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.

Conference Travel and Some Amazing Vegan Food

I can’t believe it is mid-April! The weeks have been flying by. I’ve been working away on the book manuscript, but I also have been doing some travelling.

First I went to the 2nd instalment of the “Living With Animals” conference at Eastern Kentucky University. I went to this conference two years ago, the first time it was held, and just loved it. It was such a great mix of people–a truly interdisciplinary gathering of people who shared common interests. The second version of the conference was just as good. I heard some excellent papers and especially enjoyed hearing Julia Schlosser’s keynote presentation about her artwork.

One of the things I really like about this conference is that there is a good amount of the program dedicated to teaching animal studies, so there were great presentations about pedagogy (I especially liked Jeannette Vaught’s presentation called “Animal Infiltrations: Teaching Animal Studies in Traditional Courses”) and a roundtable discussion focusing on ideas for setting up animal studies courses and programs (both Human-Animal Studies and Critical Animal Studies) at the post-secondary level. As was the case two years ago, we had some excellent discussions!

I also travelled down to Denton, Texas to attend the “Moral Cultures of Food” conference at the University of North Texas. When I saw the call for papers for this conference I knew it was one I wanted to go to. Not only did the topic appeal to me and relate to my current project, but I also knew that the University of North Texas was home to “Mean Greens,” the first all vegan dining hall. Ever since I first heard about Mean Greens I was trying to find an excuse to go to UNT, so this seemed like a conference I had to attend! The conference was great and, like the “Living With Animals” conference, it featured scholars from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds.

Both conferences had such a good, collegial atmosphere–when people asked questions you got the sense that they were genuinely curious and interested to know the answers. (sadly, not at all the norm at most academic conferences) I met some really interesting people and came home feeling enthusiastic and energetic about working in this area. The “Moral Cultures of Food” conference also included excellent keynote presentations by James McWilliams and Carol J. Adams. (sadly I had to miss David Kaplan‘s closing keynote presentation due to an early morning flight)

I had the honour of being Carol Adams’s houseguest while I was in Texas, and it was there I discovered the recipe for the world’s most delicious vegan mac and cheese recipe. Honestly. This stuff is out of this world. It is a recipe that Carol veganized from a cookbook that her family used. She promises to do a blog post with the recipe, so I don’t feel comfortable sharing it here, but keep an eye out for it on her site. [Update: here is the recipe!] It is so ridiculously good. I’ve made it twice since returning home. In fact, all the food she served was incredible–she even cooked up a full vegan version of a Texas barbecue.  Amazing!

And speaking of amazing food in Texas, “Mean Greens” at UNT absolutely exceeded my expectations. I was excited about the fact that there was such a thing as a vegan dining hall on a university campus. I hadn’t stopped to think much about what precisely that would mean, but figured it was the novelty of the experience, not necessarily the quality of the food that I was going for. Let me tell you, the food was incredible! And it was really affordable too! I went with a group of conference attendees at lunch and it was $7.50 for as much food as you wanted to eat. There was a breakfast bar, hot dishes, a salad bar, a dessert tray, and even a ice cream sundae bar. And the food was really, really good! I also loved the environment. It was bright and cheery, and had quotes about veganism and compassion for all species painted on the walls of the dining room. There was even a sign on the door declaring it an “meat free zone.” This was full on, unapologetic veganism gone mainstream, and the place was packed! We even got to talk to one of the chefs who told us how popular the initiative has been and how it is, in fact, saving UNT money when compared to other meal options. I hope to see more campuses following this lead!

Mean Greens was a "Meat Free Zone"
Mean Greens was a “Meat Free Zone”
2015-04-03 12.21.36
No animal products used in this kitchen!
2015-04-03 13.05.40
There was even a sundae bar!

2015-04-03 12.26.55 2015-04-03 12.57.15 2015-04-03 13.25.01

The Art of Animal Activism: Critical Parameters

I am really pleased to be co-chairing a session with Alan C. Braddock on animal advocacy and the arts at the next College Art Association Conference in Washington D.C. I’ve included the call for papers for our session below. More details on the conference and how to apply can be found on the College Art Association’s Official Call for Participation. Please share widely.

The Art of Animal Activism: Critical Parameters
Alan C. Braddock, College of William and Mary; and Keri Cronin, Brock University. Email: acbraddock@wm.edu and keri.cronin@brocku.ca

Today nonhuman animals figure more prominently in cultural, ethical, and scientific inquiry than ever before, thanks to recent research that has forced a significant reassessment of human exceptionalism, or speciesism. Lately some art historians have begun to consider these issues as well. All of this has taken place amid growing popular fascination with animals and backlash against their egregious, often concealed abuse in factory farming, entertainment, laboratories, and other areas. Animals have become subjects of vision, imagination, and activism—but also exploitation—like never before. This session examines the critical parameters of animal activism and advocacy in art since the eighteenth century. Papers should address important landmarks and historical contours of such art, assessing creative techniques used to advance particular goals. Consideration of why the discipline of art history has been slow to map this tradition and challenges involved in visualizing the interests of other beings are also encouraged.

 

Time Machine

I’ve been spending some time in the library, working with old newspapers on microfilm. It has been many years since I’ve used a microfilm reader and it took me longer than I care to admit to get the thing up and running the first time. In my defence, there was a bit of a connectivity issue between the reader and the computer that scans and saves pdf versions of the pages. (I don’t recall this additional bit of technology from the last time I used a microfilm reader!) I was very grateful to the staff at the James A. Gibson library at Brock for helping me get this sorted.

2015-01-15 10.23.25-1

I love reading old newspapers. They are so interesting and so bizarre. I often get distracted by the ads and articles other than the ones I am trying to track down. In some ways it is kind of like I’m playing with a time machine!

Sabbatical Panic (Really?)

It is Wednesday, the third day of the winter semester and the third “real” day of my sabbatical. Sure, it officially started on January 1st, but those days between the 1st and the start of term on January 5th were still part of the holidays. I got ready for the real sabbatical work to begin on those days — organized my desk, sharpened my pencils, etc. But now there are no more excuses. And it isn’t easy. I know that this is likely not a popular thing to say, but stay with me. First of all, I’m so very grateful for the sabbatical. I truly am. It is a gift and I want to make every moment count. But that is the rub. I want to make every moment count. What does that even mean?

I began on Monday morning in a state of panic–there is not enough time left in my sabbatical (only 52 weeks!) to get it all done! I grabbed some books from my ever-growing “to read” pile and started ploughing through them, wildly taking notes and barely stopping for lunch. At the end of the day I felt worse. There are always going to be more books! I also realized that if the goal is to simply get through them, I’m not really absorbing what is written in them. What is the point of that?

I fear that the past decade or so in academia has conditioned me to the idea of getting throughgetting it donechecking it off the list. To what end though? There is always another hoop or deadline. Academics are skilled at multi-tasking–juggling grading, meetings, grant writing, committee work, lecture prep, report writing, form filling, etc. But when, if ever, is there time to read for the sake of engaging with new knowledge? This, it seems, should be the starting point for everything else. How have we lost sight of that? Part of this sabbatical may be about unlearning some old habits. Quinn Norton has written a great essay called “Against Productivity” that reminded me that the fast-paced, multi-tasking way of being in the world is not the only way. I’ve filed this essay away in my Evernote. It is one I think I will want to return to throughout this year.

Yesterday I tried a different approach. I opened up the book manuscript that I have been working on for far too long, the manuscript that is going to get finished on this sabbatical if it kills me. It was daunting. It had been a while since I sat with it, but I went back to a trick that helped me get my dissertation done when I was in grad school–I set the timer. 20 minute sessions in which the only thing to focus on is the document itself. Have to look up a reference? Too bad! Wait until the timer goes off. As anyone who has used this technique knows, by the time those 20 minutes are up you are in to the task of writing. You have found a groove and want to keep going. Get up from the chair, stretch, get some more tea and set the timer for another 20 minutes. I did this a few times yesterday and it felt good. I also gave myself permission to sit and think. Towards the end of the day I shut off the computer, grabbed a book and sat in my reading chair to read. I didn’t take notes. I simply read. The panic started to subside. It isn’t gone completely, but this seems to be a much better approach.

Sabbatical-cartoon1

Sabbatical 2015 Starts Now!

Today is the first official day of my sabbatical. Ok, technically it started yesterday, but since yesterday was a holiday I’m not going to count it. Making brunch and drinking mimosas with friends isn’t exactly an auspicious start to a sabbatical year. Or maybe it is!

Is it weird that I’m already worried about running out of time during this next year? So many things I want to do, and I know that the year will just fly by! I think some people think I’m “on vacation,” but I think it might be the opposite. I’m know I’m going to be trying to cram as much writing/research as I can in to the next 52 weeks. Sabbatical is such a gift and I want to be sure to use it wisely!

I need to finish up the book manuscript I’ve been working on for a while. I had hoped to be able to get more work done on it while I was Department Chair. No big surprise that this didn’t really work out as planned. Being Chair was a lot more time-consuming and energy-draining than I had budgeted for. So, this is the first big thing I’m going to focus on. But, I’ve got some new projects that I want to work on too, projects that will take some time to set up. I need to do some background reading and research to get them started. I’m also developing an online version of my first year course. Throw in some conferences and some research travel, and all of the sudden 12 months doesn’t sound like that much time! Eeep!

I never make new year’s resolutions. For me, as an academic, September is the time for new beginnings. This year is different though because of the sabbatical. So, while I hesitate to call them “resolutions” (that just feels like setting myself up for failure), there are some things I want to put in place as this year begins — good habits that might help me stay on track and get the most out of the sabbatical. Things like making sure to get some exercise each day and to drastically reduce my time playing around on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

I’m also reviewing the tools I need to help keep me organized and to keep the writing/work flowing. Evernote, Dropbox, and Zotero are an essential part of my research process and have been for a while. I would like to transfer my writing from Word to Scrivener. I have had Scrivener for a while, but haven’t quite had the time to learn how to use the software properly. I think it has a lot of potential though. Word is getting on my nerves. I’ve also started a 60 day trial of Basecamp because two of my new projects are collaborative. I’m still getting up to speed on what Basecamp does, but so far it seems like a great way to work with others.

Here’s to a great 2015! I look forward to seeing what it brings!

Upcoming talk in Guelph

I am really honoured to have been invited by Dr. Sally Hickson to speak at the University of Guelph later this month as part of their art history speaker series. The event takes place on Tuesday, November 19th at 5:30. More details below.

If you are in the Guelph area, please drop by and say hi!

Image