If I’m Not Wearing a Tracker Does My Walk Still “Count”?

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A number of years ago I got a FitBit. Then I updated to an Apple Watch. I was looking for ways to motivate myself to get more active, and, for a while, it worked. I would be very pleased when I saw that I had hit my step count goal, or when I saw my heart rate get to a target zone during an intense workout.

These days my level of physical activity is not where it was when I started wearing these kinds of fitness trackers and that is, in large part, due to the ongoing symptoms of Sweet’s Syndrome (and whatever the heck also might be accompanying it – diagnosis still pending). I’m certainly having to adjust to taking things much more day-by-day than I ever have. On good days I can go for a brisk walk, on bad days my joints hurt so badly that even walking around my house becomes a challenge. And yet, I continued to put on my Apple Watch each morning out of habit. Now, to be fair, this device does more than track fitness details, but I started to find the “motivating messages” (“keep moving! You can still reach your goal!”) rather discouraging. Many days it wasn’t a lack of motivation that was keeping me from hitting a certain step count. It was pain and fatigue.

This past Monday I went to put my Apple Watch on first thing in the morning as I usually do and I realized I just didn’t want to. I knew it would be another “slow” day and I just didn’t need another reminder that I wasn’t going to be hitting that magic number of steps.

I’ve now gone without the Apple Watch for 3 days and the funny thing is that on each of those days I did go for a walk. I’m not going to lie, I’m still working through a sense of “but I won’t get credit for these steps” anxiety, but I’m also learning that I kind of need to chill out about all of this. Does a walk still “count” if there is no tracker to track it? 🙂

This also got me thinking about other “trackers” I use in my life – I have the “Today” app on my phone (tracks “good habits”) and I use Bookly to track the number of hours I spend reading. Why? What is the point of tracking my activities so obsessively? I guess I can see some positive benefits of this, but now that I’m living with a chronic illness I can also see a big downside — there is this enforced pressure to live up to a certain standard (How many steps did you take? How many books did you read? How many words did you write?) day in and day out. My reality is that each day brings vastly different conditions and I have to be able to be ok with this. I think these trackers are adding to my stress and anxiety around having a chronic illness. So, I’m going to ditch them — maybe for a while, maybe for good.

Where Have All the Dead Birds Gone?

The other day we decided to beat the winter blahs by taking a “staycation” at the Prince of Wales hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake. An afternoon by the pool followed by an evening of dining and cocktails seemed like a good little pick-me-up at this point in the winter.

As we were lounging by the pool I couldn’t help but notice that one of the images decorating the area was a reproduction of Edwin Landseer’s famous image of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Windsor Castle in Modern Times (1840-43). I’m a big fan of Landseer’s work, so strolled over to take a closer look as I made my way from the salt water pool to the hot tub.

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Sir Edwin Landseer, Windsor Castle in Modern Times; Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Victoria, Princess Royal, 1840-43, oil on canvas.

“Have a closer look,” a woman in the pool called out to me. “What do you think the little child has in her hands?” I knew without looking that young Victoria (Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s oldest child) was holding a dead bird in her hands, but I didn’t want to seem like that kind of art historian. To be polite I walked closer to look at that section of the painting and that is when I was startled to discover a rather glaring omission from this reproduction.

In Landseer’s original painting there is a row of dead game birds laid out next to young Victoria and a few more on the floor in front of Prince Albert’s feet. Prince Albert’s clothing (including those oh-so-tight trousers showing off every detail of his kneecap!) tells us that he has just returned from hunting, so the inclusion of this detail makes sense. Further, the juxtaposition of the very dead birds with the animated and life-like dogs is just the kind of thing that Landseer, one of the most celebrated animal painters in the history of art, is known for.

At the Prince of Wales hotel, however, all of the dead birds except for the one that young Victoria holds are missing. I can only assume that this was done to make this modern day replica somehow more palatable to hotel patrons. I’ve looked up other replicas of this Landseer painting available for sale, and in all the ones I can find the dead birds remain part of the composition as the artist intended.

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Detail of the replica of Landseer’s painting at the Prince of Wales hotel in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Photo taken February 2019.

I’m still mulling over why this would be done. This is not an establishment nor a town that is known to be particularly sensitive towards animal issues. Indeed, the use of carriage horses as part of the tourism industry in this town often draws protests from local activists. Further, I would say that Niagara-on-the-Lake ranks pretty low in terms of vegan-friendly dining in the region — indeed, a glance at the menu of the Prince of Wales hotel, the very building where this altered replica of this image hangs, indicates an establishment that prides itself on the various high-end meat dishes it serves (including, rather ironically, a smoked duck breast dish).

I wish I knew more about the decisions that led to this edited version of Landseer’s image hanging in this hotel. It is a fascinating example of visual culture in that it seems to point to present-day anxieties around the representation of animals. As I frequently say to my students, “what is absent from an image is sometimes as significant as what has been included.”

Sweet?

Over the last little while I’ve been dealing with some rather mysterious recurring health issues – painful swollen patches on my face, swollen lymph nodes, sore joints, fatigue, and brain fog. These all come together at once as a flare-up, and then slowly disappear over time (sometimes days, sometimes weeks). This first happened way back in January 2015 during the first month of my long-anticipated sabbatical. While it wasn’t the way I’d hoped to start my sabbatical, I assumed it was just a weird one-time occurrence and for a while it seemed that was the case. In recent months, however, these flare-ups have been occurring with more regularity. This past semester was incredibly difficult as I spent most of it feeling like crap, and my “summer of reading” didn’t go exactly as planned because of these symptoms (although I still made reading a priority!).

I have seen many different health care professionals since that first flare-up in January 2015, and every test seemed to come back as “inconclusive.” This is incredibly frustrating – you know that something isn’t right, but the official word is that nothing is really wrong either. (on a related note, I highly recommend Maya Dusenbury’s brilliant new book called Doing Harm)  This year, however, I’ve been working with quite a great team – my new GP, a rheumatologist, a dermatologist, and a naturopath. Collectively we seem to have figured some things out. It seems like I’m dealing with a rather rare autoinflammatory condition called Sweet’s Syndrome. (Trust me, it is anything but sweet!)

While I’d prefer not to be dealing with this, it is actually really, really encouraging to have a diagnosis, a label, a name. There seems to be a need for a lot more research in to Sweet’s Syndrome (one of the most comprehensive resources I’ve found so far is is a website called Sweet’s Syndrome UK), but just having somewhere to start feels like a bit of a victory.

I’m also delighted to have found Chronically Academic, a resource/community for academics dealing with chronic illness/pain, as well as Spoonie Strength, a resource/community for people trying to manage things like weightlifting with chronic illness. (I’ve just started up kettlebell again with a trainer who is helping me develop a plan that takes in to account the symptoms I’m having and I’m super excited about that!) I mention these sites because I think it is important to be part of a community and to talk about these kinds of conditions – there is so much we don’t know about autoinflammatory and autoimmune diseases, and the more conversations we are having, the better. This is the main reason for this post – not as a plea for sympathy, but instead to talk a bit about what I’m dealing with in the event that maybe one day this information might be helpful to others struggling with similar issues.

I’ve also been talking to family members and it turns out that there are at least 11 people in my family (all related by blood) that have some kind of autoimmune/autoinflammatory disorder. Now this is way outside of the scope of my academic degrees and areas of research expertise, but surely this must have some significance! I’ll be typing up this list to take to my next set of appointments.

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A Bold, Blank Banner

In July 1909 police in London informed the organizers of an anti-vivisection protest that they could not use two of the banners made for this event. In both cases the images on the banners showed a dog being subjected to experimentation.  The organizers made sure to point out that these images had been taken directly from publications which promoted animal experimentation. In other words, the organizers of the protest felt that it was important to underscore the fact that these images were not fabricated representations but, rather, were adapted directly from vivisection material. There was “no exaggeration” in these images stressed Louise (“Lizzy”) Lind af Hageby, the organizer of the International Anti-Vivisection and Animal Protection Congress, a multi-day event which included this high-profile public demonstration through the streets of London on Saturday, July 10, 1909.[1]

The police were concerned that the images on these banners could potentially stir up trouble by provoking a “turbulent element” and potentially “lead to riotous proceedings.”[2] Of particular concern was a silk banner that included an image taken from a scientific journal showing a dog who had been subject to experimentation. This image was accompanied by the words “Is it nothing to you all ye that pass by?”

This image was reproduced on one of the prohibited banners for the July 1909 procession.

A lively debate about these banners took place in the “Letters to the Editor” columns of the London papers. Dr. Stephen Paget of the Research Defence Society, a pro-vivisection organization, described the use of these images in this way as a “striking exhibition of insult and hatred”[3] on the part of the activists, and argued that anti-vivisection societies must be losing their support amongst the general public if they were attempting to use shock tactics to draw attention to their cause. Lind af Hageby refuted this, noting that these images were not the “invention of anti-vivisectionists.”[4]

In the end, the police’s decision to prohibit these banners was upheld. However, as a protest to this ruling, one of the forbidden banners was draped with another piece of cloth to hide the offending image, and the resulting blank banner was carried defiantly  at the end of the procession.

I find this to be such a fascinating example of the role of visual culture in the animal advocacy movement from this time period! Images can, of course, draw attention to important issues, but imagine the power that this blank banner had in this context. The absence of imagery here was likely as powerful as any pictorial banner in the procession – perhaps even more so. As one eye-witness pointed out, if an image is deemed to “be of such revolting character that it cannot be carried through the streets,” then isn’t this a powerful argument against the action being depicted?[5] As I often remind my students, when it comes to visual culture it is important to remember that what is excluded is often as significant as what is included. In this case, the blank banner was a bold statement against both vivisection and censorship, and certainly a clever use of visual culture by Lind af Hageby and her colleagues.

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Lind af Hageby is the woman in the centre of the front row in this picture. The other women in this photograph are: Mrs. Clinton Pichney Farrell, Mrs. L.B. Henderson, Mrs. Florence Pell Waring, Mrs. Caroline E. White, and Mrs. R.G. Ingersol.

*I discuss this event as well as the use of visual culture in other animal advocacy campaigns from this time period in my new book, Art for Animals.

*This post has also been shared on The Unbound Project website.

NOTES

[1] “The Anti-Vivisection Procession” The Times (July 8, 1909), 3.

[2] “Prohibited Banners” The Standard (July 3, 1909), 8.

[3] “Anti-Vivisection Processions” The Times (July 9, 1909), 4.

[4] “The Anti-Vivisection Procession” The Times (July 8, 1909), 3.

[5] “The Anti-Vivisection Agitation” Saturday Review of Politics, Art, Literature, Science and Art (July 17, 1909), 83.

The Summer of Reading

It is the last week of the semester and I’m turning my thoughts to my spring/summer work plan. Like many academics, I normally start off this “research season” with very long “to do” lists and lofty plans. “This year will be different,” I say to myself, “this year I WILL DO ALL THE THINGS between April and September.”

Yeah right…

One thing I am normally doing at this time of year is finalizing my spring/summer travel plans – ’tis the season for for research trips and conferences! However, this year I plan to spend most of my spring/summer here at home in Niagara. There are many reasons for this – we are getting some much-needed major renovations done to our home. Also, we live in a pretty excellent part of the country for kayaking adventures, and I certainly hope to be doing a lot of paddling in the coming months.

Kayaking in Jordan Harbour, Niagara. (Summer 2017)
Kayaking in Jordan Harbour, Niagara. (Summer 2017)

I also have been dealing with some rather mysterious health issues lately. It has been incredibly frustrating and stressful, and we are still trying to get to the bottom of all of it. I feel like it is important to stay close to home right now as we are working this out.

In terms of my research and writing, the book I have been working on for the past decade will be out later this month. (Yay!) This project has been such a big part of my life for so long, and it feels a bit weird to not be actively working on it any more. I still have tons of material that didn’t make it in to the book – my archival explorations turned up much more information than I’d ever imagined I would find about how animal advocacy groups in the late 19th and early 20th centuries used art and visual culture. I certainly have more writing to do on this front, but I’m also thinking about new avenues and directions for my research – related avenues, but they would be spin-off projects that require me to dig in and do some reading.

I have, therefore, decided that my research focus this summer will simply be reading. I know I will feel like I need to be doing more than reading, but I’m going to try to quiet that part of my brain. Sure, sitting on my front porch reading a pile of books isn’t quite as exciting as being at the British Library, but it is what I need to be doing right now. I’m looking forward to it!

I’m surprised at how many people have asked me what my next book will be about — my latest isn’t even out yet! I’m going to draw on the wisdom of my colleague Dr. Barbara Seeber who, along with Dr. Maggie Berg, wrote the wonderful book, The Slow Professor. One of the main points they make in this book is that the scholarly work we do requires time – we need to spend time reading carefully, thinking, making notes, etc. I am not going to give in to the pressure to get the prospectus for my next book project whipped together in record time. I really feel that right now I need to immerse myself in the literature related to some of these new avenues I want to be exploring. I need to slow down, to read, to think, to figure out the next steps.

I’m excited about the #summerofreading – I think it is just what I need right now.

Some of the books I want to read this summer.
Some of the books I want to read this summer.

The Identity Politics of a Full Bookcase

Happy New Year! Hard to believe it is 2018!

Over the holiday break we started doing a pretty serious decluttering project at home. We have some major renovations coming up later this year, and in preparation for that we have to get organized. This feels like a daunting task, but a colleague recommended we read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Of course, I had heard of it (references to it pop up everywhere and parodies abound!), but I had dismissed it without even looking at it. “Nah, not for me!” I thought. But the colleague who recommended we take a look at this book is someone who I really respect and, not coincidentally, someone who has a beautiful home, the kind you feel instantly peaceful in. So, we gave it a go. I’m not going to say that I’m 100% sold on every single point in the book, but she does make some really good, thought-provoking points. The end result is that I’m looking at the things in my home with a very different set of lenses now — “Do I really need this?” “Why am I keeping this?” “Why do we even have this?” As we gear up for our renovation project this is a good thing.

Today was the first day back to work after the holiday break and I guess I brought those lenses with me to the office today. I opened my door and instantly thought – “oh my gosh. This place needs a good decluttering!” I have a lot of work to do — the start of term is always busy! — but I just couldn’t even focus because of all the piles and piles of stuff everywhere!  I was itching to get to the decluttering. So, I have spent the day alternating between my “to do” list and getting my office cleaned up. I feel like it is helping me think clearer and to get my mind around the upcoming semester.

For me, the biggest barrier to a clutter-free office are the piles and piles of books I have accumulated over the years. Like most academics, I love books. I love reading them, touching them, looking at them, flipping through them, sharing them, talking about them, etc. Books are so much a part of my identity that I feel weird if I’m not surrounded by them.

I had a relative come visit me not long after I had moved to this city, and on that trip he asked to see my new office. I took him there, but I warned him it was messy as I hadn’t really unpacked yet. When he walked in he saw my almost bare bookshelves (remember, I hadn’t finished unpacking!) and said “you need more books! You can’t be a professor with bare bookshelves!” I know it was meant in jest, but I have to tell you – it hurt! I was an unsure new graduate already wondering if I could make it in academia and here was a relative was telling me I didn’t fit the mould! While my current collection of books is not exactly a direct response to that comment, I can’t help thinking of it time and time again when I pile yet another stack of books on the floor of my office because I’ve run out of bookcase space.

Today as I sort through my books I have found many that I simply don’t have a use for. In some cases they are the free textbook samples that publishers keep sending me. In other cases, however, they are books that I felt I “should” have when I was a grad student and junior scholar — key texts that everyone kept telling me I should read, but that just didn’t hold my interest. Of course on my shelves there are also several key texts in my fields (and sub-fields) that are completely dog-eared, marked up, etc., but I’m not going to lie — some of the “must have” books just don’t do it for me. Years ago I would beat myself up over this — “I need to read these,” I would think, so they would stay on my shelves taking up space. Now, however, as I purge and weed my shelves to make room for the piles of books that I genuinely want to be reading I’ve decided “enough is enough.” I have enough confidence in my scholarship and research now to know which books I actually should read and which can be sent over to the used bookstore. I hope their new owners find joy in them!

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Concussion Frustration

8 weeks ago I gave myself a concussion. I was rushing around in the morning, trying to get a gazillion things done before leaving the house that day. In my haste, I bashed my head on a cupboard door and the impact knocked me backwards–as I crashed down to the floor I smacked the back of my head on the stove. I later learned I gave myself whiplash in the process and probably blacked out for at least a few seconds as I can’t quite piece together what the heck actually happened.

That was 8 weeks ago. I’m still dealing with some pretty crappy post-concussion syndrome symptoms including: dizziness, nausea, fatigue, constant headaches, and difficulty concentrating. My “screen time” is very limited as being on the computer or looking at my phone triggers a severe headache (note to self: this needs to be a short post!). I’m doing a lot of resting – thank goodness I have some furry friends to keep me company!

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Miss Ernie and friends are good company while I recover.

I’m beyond frustrated. 8 weeks! I want my life back!  I miss reading, spending time with friends, going for walks, kettlebell, doing my research, etc. I am, however, incredibly grateful too. I’m grateful that I’m able to take the time to recover, for my kind and caring partner who has been so patient throughout this whole process, and for the kindness of friends and neighbours who check in, cheer me up, and let me vent. I’m also very grateful for my colleagues who have stepped up to help with the work I can’t be doing right now.

I’m learning that recovering from a concussion can take a long time, that rest, patience, and reducing stress are really important right now. Easier said than done! Everything is on hold – my work, my life, my writing. I’ve had to withdraw from a major conference, cancel travel plans, the final edits to my book manuscript are on hold, I’m behind on my work with The Unbound Project, and I can’t keep up with an online class I was really looking forward to taking.  I feel like so many people are waiting on me for things and this makes me feel awful. (If I owe you an email, chapter, book review, etc. I’m sorry. So sorry!) I hate letting people down! As an academic I’m finding my current inability to think clearly or read/write for more than a few minutes at a time both frustrating and frightening. This is all very stressful!

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Getting some help with a jigsaw puzzle.

I’ve been told that things like puzzles, colouring books, and board games are good for my brain as it heals. While these are fun activities, it feels very weird to be looking for “edge pieces” while so many other people are out there fighting the good fight and doing important work.

I’d love to hear from others who have been through this — how did you cope? It gets better, right? It has to!