Practicing an ethic of care on Twitter

When I was researching an article on caring about, for and with women who’ve had abortions in late 2011, I started coming across various sources that discussed how people are using twitter for health care. Then, last December, I found an article on Jezebel about Xeni Jardin and how she was live-tweeting her first mammogram. During the live-tweet, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I marked the article on my Safari Reading List and promised to come back to it after I finished my article on live-tweeting abortion. This morning, I came across a tweet by Maria Popova that reminded me of Xeni Jardin’s use of twitter and her current situation living with breast cancer.

I checked out her twitter feed and found that she has continued to tweet about her experiences. I decided to create a storify in which I archived many of these tweets. The last tweet I archived was particularly striking to me:

Since I’m thinking a lot about cancer this week (with my mom’s birthday yesterday; she would have been 70 if she hadn’t died from pancreatic cancer in 2009), I was particularly moved by her tweets and her efforts to make some sense out of her cancer and to provide others with care.

She tweets a lot about chemo and her experiences going in for treatment. I only accompanied my mom once in her second round of chemo–the round that really ravaged her body and eventually killed her. Would she have appreciated a network of others experiencing the same thing on twitter? Probably not; she didn’t use social media much. But I think having access to more information and insight on how people experience cancer and chemo might have helped me to connect with her more in those last few years.

I think my mom might have appreciated one aspect of Xeni Jardin’s social media ethic of care, her Pinterest board. Ever since I first saw Pinterest, I thought my mom would have enjoyed it. Here’s a board that Jardin is experimenting with in the documenting of her experiences living with breast cancer.


on procrastination

Right now I need to be finishing up another non-blog writing project. It has a non-negotiable and pretty urgent deadline. So, what have I been doing today instead? Yep, writing several blog posts and avoiding, at all costs, what I’m actually supposed to be doing. Sadly, even as I recognize my acts of avoidance, I can find ways to justify them. Like: One purpose of this blog (and my twitter feed) is to document the writing process. That includes the painful non-writing, procrastinating parts. I need to archive those experiences for future reference! Ha!

Here’s what I just tweeted:

To save time, I just took a screen shot of the four tweets. Here’s a link to the New Yorker article on procrastination.

Word count: 122 words

writing day #1: when thinking up writing projects isn’t the problem…

This winter I get to devote a lot of time to writing. So exciting! I should clarify, however. This winter will be dedicated to collecting, shaping, polishing and producing (in a variety of forms and media). I’ve been writing on this trouble blog since May of 2009 and I’ve generated a lot of words, ideas and topics for more in-depth writing. Now I need to do something with those ideas. Okay, I have been doing things with these ideas. I’ve used posts in my teaching, in my few published articles, presentations, and workshops. But I haven’t done enough with shaping them into more coherent, in-depth stories/narratives. And I haven’t engaged with them fully enough to be able to let go of some of them. What does that mean? Maybe I should explore that question in another blog post.

Lately, I’ve been reading Brain Pickings a lot on my Flipboard (I can’t quite articulate why, but something on the site is a little off for me…). A couple of weeks ago, Maria Popova (the creator of Brain Pickings) did an entry on various bits of advice that design graduates gave to current students. The following two seem appropriate for me and my own thinking about how to proceed with my writing projects in 2012:

First: to create ideas is a gift, but to choose wisely is a skill

Second: Finish What you Start. It May Seem Insignificant, But It Is Very Important That You Do It.

Troublemaker that I am, I have some problems with these pieces of advice (what gets left out when I choose? At what/whose expense am I choosing? Can anything ever really be finished?). But, I also see them as important reminders of the unproductive or damaging limits of making too much trouble–opening too many cans of worms–when thinking, writing, acting. This year I feel a strong need (and desire) to wrap up some projects, develop some thoughtful and tentative conclusions, and to create a few tangible products that I can use in other spaces outside of this blog. While I don’t want to stop questioning and being curious, I want to do more things with those questions and curiosity.

Over the next couple of days, I’m planning to spend some time thinking through which ideas to take up. Here’s one idea that I will write on, and not just because I have to–it’s for a possible workshop in June:

title: Shifting from Branding to Caring: Using Blogs in Feminist and Queer Classrooms to Resist the Online Crafting of a Neoliberal Self

abstract: This paper explores how using blogs in queer/feminist classrooms can provide students with spaces/tools for resisting, rejecting and transforming the neoliberal model of consumer-citizen-as-brand that is increasingly promoted as the primary way in which to cultivate the self online. Drawing upon Michel Foucault’s notion of the care of the self and various feminist and queer pedagogies, I argue that blogs can be used to encourage students to engage in practices of caring for the self and/with/in the midst of others. These practices include: making visible the process of becoming implicated in knowledge, negotiating (without eliminating) the complexity of multiple subjects and one’s own subject positions, making and staying in a state of trouble, and participating in collaborative knowledge production.

This project builds off a lot of my research and thinking about care and its possible practices online. I still need to think through how much I want to use Foucault here (in fact, as I look through this abstract I wonder if it might not be way too ambitious). Here are a few sources on branding that I’ve started reviewing:
Here’s one more bit of advice (and one of my favorite posters). I wish I would have followed it this morning.

Burning up and burning out

It’s hot again today. Well, not as hot as yesterday. Today it is only 91, but feels like 95, at 10:30 AM. Still, without air conditioning it’s pretty hot in my house. Since I’m burning up, it seems like a good time to talk about academic burnout. In my last post, bad teaching, burnout and bell hooks, I hinted at possibly being burned out. But, what does that mean? How do you know if you are burned out? And what can you do about it?

Post Academic (which I found via the totally awesome Worst Professor Ever) writes about job burnout in their entry, Job Burnout: Do You Have it? Citing a 2006 New York Magazine article, they identify several key aspects of it. Here they are, with my responses*:

1. Working too much

2. Working in an unjust environment

3. Working with little social support

4. Working with little agency or control

5. Working in the service of values we loathe
Well, loathe seems a little strong. I would say, working in the service of values I often disagree with or that can come into conflict/at the expense of my own values is a better way to phrase it.

6. Working for insuficient reward, whether the currency is money, prestige, or positive feedback

*For now, I’m just giving my brief responses. I don’t think I’m ready to expand on what they mean…yet. In fact, I’m not even sure what they mean.

Hmmm…looks like I have burnout. The signs have been there for awhile. Check out this passage that I wrote in a comment on KCF’s post over at It’s Diablogical!:

There are all sorts of ways that we could discuss this question, but I am thinking particularly of my feminist debates class this past semester and our repeated discussions about feminist education. Early on in the semester (on this day), we read an excellent article by Joy Castro: On Becoming Educated. Castro is critical of the “trickle-down” theory of academic ideas/theories/knowledge and the inability of much academic work to ever reach audiences who need/hunger for it. She doesn’t want to reject academic knowledge, but to expand it (maybe include internet knowledge as academic knowledge and/or spread ideas cultivated in academic spaces across the interwebz?). Check out this passage:

The academy—as we fondly, misguidedly call it, as if it were some great, unified thing—is lumbering along amidst eviscerating budget cuts, pressures to corporatize, to streamline, to justify its existence to hostile anti-intellectual factions and a skeptical public, to become purely instrumental, a machine that grants job credentials to twenty-two-year-olds so they can get on with their lives. In the face of such intense and varied pressures, the academy must find ways to preserve itself as a place for thought to flourish—yet everyone needs to be invited to think. The discussion has to matter to everyone, and everyone’s voice must be heard.

I like this passage from Castro because it also reminds me how much I cherish critical thinking. I find that it can be hard to remember this when working in certain academic spaces; critical thinking is presented in such narrow ways and is often used to shut people out and to actually shut critical/creative thinking down. Personally, I feel that the pervasive attitude within the academic spaces that I inhabit is extremely damaging to my creative and intellectual spirit. While I have had some great experiences with many of my classes and exciting conversations with some colleagues, much of the “good stuff” seems to be in spite of the academy and not because of it.

I also wrote the following in a post on surviving the academic industrial complex:

When I first started writing the entry I was already feeling burnt out and disenchanted with the academy. Those feelings have greatly intensified over the course of the semester as I daily confront the limiting (and debilitating) logics of the academic industrial complex.

In their post, Post Academic links to a burnout test that you can take on the site, Stress Management. I scored very high. After taking the test I clicked on Recovering from Burnout. For those of you who don’t score quite as high as I did, you can click on How to Avoid BurnoutHere are the different ways that they suggest people cope with burnout:

  1. Do nothing
  2. Change career
  3. Change job
  4. Use burnout as trigger for personal growth
Notice how, “take a break,” isn’t listed as one the options. Apparently, once you hit burnout, summer vacation or the semester break just aren’t enough. Stress Management strongly favors the fourth option, devoting a huge portion of their article to understanding why we burn out and how we can move on and find new direction for our lives. As a teacher (and daughter of a devoted fan to the self-help genre), I must admit that I can appreciate the emphasis on critical self-reflection and the call to learn from our experiences. However, as a feminist who has spent a lot of time thinking about the limits and possibilities of individualized self-care, I am also troubled by these solutions, especially the language of “personal growth.” Ugh…too self-helpy for me (and neoliberal-y, but let’s leave the jargon out for now). Note: I have self-help on the brain right now. Must write more about it soon. Personal growth? Makes me think of an exchange between Tony and Stephanie in Saturday Night Fever:
Stephanie: Nobody knows how much I’m growing!
Tony: Why don’t you go on a diet?

But, seriously. While focusing on one’s own care and physical/spiritual/mental health are extremely important, analyzing the problem as an individual opportunity for growth can fail to address the larger structures that cause burnout in the first place, structures that may affect us in different ways, but that contribute to a more general academic culture that demands too much, values too little and excludes too many.

Here’s another passage from my post on surviving the academic industrial complex in which I talk about the dangers of making survival about our individual ability to cope:

In her article, which is part of a roundtable discussion on “Got Life? Finding Balance and Making Boundaries in the Academy,” Smith argues that our attempts at negotiating between academic and personal/activist lives require more than searching for ways to balance our various demands. Instead, we must ask why, as in: “Why has being a good scholar and academic come to mean that one should be working incessantly at the expense of doing social-justice work, having fun, or maintaining interests outside academia” (141)? And we must “deconstruct the logic of the academic industrial complex to see how it has trapped us into needlessly thinking we must choose between academia and having a life” (141). Yes! Finding a balance is not enough; the struggle to find that balance places the burden on individual academic laborers to adjust their lives while leaving the larger system that prioritizes academic production over personal/activist practices intact and untroubled. We need to interrogate why the academic system functions as it does and why it so often encourages (and demands) that we be unbalanced (and by unbalanced I mean an overemphasis on work over life and a dysfunctional approach to work/life that contributes to emotional/physical distress).

As I finish this entry, it is 2:15 PM and 96 (feels like 103). So, what I am going to do about my academic burnout? Not quite sure. I think I’ll start by continuing to write and engage with other writers. I’ll keep reading Worst Professor Ever and her reflections on why Teachers Can’t ‘Do’ Because They’re Too Freakin’ Burned Out and her guest posts by people like Dr. Karen Kelsky who document the death of a soul (on campus). I’ll also look closely at Lucy E. Bailey’s essay on women’s experiences as contingent instructors.  And I’m planning to reread Teaching to Transgress for the tenth time, giving special attention to passages like this one:
The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries to transgress (hooks 207).
Do I believe this? I hope so…

Teaching on the day my mom died

As I was sorting through a ginormous pile of papers from classes over the past few years, I came across my lecture/discussion notes for the graduate class on Feminist Pedagogies that I taught on the day that my mother died–September 30, 2009. I feel compelled to post them here today.

First, a set-up. My mom died in the very early morning (I don’t know the exact time) in the living room of her house in Illinois. My dad called me at my home, over 6 hours away in Minnesota, around 8 AM. I taught my graduate class that afternoon, starting at 2 PM. It was an intense class; while I didn’t cry, I do recall at least one other student did. We spent the first half of class discussing what it means to be a “person” in the classroom and the second half of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I began the class by announcing that my mom had died that morning. Here’s what I wrote down to discuss in relation to that announcement:

Theoretical: What does it mean to be a “Person” in the classroom? What is demanded of us as teachers? How do we represent our vulnerability—when we are in grief, when we are upset, when we are hurt, when we are passionately committed to our ideas?

Fisher encourges us to, “bring our most authentic selves into feminist discourse” and feminist classroom (51). How do we do that?

What sort of space is there/should there be for thinking about teachers as people with feelings, who have experiences that influence their teaching? How do we perform/represent that in the classroom? How does the classroom become a space for the teacher to learn and critically self-reflect—as a fellow classmate instead of “the teacher”?

What sort of resources does/should feminist pedagogy give to the teacher (as a learner, student, member of the class)? How and when should we, as teachers, shift the focus on ourselves—our own care, our own need to be challenged, our own willingness to engage in critical self-reflection?

Rosa Pugueras writes about her belief that “she is the decisive element” in the classroom, that her mood affects her student’s mood, that she has the power to hurt or heal them. Is this true? If so, does the professor have a responsibility to be aware (and make others aware) of their mood? When is this admission a performance that is authentic and that helps to create a dialog (co-intentional education) between the teacher and students and when is it too confessional and merely personal?

Application: Practically speaking, as teachers should we try to “leave our worries at the door” and perform as selves who are lighthearted and upbeat? Or, should we tell them when we are having a bad day? Should we remind them that we are people too? If so, how?  Is one more authentic than the other? What are some strategies you can think of for bring our “authentic selves” into the classroom?

I can’t remember what I exactly said about how these questions were so compelling to me on that day. I do remember feeling that I had to teach. Teaching that semester–both feminist pedagogies and my undergrad class, queering theory–was what helped me through those gut-wrenching months of my mom’s dying/death.

These questions of authenticity and navigating the personal and professional/academic have been central to my classes this year. In my 2010 Feminist Pedagogies class, we talked a lot about whether or not social media (twitter, in particular) could help us to access our authentic selves, or at least authentic moments of our selves. And in my queer/ing ethics course this spring, we repeatedly reflected on how to put the personal and academic beside each other. I hope to think even more about these questions of the person in the academy and the personal and the academic this summer.