September 2011


Post 23.

being a mothering worker is about negotiating the spaces of self, family and work, and understanding their interconnection and the way they impact each other. i write about the three because each of these parts of my life shape how i live the other, the time and energy i have and the priorities that i create for each.

a diary became important because i wanted to reflect on the ways that my personal realities and my public responsibilities overlapped and competed and had to be made sense of. Being a feminist was intertwined with both, and i wanted to understand more about being a woman, a worker, a feminist, a mother – with all the multiplicity these differing identities and roles bring. this interconnection needs more negotiating that i realised, and it doesn’t always play out how i anticipate or like.

someone called my office to ask if a view i expressed in one of my entries was the official position of my department. they didn’t ask me, they asked someone else. i don’t know who they are or what their concern was or for that matter why they think that a ‘diary’ would be the platform for an institutional view to be publicly aired. i took it as implicit that a diary is a personal, individual reflection on one’s life. i’m now to write a disclaimer saying that the views expressed here do not speak for those of my department or university.

i hear the concern, but emotionally, i also feel sadenned. this enables someone anonymous to reduce me to one identity, as a lecturer in my department, and as not having any personal space or voice that i can call my own. and as in the private sphere of family, in the public sphere of work, i see how much you have to make space for self real and legitimate and autonomous and yours.

i work in a feminist department and write about, among other things, teaching feminist theory because of my wider commitment to feminist movement building, theorizing, reflection and action – praxis. i do what i do or say what i say because i’m a feminist. because i am a woman. because i am a person – one who loves words. where i work is part of that, but not the root, cause or centre. i comment on my work as well as my life as part of my feminism, to reflect on my experiences as a woman in both public and private spheres.

now, made suddenly self-conscious, i’m wondering if i’m allowed to comment on my work at all. was i wrong to even start doing so? what if my place of work tells me they don’t want me to anymore, what do i do? what are my rights to my own space and voice in the public sphere? what is a feminist position on this? technology creates new openings for women, feminists and Caribbean thinkers. its ironic that the complexities of these multiple locations are precisely what my diary attempts to work through, from my own experience.

i’ve worked hard to contribute to my department’s public profile and in many ways, i am associated directly with it so i need to be careful about what i say and how i present myself. i’ve certainly been made more conscious of the perils of speaking publicly, forging ahead in the smurfy somewhat de-sensitized manner as i do.

i think the multiplicity of my identities and voice should be defended, not regulated. a university should be the one place where people agree that you should not be told what to write. But as with everything i keep learning about what things i take for granted and really shouldn’t.

this perhaps is part of the deal of being a mothering worker, that even when i’m trying to create a ‘private’ space in the public sphere, the public sphere is claiming a bigger share. this fighting for the legitimacy of the private is similar to the struggle to create valid time for Zi that’s not taken from ‘work time’ on the weekends, or to have priorities beyond the desk that are legitimate or to be a woman in ways beyond what is ideologically allowed. this is a legitimacy that has to be struggled for and defended.

against a shadow of second-guessing i now feel, i nonetheless hope to continue writing with full ownership of this space simply to enable all my selves, in all their locations, with all their politics, and all their voices to continue to kaleidoscopically shine. intellectual autonomy is at the heart of the words i put to paper whether they are about family, motherhood, love, marriage, politics, activism, teaching, writing or self. in all their negotiated multiplicities, the realities are mine and so are the words – and so is this space. all mine.

the disclaimer: the voice i write with is only my own and in no way reflects the feminist department or caribbean university where i work. if you read one of my entries and you are wondering if it’s my view or some official position, it’s mine alone. please don’t call people in my office, just write or call me directly in the spirit of open dialogue if you have something to ask or say.

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Post 22.

This week i taught my first class for the semester. i’m totally psyched. i’ve been refining the package i’ve created since 2006 and each year i teach in with less self-consciousness and more spontaneity. i get to do things other lecturers may not.

I ask students to introduce themselves to each other, look each other in the eye, value those next to them. remind them that they are one moment in a movement decades old and with decades to go, and that the goal is for all to succeed, collectively. encourage them to look around the auditorium and question how the room’s and rows’ very structure creates student passivity, militaristic and hierarchical discipline, and investment in my authority over theirs just through its hidden curriculum

affirm that, yes, we are here for debate and drama and passion and politics, but also to respect differences across ethnicity, class, gender, age and and sexuality. if people are not straight, they should feel as safe as the rest of us want to be. I share my own excitement that learning must be an adventure, full of challenges and trails, untrodden paths and unexpected turns, and all you need is to keep your eyes, mind and heart open.

I confirm that, yes, we are here to do feminist theory, unafraid and unapologetically.
and i empathize, sorry, but indeed you will have to take collective action because we are going to do this together or not at all. and i love encouraging them to feel. forget the fact that you are mostly taught to pass exams, we want your emotions and experience in the mix too. i want them to walk out at the end critical, caring, inspired and inspiring, because knowledge can in fact change the world.

i tell them i learn from them as well in case they don’t hear it enough. i let them know i have high expectations for them all, borne out of actual love.

this class is my space for building an army of feminist women and men each year, and so far more than 400 folks have spent 12 weeks such as this with me. i’m in awe that they come despite all the messages the world gives them that deny us our validity.

when i first decided i was going to build this class into a mass movement, i was more focused on expanding enrollment. if they are going to say there is no feminist movement, i thought, when i’m done, they are going to know we are here – in our numbers. after four years of active assertive advertising and recruiting, i’m on the other side of the numbers game. and i’m looking twice at the gains.

the students that i developed the strongest relationships with, the ones i know are out there doing rich and radical things, the ones who i can call on for culture jams or who i can close my eyes and have teach with me – nicole, steph, mich, renee, renelle, samantha and others – came before we capped at 100. since then, i feel i’ve hardly gotten to know most my students the same way, i don’t remember them by name, i don’t know their families and stories. and i think i’ve learned how much i first need to build the personal for the political to follow. i know there are students out there whose lives were changed by the feminist scholarship we teach, but i wish we’d also become and remained comrades and co-conspirators and friends.

so, this year i’m trying a new method. created a space and time when students can come to eat, lime, talk, share, suggest, write, read and organise. i’m looking forward most of all to getting to know those who come as full persons, not just as students. i’m looking forward to developing relationships, not just reading papers.

amongst the thousand other reasons why a revolution is a way of life. this is one. because reflection and transformation are everyday steps small and large. revolution is both in the readings and in the relationships, in questioning methods and devising new ones, in relating the personal and political back and forth with each other. its in coming to better and better understand that what i tell students about valuing each other, looking each other in the eye, moving forward collectively, bringing in feelings, and refining how we live, teach, define, make and share social change are all things i have to enact and live in my life too. sometimes i think that each year i learn more than they do.

i dont get to do the activist work i wish i had time for, but i keep an eye on the prize of making a better world. this semester is another chance to practice and grow. at the heart of revolution is indeed life long learning. i’m up for the challenge and ready to go.

Post 21

This too will pass. this is one of the ideas i live by. along with other favorites like ‘a revolution is a way of life’ and my personal invention ‘there is no pure place for resistance’. there’s more, i live by metaphors, rhymes and reasonings, but i’ll get to them later.

yesterday a colleague on campus who, like me, is steadily climbing her professional ladder, asked about Zi. is it worth it? she wondered, noting my confession of complete exhaustion. she had the right argument down, it’s one i hear and respect. for her, children are associated with loss of time for yourself, disposable income, sleep, leisure, focus, sanity, productivity, career, freedom, autonomy.

and she’s right, i get in a little over 35 hours of super productive time each week when i used to be regularly clocking close to 50. i look back wistfully at days i spent sitting for ten hours in front of my computer, writing my thesis, thriving on endorphins from a successful few paragraphs and an addiction to focus. i also look back longingly at the days when i’d be grumpy if i got less than 8 hours sleep. i used to get up at 8am to go to work. what a luxury….

i don’t think that women ‘ought’ to have babies. nor that they are missing out if they don’t. women live fulfilling lives if they do what fulfills them, and its up to them to choose. i know for me though i learned that a baby is a joy unparalleled. i think back now and feel struck that i was so close to going through life not knowing that cliche called mother’s love. that depth of feeling only possible with someone you’ve borne.

i answered that, for me, being pregnant was miraculous, giving birth was powerful beyond measure, and breastfeeding was sheer magic. i’d have never known these immense riches were it not for Zi and the lifetime of sacrifices ahead would always be worth it. through motherhood, i experienced depths of emotion i didn’t know existed. i continue to be pushed to be a better person, to do right for a next generation, break patterns, teach truths. for me, no stack of writing can compare to the production of a life that unfolds in front of you, sprouts wings and soars. amazing.

this is what i keep in mind each day, through the challenges, the hours, the many fronts to manage. this moment too will pass. live it, experience it for its ups and downs, learn the lessons meant for you, be real about what it is. feel it all. its the feelings i’ve really been touched by. unlike a romance where you constantly examine your interactions, negotiations and communication, and the ways they push and pull at your commitment and relationship, love for Zi (at least so far) is something that isn’t mediated by my brain, by analysis. it’s physical, straight through my skin, not something i even have to think about or question.

and when i’m feeling the challenge, like last night, i get into bed and close my eyes and leave undone things undone. other times, i take refuge in unforgiving ambition and easily unimpressed discipline, and just push…knowing (well hoping) there will be more time and inclination for sleep, sex, leisure and liming as well as work and writing.

this moment too will pass. i am just going to have to be grateful for it all. now that the parts of work and life and love and family can’t be unglued from each other, i’ve got to make it all totally worth it. and i’m lucky because, so far, it already is. no question.

Post 20.

I’m having a bit of a crisis. thinking perhaps there is something i’m not doing right. or something i’m not doing.

today with zi was like the longest day of my life. i’m more tired than men in protracted wars. survivors of sleep-deprivation torture have nothing on me.

she’s finally up between 7 and 8 am. by finally, i mean she’s been breastfeeding for the morning on and off since about 5.30am, so yuh girl is pretty much done with rem sleep by daybreak. but by 7, she’s crawling over us like those american monster trucks crushing cars, though mostly she’s crushing my breasts with the palms of her hands or elbows and crushing her father’s balls and stomach with her knees and feet.

she’s loud too, with all the baas and gaas she can string together and she’s happy…grinning, bouncing singing happy…while of course we are completely comatose, our brains like those hard drives that you hear spinning, but which you know have already lost your data. i’ve been up breastfeeding at around 1am and then again at 3am, stone’s now slipped into bed around 4am. i’m convinced we have silent telepathetic debates about who is more tired when Zi wakes, and who should be the one awake enough to grab her ankle before she nose dives to the floor when she starts that marathon race to the bottom of the bed.

that’s just the waking up moment. from there proceeds a day, today that is, when she slept about 20 mins at 11am, 10 mins at about 3pm or so and then never again until after 8pm. yup.

now that’s just business as usual in this house. she stopped sleeping in the day at around a month old. my mother was convinced Zi wasn’t getting enough sleep because i was breastfeeding. i kept telling her no. then a couple of weeks ago, she called and asked me to call the doctor. she didn’t understand, Zi was full, bathed, dry and ready…and she just wouldn’t sleep. see, i said, i told you. i’m not calling the doctor, she’s healthy, happy and fine. she just doesn’t like to sleep.

in the beginning, i got really worried, i thought she wouldn’t grow if she didn’t sleep and her brain wouldn’t develop. the books were saying babies were sleeping 18 hours a day. mine was sleeping between 7 and 7, and was still up every two hours during that time. people told me to leave her let her bawl herself to sleep. i worried about that more. the girl was just up.

today, i watching the PM debate the state of emergency in the house of parliament. she was, of course, up and scaling me and the armchair like a baby squirrel monkey in circ de soleil. i knew she wasn’t hungry because she had just refused to eat more than a handful of pasta and three spoons of callaloo. she had breastfed for two minutes and preferred to chew on the remote. so, to listen to the speech, i put her in her crib.

that girl bawled for 45 mins. and did not fall asleep. see how exhaustion changes your philosophy about crying? after kamla was done, i went to get her. i expected her to be covered in tears, but she wasn’t. she’d just been yelling, mama, what de jail, yuh ent see i calling yuh, where yuh is, mama, ay, all yuh, doh get me vex yuh know, mama! for 45 mins. i picked her up and she was, suddenly, perfectly fine and ready to play.

after this, the day felt like i was moving slowly through water. i took her to the hammock, hoping to rock her to sleep. she cuddled up, latched on and kept her eyes open. we went to the studio where i thought the dark and a/c would lull her off. she decided the computers and cords were too much of an attraction, and started grabbing everything in sight. i took her back to the bed and she read her books and flung toys around while i tried to stayed conscious next to her.

its not the light, she sleeps longer in the dark, but not really. its not the heat, she sleeps longer in the a/c but not really. its not food, she sleeps longer when she’s full, but not really. and she’s prepared to bawl longer than i’m prepared to let her, and even then it doesn’t really make a difference.

i’m at my wits end. not because of the sleep thing. oh no! the last two days, she’s stopped eating well. i’ve hardly gotten anything in, except for oats. i think its because she’s teething, but i’m not seeing the teeth break out as yet. i’m beginning to wonder if she’s not getting enough nutrition because she doesn’t get formula or baby cereals. so, now i’ve got sleeping and eating anxieties. how come other babies seem to eat and sleep fine and mine is a happy, healthy, noisy, smiling, clapping, playful, mobile and alert opposite of that? am i doing something wrong? is this karma? is there a saint somewhere i can light a candle to?

i’m not really in crisis. but i needed a two hour nap today like an addict needs crack. the withdrawal is killing me. well, not really. but if you see me out there, looking rumpled, mumbling in the direction of the asphalt and rocking a distracted, irregular blink…at least you will know, i’m still tenaciously holding it together though my eyes feel sunburned with lack of sleep, sections of my brain seem to be detaching from each other and my body feels like the walking dead.

Post 19.

I’m feeling overwhelmed. The semester is beginning and i like to be on top of things and i’m not. i talked with another mother today and it seems this is just how it is. her son is 10 and she just realised it might not change until he gets to university. whew.

i love my baby, but i could do with a month to do nothing but write, all day, everyday, just to catch up to where i want to be.

the other side of being overwhelmed is being excited. in fact, its because i’m excited that i watch the hours and days ticking by, getting stressed while i get so little done.

i’m working on an issue of our in-house feminist journal. the issue is on indo-caribbean feminisms and its going to be super rad. i’ve got my own paper on theorising indian girlhood to submit, plus the introduction to write, plus all the papers to give a once over with an editor’s eye. i just have to….ummm….get it done. the issue was supposed to be up on line in september, but i’ve pushed it back to january. sounds manageable now, right?

i’ve also got a paper i want to submit to the Political and legal Anthropology Review, a journal that i’d love to get my work into for the first time. i’m extra excited about my paper, which is theorising from my phd thesis. yet, i’m also feeling intense trepidation. i just haven’t had the time to dedicate to it, time enough to send it off confidently knowing that it shows my capacity. is everything i do over the next few years going to feel like complete mediocrity?

then there’s that paper to present in november, on digital media, which i know nothing about, but thought i’d do fine with at the time. what was i thinking?

as i assess what’s in front of me, my brain moves from thinking ‘manageable’ to just thinking ‘aaacckkk’. that’s about as articulate or lucid as i can be. seriously. there it is again. aaaaackkkk.

that’s only the top of the iceberg or the avalanche depending on whether i’m focusing on the present or attempting to predict what’s ahead. i’ve also got a book chapter on women and islam due in january and new research i want to add to it, when i don’t know. and i’m caught between working on my book prospectus which is only three years overdue and finding the right words for a abstract, for a super fancy big word kind of brain-ticking workshop that i’d love to go to, due on the 12th. and here is me, alas, with only two arms.

that’s only 4 of the 24 things at the top of the list, which includes class beginning next week, a new course to write and even, somewhere in there, that little known activity called reading. that thing that academics do. i hardly have time or energy to glance at that list any more. and i’m not reassured by the fact that its not only me.

people tell me how academia is so flexible, but sometimes i dream of a 9-5 because academics have to write and writing takes time, quiet, thoughts and words – lots and lots. and its a real dilemma because more writing means less time with Zi, who i already spend only three full days with a week. why make a baby if she’s not going to see me?

professional women, often in their thirties, are entering the top tiers of their careers, just when the ticking biological clock sounds loud in their ear. and therein is the dilemma. you can’t do both, but you might have to. and when one has to suffer, which will it be? they call it publish or perish for a reason, but also wrapped up in your work is identity, confidence, challenge and satisfying investment of energy. those too are wrapped up in your baby, the one who doesn’t sleep day or night and who, of course, is currently teething and cranky.

today, its the avalanche i’m feeling.

so, this too is motherhood. the loss of career, the sacrifice of time and self, the reckoning with life over which you no longer have full control, the knowing that if you could just lock yourself off to work you’d be a superstar, except you can’t and so you won’t. i’ve always heard about competing career-family pulls for women, and about how you are not going to do either really well if you are trying to do both. i just never really knew that, when you are in that place, all it sounds like is

aaaacckkkk.

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