Sunday, March 12, 2006

Maybe I will just carry around a towel

I have been thinking about my last post, and what a load of crap it is. While it is true that I am deeply engrossed in Jonathan Strange, I used that as some sort of excuse for not writing. To think that this week I did not have the time to fit in both is a line of bull that I have tried to convice myself of by making it public. If I reveal it in a public forum, then it must be real. Well, aren't you lucky that the bullshit sherrif is now in town?

Curious how I have managed to wrap up my writing as some form of obligation. I can't help but giggle at how I have started to take things so seriously. A good friend of mine sent me an essay by Heather Hewett: "In Search of an “I”: Embodied Voice and the Personal Essay", and has helped me sort through this confusion I am currently experiencing. This confusion about why I am not writing and why I have been so silent in my teaching.

Issues at work continue to worsen. I can say very little of the specifics, or offer details. I completely need a safe forum to discuss and work through the complexities of the situation as it unfolds. Unfortunately for you, this space is inappropriate. Its' not that I have such a heightened sense of grandeur that my writing has such a wide readership - but I cannot be certain that my work here is cleaved irrevocably from my work and "real life" (Although, I must interject and suppose that life here on the Big Picture is pretty real!) The problem, or the reality, is that I am not easily compartmentalized. To suppose that Heather at work is a completelty different identity, separate and ghettoized from the Heather who you are reading right now, is smoke and mirrors. I bleed through at the seams. So, there is little point in pretending. I need to allude to, however vaguely, the crap that is going down at work. You'll just have to trust that it really is as oppressive and ugly as I claim.

This is the one of the first moments that I have experienced oppression. As I say this, part of me feels great reservations in naming it thus. After all, people have been and are oppressed in ways that seriously questions any warm and fuzzy notions of "humanity". I once spoke to a friend about this feeling of shame and embarassment about naming this experience of mine "oppression". She remarked that to rank oppression is to subject it to a way of thinking that invites, creates and allows it to fester. Call a spade a spade. I am female, a part-time faculty member who has chosen to remain on these margins for a number of reasons. One being that time with my children is a priority over any need to play the game of academia. The role and treatment of part-time faculty members is not confined to the little university where I work.

Without getting into anymore detail (just in case), a numbers of things (continue to) happen to my part-time collegues. No one has done anything TO me, or TO my position, but the maneuvering and manipulation towards my part-time colleagues has directly resulted in the loss of my position. This means that there are no official channels for me to deal with my dismissal - I can't complain, because nothing happened TO me. On the one hand, it seems that this is typically characteristic of being oppressed - the system marginalized me in a position so that I have no voice or power to change my fate. As I was reading Hewett's work on "Embodied Voice", it occured to me that my position, of being systemically silenced, has resonated much deeper than I had imagined. In the same way that I cannot erect walls between the "virtual" and "real" me, nor do I create distinct personalities between the Heather who sits here and types, and Heather who come home from work and the Heather that stands in front of the classroom. I have unconsciously embodied this silence. Neglecting to write on The Big Picture, is symptomatic of my being. My ambivalence to my job - which is in part, a defence mechanism, to prevent any more hurt from settling in, has left me with little to say in class. I don't feel compelled to push myself or my students. I don't even feel all that motivated to discuss this with union reps or administrative big wigs. I have been concerned about my attitude and thought that it represented a lack in my character. I am beginning to see this differently.

I suppose you could read this, and suppose that I am making excuses for why I have lost my "voice". This has all become rather clear over the last few days - so in part, writing is helping me process these thoughts. Seeing where I am, and my response, can offer me a clearer vision on what to do next. My current situation may have left me with no power to change my own situation, but I am fortunate that I can choose to leave! I am grateful, so profoundly that not only can I recognize my situation for what it is, but also be empowered to find other places where my talents will be appreciated.

That is the good news.

My challenge over the next few weeks (there are 4 weeks left of my course, and then a section of intersession that I will offer in May) - is to focus on the only people who are important - me and my students. It will be my challenge to ignore what has, is and will happen in the department.

Anyone have a blindfold and some ear plugs handy? I could also use a disguise. Maybe I will just carry around a towel, and throw it over my head when my "esteemed department colleagues" (read with much cynicism) and I pass in the hall. Then I can shut my eyes and cover my ears and chant "I can't see you!!!" and "Sticks and stones..."


Stephen (aka Q) said...

One of the most painful experiences of my life involved a boss who decided he wanted to remove me from my position and set about systematically to achieve that goal.

I have a vague idea of the power games that go on in academe, and I can relate to the experience of being left without a voice in determining your own fate.

You've described it very clearly as far as I'm concerned, though I'm able to fill in some of the blanks from my own experience.

Anyway, I'm just trying to express my support. You're between the mortar and the pestle at present — a very unpleasant position to be in.

What would Buddha make of it?

hotboy said...

Dearie me! This does not sound so good! Work hassles are awful. They can poison your life. I keep trying to hit them with emptiness analyses, but it's hard going. But for sure it'll pass. Hope things improve. Hotboy

Anonymous said...

Ugh!! We're livibg parallel lives! Things have also gotten worse for me as another part-time female academic. Next year my university is planning a university-wide integrated curriculumn on my academic specialty. I'm asked to consult and advise on the project unofficially -- no formal role on any committee. The initial project proposal was so bad, I rewrote it. But after I sent an email to the Dean outlining what I would do for free (extensive things like help modify course curriculum) and what I would NOT do for free (oversee an edited volume of speeches) I've been shut out and offered only one class for fall instead of the expected three. Its likely I'll receive blame if the project goes badly but no credit if it goes well. And marginal pay to boot!

Sigh. Its very discouraging. Heather, I too, am trying to decide what to do. It's hard to walk away from teaching. But like you, I am disengaged from my courses and my students this semester. I also feel silenced. It is clear that some members of the adminstration do not want courses of the kind I teach taught at this school or expanded into a major and discrediting me is one way to accomplish that goal. Its not directly personal but it hurts none the less.

Its hard to find the courage to move on to something else. I applaud your willingness to do so.

Hang tough!