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 End (of Sabbatical) is Nigh

And just like that, we are at the end of 2015! I’m always amazed at how fast a year whips by, but I was especially aware of it this year. When I began my sabbatical year back on January 1, 2015 a year felt like a nearly endless expanse of time. Perhaps I thought that this year would be different. Perhaps I thought that being on sabbatical would slow down the passing of time, that if I took the time to read, to savour, to think, that I wouldn’t feel as though the weeks were flying by. I was wrong.

So, now I’m in the final days (7 left!) of my sabbatical, although as my friend and colleague, Gregory, pointed out the other day, I am, in actuality, “like everyone else at Brock now, on holiday break.” I suppose he has a point given how quick I was to jump in to sabbatical mode this time last year.

It has been a good year. It was a busy year and when I look back at where my days went, the list looks something like this:

Over the course of the year I also was constantly reminded about what sabbatical (in an academic context anyhow) is and isn’t.

  • It is a gift. I felt so grateful to have so much dedicated time to work on my book manuscript. I sat with it day in and day out for months. I immersed myself in the project in a way that would have been impossible without sabbatical. I put in long hours and worked 7 days a week on the manuscript for a good chunk of my sabbatical time. People kept telling me to “take a break,” but I had been gasping for time to really sink myself in to this work and I wasn’t going to tear myself away from it until I had a full and polished manuscript ready to send to the press.
  • It is a privilege. If you get to take sabbatical you are very, very privileged. Do not forget this. It is important to check your privilege and to be careful how you talk about your sabbatical with others.
  • It isn’t a vacation. I am sure I had friends and family who were genuinely baffled by the fact that I couldn’t drop everything and come for a visit or go on a leisure outing this past year. As mentioned above, I am sure that I actually put in more hours at my desk this year than I regularly do during the years I’m not on sabbatical. When you are on sabbatical you are hyper aware of how rare and precious this time devoted to your research is. I know I won’t get another sabbatical for a while and I didn’t want to waste a single second of it.
  • It isn’t a magic “cure all.” I think I was guilty of imagining sabbatical to be this blissful, stress-free year. I might have imagined that I was going to sit at my desk, think lofty thoughts, and become a better person. When I imagined my sabbatical I didn’t imagine the days filled with writer’s block, panic, and stress related to “imposter syndrome” (“what if I don’t have anything interesting to say after all?”). My imagined version of sabbatical also didn’t include getting sick, debilitating migraine headaches, sick pets, sick friends and family members, bad weather, travel woes, and financial worries. But, guess what? All of those things were also part of the year–of course they were, because sabbatical isn’t a magic bubble!
  • It is a limited amount of time. At the start of sabbatical it may seem that you have SO MUCH TIME to do ALL THE STUFF. But, in reality, it is only 365 days, just like any other year. I did get many of the things I set out to do crossed off my list, but there are other things (clean out the basement, reread all the Sherlock Holmes stories) that I’ve not yet managed to accomplish. I guess I still have 7 more days!

It has been a good year, but I am looking forward to going back to teaching  in January. I love my classes and I am excited to teach in the beautiful new Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts.

The Bored and Brilliant Challenge

One of the many things I like about sabbatical is that it allows for some mental clarity, time to figure things out, to get organized, to think. It is no coincidence that I went vegan on my first sabbatical. I think I’d been moving in that direction for a while, but having the time to think about it, plan for it, learn to cook from vegan cookbooks, etc. certainly helped the process along!

I’m hoping that the mental space that sabbatical provides will also help me develop some better habits. On that note, I’ve signed up for the “Bored and Brilliant” challenge this week. Essentially, this challenge asks participants to think about how much time we spend on our smartphones each day, how automatic it has become to whip out our phones at the first sign of a lull. Standing in line at the grocery store? Check your phone! Commercial on TV? Pull out that phone! Waiting for a friend to show up? Squeeze in a game of Two Dots. The organizers of this challenge argue that by rushing to fill any downtime with whatever app catches our fancy, we are forgetting how to daydream, we aren’t taking advantage of the imaginative potential of those duller moments in life.

This challenge has certainly helped me to think about my daily habits, and in just a few short days I’m quite a bit more mindful about my screen time. Will these habits last? Only time will tell!

Farm Sanctuary Internship

During the semester break I had one of the best experiences of my life! I did an internship at Farm Sanctuary and spent my holidays helping out with the shelter operations. It was a ton of work, but it was also one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. What a perfect way to spend Christmas! To spend that much time around rescued animals and to be directly working with them and their caregivers was an absolute privilege.

If you care about farmed animals (and why wouldn’t you?), you need to sign up to be an intern. For real. Do it!

I will be writing about my experiences as a shelter intern in a series of columns for Our Hen House in the coming weeks, so I won’t say too much here, but in the meantime here are some pictures of some of the incredible animals I met during my internship.

Maxie!
Maxie!
Baba Ganoush, the handsomest rooster on the planet.
Baba Ganoush, the handsomest rooster on the planet.
Hanging out with Thunder, the gentle giant.
Hanging out with Thunder, the gentle giant.
Dottie is a very curious goat!
Dottie is a very curious goat!
Ormsby
Ormsby
Aunt Bea
Aunt Bea
Dagwood and his stuffed bunny pal.
Dagwood and his stuffed bunny pal.
Sleeping Sebastian.
Sleeping Sebastian.

Niagara VegFest News

Great news on the Niagara VegFest front! We have received funding from the City of St. Catharines. This will help us continue to build and promote the festival for 2013. A huge thanks to the City’s Cultural Investment Program for this grant.

It may be a cold and gloomy day in Niagara today (apparently it is Blue Monday), but before we know it, Niagara VegFest will be upon us! We are working away getting things ready–much excitement here at Niagara VegFest headquarters! Registrations are starting to come in, the list of speakers is nearly finalized, and we are busy working on other plans for the festival. Stay tuned!

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Jilly Bean

Today marks two years since Jill, the grey-eared white rabbit, came to live with us. I can not imagine life without her now! She is so funny and has such a strong, beautiful personality. She loves to have her nose petted, and is mad for kale, lettuce, carrots, apples, and bananas. She has the run of the house (much to the cat’s dismay), but tucks herself in to bed each evening–we think she feels safest in her “house” (we hate to use the word “cage”).

Happy Anniversary, Miss Jilly Bean! I hope we have many more wonderful years together!

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15 Cups of Kale!

When Jasmin Singer was on the Dr. Oz show earlier this month she talked about one of her “go to” recipes for comfort food, the aptly named Cheesy Pasta Supreme (vegan, of course!). As I’m a fan of both new recipes and kale I couldn’t pass this one up.

Ingredients: kale (15 cups of it! whoa!), sun dried tomatoes, quinoa pasta, nutritional yeast, hot chilli flakes, tahini, shallots, and garlic.

The only regret I have is not running out to get different box of quinoa pasta. The only one I had in the house was a spaghetti and I think this dish would be better with a smaller noodle. However, it still tasted amazing and I’ll be making this one again! Thanks Jasmin!