Every year when June rolls around, I think, Finally, I can focus on my thesis. My RA/TAship is over, campus is empty and quiet, and the gentle hum of the university a/c will be the theme song of the perfect chapter draft I am destined to write.
It never works out that way.
In May we ran the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship graduate conference entitled “System/Système D: Improvising Digital Scholarship.” It was a day filled with interesting, thought-provoking, interdisciplinary research and I believe it was a success. I also presented a paper at McMaster’s “Embodiment in SFF Interdisciplinary Conference,” in the same week I completed the bibliography and methods course that I missed last year. Another box checked off on my PhD to-do list. During this time I had a flare up of chronic back pain that meant walking slowly with a cane, waiting for elevators, not enough sleep, and a lot of health appointments.
Now I’m tired.
I’m sitting in the dark in my apartment during what Environment Canada tells me if the most significant heat wave in several years. The a/c window unit I installed with cardboard and tape is buzzing angrily (is it even working?) and I’m a thirsty sweaty mess.
This is what scholarship looks like in the summer.
Taking a Break
At the methods course I was bonding with a few other graduate students about the feeling of intellectual fatigue. That experience of turning on your computer, skimming a few paragraphs of your dissertation, and thinking, How the hell did I write this? When, an hour later, the only progress I’ve made is to move a few commas around.
A friend of mine told me that it’s OK to take a break. This still feels revelatory. But I’m trying. I haven’t looked at my research in about three weeks. I’m taking long walks (trying not to power walk), crocheting, and reading YA novels (currently Sandhya Menon’s From Twinkle With Love).
I want to make it clear that it is a privilege to be able to take a break. It’s a privilege that I don’t have to work several part-time jobs to pay for tuition and rent, and that I can plan to take 5 years to finish my PhD (most of us need more than 4 years) because of SSHRC funding. It’s a privilege to be able to self-care. To practice the self-validation I’ve been working on with my therapist. To visit friends and family in other cities. I have time. I have space. I
am lucky have white middle-class privilege that lets me do these things.
I want a system where everyone can take a break, because we all need it.
Blueprints and Leopard Print
Part of the invisible labour I am doing this summer is planning ahead. Mapping out in my brain the different pieces of research I need to accomplish. Making timelines and deadlines and drawing red lines through the ideas I had last year that aren’t holding up. I’m plotting out the teaching I want to do next year, fantasizing about getting published in journals, clicking through descriptions of conferences hunting for information on accessibility and wondering if I will have the time, money, energy to attend. Telling my fortune with pain and PMS and bank account receipts.
When I started researching Bell Let’s Talk, I was going to use it as a case study to springboard into how social media (particularly Twitter) can be harnessed to perform Mad identities and critique institutions. But as my own social media feeds filled up with other events— including One Brave Night and GETLOUD— I realized I wanted to follow these threads and mark out a trend. Many screen caps and hours on webrecorder.io later, and I had a enough data for a full chapter just on mental health campaigns. I will need to write a completely separate chapter on Twitter activism. The summer is when I get to make these larger scale adjustments and reevaluate my dissertation as a whole.
Leopard print might not seem relevant here, but—aside from the guilty pleasure of repetition, wordplay, and juxtaposition— I like the idea that there is a materiality to our invisible labour, that we can feel it, touch it, that it has a weight and texture. Also I’m planning on cosplaying Yurio from Yuri!!! on Ice (love the exclamation points), and have been looking everywhere for leopard print. Anime isn’t directly related to my work but geek culture absolutely is, particularly in my chapters about video games. Besides, this post was about taking a break.
See you in fall!