level before that, but it wasn’t really until then that I started considering the role they really play in how we learn, work, identify, and engage with our worlds. Still, despite the fact that I know, really know that emotions are central to this process, I get caught up every time I try to theorize them. Every time I try to accurately define terms like: emotion, feeling, emotional, emotioned, and even affect.

So, I guess below is my entrée into that work.

Two weeks ago, I started writing my presentation for CCCC—it was an idea that had entered my brain two years ago, as I was finishing up my dissertation, and thinking about the major role emotion was beginning to play in my research and in my daily work. I wanted to know: How can we theorize emotion into our academic lives? And, borrowing from Laura Micciche’s Doing Emotion, I wanted to theorize emotion in a way that made it active, rhetorical, and central, rather than some sort of secondary response. I’m just now starting to get a sense of what I mean by “emotion theory” when it comes to literacy studies and academic work.

Narrative 1 – Brittany the Fangirl

My thinking on the relationship between literacy and emotion really started 10 years ago, as I was ignoring my linguistics homework in college. It started as I lay comfortably snuggled in my extra-long, twin-sized bed in my closet of a room in Boston, Massachusetts, reading illicit-feeling Hermione and Severus shipper fics. It started with my addiction to Harry Potter fanfic, which I strove to hide from everyone. I spent an inordinate amount of time in these fan spaces, sometimes reading from 8:00 p.m. to 8:00 the next morning. And I told no one, because I knew I should be getting a life—i.e. partying like a normal undergraduate—or getting to real work—i.e. focusing on my linguistics homework and planning my professional future.

But, of course, I didn’t know it. I didn’t know that all that somehow was part of my professional development. I didn’t even know what rhet-comp was at the time. But I did know that I couldn’t stop reading fanfic, or searching out fan vids. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the possible, beautiful pairings in the Harry Potter-verse. I couldn’t stop imagining little bits of story—new spells, American wizards, and time travel.

I remember it was afternoon, because it was still light out, but I don’t remember the time of year or the day of the week. I remember it seemed quiet in the campus apartment, so my roommate must have been at work at, or in class, or at a friend’s house. I was scoping out Mugglenet again, because the next book and movie weren’t due out until the next summer, and I’d already re-read each book at least twice. I’d seen every movie at least three times. I’d been reading all about Snape’s supposed “true alliances” in the fan forums. Like many fans, I believed Severus Snape was probably only out for himself…or, he was on Dumbledore’s side. The debate had energized me. I wanted more. Plus, I was bored.

I saw a link to fanfiction on the site, a word I’d never heard before. With curiosity and nervousness, I clicked on the link, and it took me all of five minutes to settle on a multi-chapter Harry-Ron slash fic. Several hours later, the natural light had given way completely to street lights, and I had missed dinner. Instead of feeling satisfied, though, I felt obsessed and desperate to keep reading. I’d spend the next few years voraciously gobbling up almost any and all Harry Potter fanfic I could find. And it only took me three or four months to begin seeing characters and scenes and plots for my own stories in my imagination—as I was falling asleep or walking to class or sitting in the laundromat. I finally began writing in the fall of my senior year, when I was deeply anxious about the whole grad school application process, and terrified of the uncertainty that post-grad life would bring.

Unfortunate Incident

A screen shot of my still incomplete fanfic: The Unfortunate Incident.

The only excitement and solace I found was in fandom.

I tell this story now not because I mean to celebrate myself, or because I think it has some especially profound meaning, but because it’s taken me so long to tell it. I never said much about this journey—not until I was getting into the late revision stages of my dissertation, and even then, I took out most of the emotion. I still do. Every time I try to tell this story, I add a little bit more about the emotions I actually felt. It’s no accident that this journey played an important, if backgrounded role as I started learning how to teach writing. It’s no accident that it became my dissertation. And it’s no surprise that this story is so similar to those of so many other fans—just see Larsen and Zubernis’ Fangasm, or even Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.

This narrative is the beginning of my theorizing on emotion in literacy practices—and in academia more generally. It’s a narrative I come to again and again as I consider my academic identity, my teacherly self, and my writing center director and consultant selves. I didn’t know it at the time, but that headlong plunge into fandom was how I came to rhetoric and composition in the first place, and it was an important step in seeing my writerly self, and, eventually, my teacherly self as well.

Towards a Theory of Emotioned Academic Work?

The emotions in this narrative weren’t just felt once and remembered, and they aren’t completely readable in the affective terms I used, but they are invoked and recreated in reflection upon these events, and in their retelling.

It is in the reflections and sharing of the moments we deem significant that the emotions go from what we might readily acknowledge as bodily feelings to embodied feelings. The latter perhaps seeming less mysterious and more stable. Embodied feelings maybe looking like the move from a flash of warmth in the body as excitement rises when a pair of favorite characters finally kiss, to some certainty of identity: I am a fan, and/or, I am a teacher. And it is in telling and retelling that emotions come to be emotioned, rather than strictly emotional. They come to be coded with, as Ahmed would say, the previous circulations of them in similar narratives. And they come to be useful ways we, as Micciche might argue, link ourselves rhetorically to others.

So, how can we effectively theorize these emotions?

On the one hand, this narrative seems so ordinary, so obvious. On the other hand, when I try to more accurately define feeling, emotion, emotional labor, or emotioned work, everything becomes tricky. The dizzyingly complex networks of knowledge and ideologies and available actions that we somehow just know, just do, emerge as a veritable thicket of: emotions as bodily response and reaction; emotions as mysterious body states; emotions as expected and acceptable actions; emotions as relational; emotions as landscapes; emotions as discursive acts; emotions as language; emotions as highly circulated objects (Ahmed 2015); emotions as rhetorical tools (Micciche 2007); and more

I’m still working to honor yet untangle that thicket. I want to see where each branch leads, not to prune them. But there are a few things I do absolutely know

  1. First, the key to better understanding writing and how to teach it lies in theorizing these emotions.
  2. Second, and even more importantly, the key to creating and maintaining more ethical labor practices is to name and theorize our emotioned work, not as something base, or just expected, or something unique to our so often feminized positions. The key is to theorize this work as challenging labor that takes years of training and study to do well. To theorize this work so we can show that it deserves enough time to do it (smaller class sizes, and fewer overall duties), and fair remuneration.
  3. And, finally, I use emotion rather than affect as a political positioning, and not because I see no difference in the terms, or the usefulness of the distinction between them. By using emotion, I mean to highlight its central role to learning and working. I mean to normalize it in academic discourse. I mean to expand the argument that Micciche made in Doing Emotion, that, “Without a framework for understanding emotion’s legitimate role in the making of meaning and in the creation of value in our culture, we impoverish our own and our students’ understanding of how we come to orient ourselves to one another and to the world around us” (2007, p. 1).

The biggest challenge in doing so is that I have to work against years of socialization to “manage” my emotions, to “leave them at home,” to not be “too emotional,” especially as a young woman who wants to be taken seriously. And I have to work against my academic training to be objective and dispassionate and reasonable. As if not absolutely everything I do happens in and through my body and my emotions.

From my obsessive reading of fanfic, to my early learning about rhetoric, to my response to my student—all of these not only include but shape and are shaped by emotions. They are all emotional moments. And they are all emotioned as I take them up, again and again, in identifying myself and my work. As I tell and retell my stories. As I marshal these memories and identities in my daily work—my daily choices about what article I will read, what activity I will do in class, what comment I will leave on a paper, and what conversation I will have with a student or a colleague. When I will work out in the gym. What I will tell my partner when I get home.

Our emotional lifeworlds weave in and around everything we do, whether we count that as part of the “private” or “public” realms of our lives. And this weaving—the rest, the conversations, the things we encounter—informs our learning and thinking and writing. Now…if I could just get a handle on how this manifests in my writerly self, in my teacherly self, and in my writing center director self, maybe I’d really have something.

____________________________________Suggested Reading:

Ahmed, S. 2004. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. London: Routledge.

Barrett, L.F. 2009. “Variety is the Spice of Life: A Psychological Construction Approach to Understanding Variability in Emotion.” Cognition and Emotion no. 23 (7):1284-306.

Chaput, Catherine. “Rhetorical Circulation in Late Capitalism: Neoliberalism and the Overdetermination of Affective Energy.” Philosophy and Rhetoric.43.1 (2010): 1-25. Project Muse. Web. 8 July 2015.

Cooper, Marilyn M. “Rhetorical Agency as Emergent and Enacted.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 62, no. 3, 2011, pp. 420-449. http://search.proquest.com/docview/848924648?accountid=11668. 31 Oct. 2016.

Dweck, Carol. 2001. Self-theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development London: Taylor and Francis.

Fleckenstein, Kristie S. 1991. “Defining Affect in Relation to Cognition: A Response to Susan McLeod.” Journal of Advanced Composition. 11.2 (1991): 447-453. http://jstor.org/stable/20865808. Accessed 14 Sep. 2016.

………. “Writing Bodies: Somatic Mind in Composition Studies.” College English, vol. 61, no. 3, 1999, pp. 281-306. URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/379070. Accessed 14 Sep. 2016.

Micciche, Laura R. 2007. Doing Emotion: Rhetoric, Writing, Teaching. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Moje, Elizabeth Birr and Allan Luke. 2009. Literacy and Identity : Examining the Metaphors in History and Contemporary Research. Reading Research Quarterly, 44. 4.  415-437.

Newkirk, Thomas. 2002. “Sentimenal Journeys: Anti-Romanticism and Academic Identities.” In Writing with Elbow, edited by Pat Belanoff, Marcia Dickson, Sheryl I Fontaine and Charles Moran, 21-33. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Peckham, Irv. 2015. Four Rules for Teaching Writing. In Personal Writing in the Classroom. http://personalwriting2.blogspot.com/

Scherer, K.R. 2009. “The Dynamic Architecture of Emotion: Evidence for the Component Process Model.” Cognition and Emotion no. 23 (7):1307-51.

Wetherell, Margaret. 2012. Affect and Emotion: A New Social Science Understanding. London: Sage.

 

 

 

 

Saying Goodbyes and Sharing Story

Tuesday, October 11, 2016, I lost my grandmother. It hurts me to write these words. It hurts to keep putting pen to paper. It hurts to push through. Tears are rolling silently down my cheeks as I force myself to keep going, keep writing.

My grandmother used to send me random gifts. Little tokens just to say, “I’m thinking of you.” The last gift was a tiny, pink, travel-size perfume spray dispenser. I took it with me to a conference in Michigan–the state of her birth. It was my first conference as Doctor Kelley, and that little perfume dispenser made me feel somehow more grown up. I took it to her funeral too. It’s silly, I guess, but I wanted it with me. That last little token.

grandma-for-blog

My grandmother helping my sister and me to make traditional family cookies for Christmas. 

I remember her in the early mornings. She was always up by 0500. It’s her military background, I guess. She’d be sitting at the kitchen table, curlers in her hair, a makeup mirror nearby, sipping on Folgers–always Folgers–as she got ready for the day.

I remember she gave me a set of keys to her apartment, because I was welcome any time.

I remember her television was always playing either CNN or HGTV.

I remember hundreds of tiny little moments. They’re all disconnected fragments in my mind, floating around without direction.

I feel unmoored, and it’s hard to write.

How can we possibly write through loss and pain and trauma?

The Priest said we should share stories of those we’ve lost, because when we do, we call them before us.

Narratives–stories are how we make sense of ourselves and our world(s).

Narratives are how we connect with others. And there sure were a lot of narratives being shared by my family last week.

I know there’s something here. I know I’m figuring some thing(s) out.

So far, however, it’s just a mess.

But I’m writing, and I’ve got to keep trying, because that’s what she would do. She’d keep working. Keep talking. Keep offering others help.

There’s something here. Writing through, with, in loss is an act of emotioned literacy that is perhaps most obvious as emotional work.

There’s something here.

There’s something to sharing story. And I can only hope that when I do it, I’m calling my grandmother before me. I can only hope to learn how to give as much as she did.