December 2011

Post 41.

Just yesterday I finally submitted a publication that was four years overdue. As with most articles sent to ‘top’ journals in your field, you hope for a revise and resubmit (and not outright rejection), and you hope the revisions are changes you can make without deeply doubting your writing, your work and your worth.

Why I am four years overdue is beyond me. My thesis passed with no corrections and I was offered a chance to go to Max Planck, by my examiner Steven Vertovec, to continue the work. But, by that time, I was already working at Gender Studies and I don’t know if I thought I could get the writing done while here or if I figured I had lots of time for post docs or if I thought my only option would be to give up my beloved job for a fellowship or if I was just out of the hyper-competitive academic loop and naively figured I’d be fine. At some level too, I had this commitment to the region, feminist movement and Institute’s teaching that I figured was where my heart was and where my feet should be.

Hindsight is typically associated with clarity, but looking back on the decisions I made, I actually feel a lot of confusion about whether they were right or wrong. Sometimes I think that I wasted a lot of time, answering emails and being on top of the job mostly, but also participating in meetings or workshops or feminist events or doing various media things from New Voices to my ‘If I was PM’ blogs or just giving too much time to teaching. Really, I should have made decisions about locking off the admin and activism, and I should have just been badmind about getting the writing done, even if I risked my bosses or my activist sistren and bredren thinking I wasn’t invested in institution or movement-building. I take a lot of personal responsibility for being clueless about the perish part of ‘publish or perish’ and for thinking that, because I gave so much to the Institute, the university would never fire me.

My past IGDS bosses would say that they warned me and I didn’t listen. But, I think that the messages were not so simple. I think now about the new me that seems to say no to attending virtually everything (mostly because of the baby) and there is no way that would have been okay then. In the early years I didn’t have the senority, autonomy or sense to set my own boundaries on what my department demanded – and I was still paying my dues and proving my commitment.

I actually never developed that sense, it’s just that one day I got a letter saying I was up for tenure and then sense suddenly set in like a big heavy meteor hitting the earth. And, I’m still putting the pieces together after the impact. On the one hand, I’m a lot wiser now about my job. The truth is that, regardless of how unpopular it makes you, you can’t sacrifice for your place of employment. In the end, they will want to know why you didn’t focus on your own work and, in our neo-liberal context, it will all come down to the individual decisions you made well or badly, regardless of the circumstances.

Looking at our regular meeting agendas on all the work the Institute was (and was supposed to be) doing, Jane Parpart, a development feminist who did a sojourn with us, would often remark that our own publishing was completely absent, and overtly absent from being factored into our work lives. She was right and keeping note of the kind of mixed messages I’ve gotten have helped me to remember not to fully blame myself. It’s not that I haven’t received excellent mentorship, it’s just that anywhere trying to achieve a huge amount will want you to be a team player, even if the writing that actually counts is a solitary activity.

On the other hand, my friend Nicola says that if I hadn’t been as much part of the women’s movement as I was or inventing games or building feminist consciousness amongst male and female students on the campus, I’d have looked back now and wished I hadn’t lost those fulfilling, energy and passion-filled years to publishing, after already ‘losing’ so much mobilising time to graduate school, even if I ended up with the right CV. So, I’m fighting to not devalue that time and work as well, just because it doesn’t meet the demands of academia. Yet, if academia is where I’m am, I can’t pretend there aren’t rules.

Sometimes, I feel its hard to win. Yesterday, someone asked if I wanted to help with the upcoming commonsense convois being hosted by the Lloyd Best Institute. I felt selfish saying I have to put any spare time to publishing, but I said no. Last week, domestic workers asked if I’d help at a Saturday workshop. Weekends I spend with the baby so I said no. I feel bad because the women who are organising, writing and leading in some way or another all did it with careers and children, and I feel lame that I don’t have time for more than work and Ziya. If these women could build institutions, write, run NGOs, raise children, engage in advocacy and more….shouldn’t I be able to also?

I find myself thinking about the complexities of hindsight, assessing decisions, figuring out how to value my actions, and realistically appreciating what the lessons are. I have to move in the right direction from wherever it is I now am, even if its two steps back from where I am supposed to be. So, yesterday, even as I finally sent off that article and sat down mulling about why it took me so long, I also have to try to just not look back and instead focus on what’s ahead.

Women in academia can easily fall off track once they become mothers – and the majority do – in fact they do worse that both single folks and married men. This week, I am checking out daycares, to find another day that I can spend at work instead of with Ziya, despite telling myself I’d make the sacrifice to give her three days and not just the weekend two. From January, she’s losing another day with me. I’m anguished about it, but really have no choice. That family-career dilemma is very very real. I only hope I don’t look back on decisions such as this with the kind of questioning and unease that hindsight now brings me. Having a career is hard and accepting you did your best is also not easy.

Post 40.

In these difficult days in T and T, I’ve been mulling over the morose, morbid perspectives, from columnists, on Facebook, on the radio, that seem to be everywhere. I’ve been wondering about my own emotional place in relation to them. Like everyone else, I’m disappointed in the failures of the Partnership government to do some basic things like pass the Procurement Bill (something I had scripted an If I was PM video blog on before I had the baby). I agree that the State of Emergency has left the population with no choice but to be more cynical, critical and suspicious of the government than before.

The crime situation severely affected my family years before this, leaving wounds that have not and may never heal. I’ve never felt safe in this country since, especially not in my home. And, like everyone else, I face declining real income, almost unmanageable costs of living, the virtual impossibility of owning a house and other things that make life feel vulnerable, precarious, unsafe and anxious. In the midst of that toxic cocktail, and attending to the public comment on our nation, I’ve been wondering why I don’t feel the caustic bitterness that I hear so much around me.

It’s not from not being affected or from not caring. Maybe it’s my personality, which is at heart optimistic and somewhat annoyingly cherry. Without a doubt, I’ve benefited from my parents climb from poverty. I’m clearly cushioned by having a job, a good one and one I work immensely hard and passionately at, one I’m lucky enough to want to work hard and passionately at. But I think the greatest cushion in my life, the one that somehow keeps me intellectually and politically engaged but also emotionally centred, is my family. I’m lucky here too, that we are all healthy, happy, housed and living in working harmony, and that neither state nor criminals have violated that…perhaps, as yet.

I lie in bed at night so unbelievably thankful for Stone and for Ziya, overwhelmed with appreciation for the blessing they both are, overjoyed by just our being together and aware of every single moment in all its preciousness that I find myself unable to connect to the kind of dark anger and despairing bleakness I hear in others’ voices . It’s not that I don’t understand them, and I don’t deny their validity. I just don’t feel it, without explanation or justification.

Maybe it’s just this moment. Maybe it’s just sheer exhaustion from being up night and day for the last year, working full time all the while. This first year of this new life called motherhood. I plan so many political blogs I don’t have the time to do. I used to be a veteran writer of letters to the Editor. I used to do a lot more TV political commentary. But, I’ve found myself retreating to this little, nuclear world that I hardly have time, energy or emotion for, writing here instead of to newspapers and spending weekends close to Ziya instead of undertaking the civic involvement I used to. It’s strange for me, just as strange as not being able to connect to the tone and language I hear and read.

Peggy Antrobus, grandmother of Caribbean feminism and one of my mentors, has reminded me on more than one occasion that women have life stages that need to be heard and honoured. I’m holding onto that. For me, the absolute perfection of my life, which is not premised on things being as I want or having all I want, is so fleeting and fragile that I find myself stopping in my tracks to acknowledge and absorb it, to let it sit in my hand like a resting butterfly. I’ve achieved something in my own life that I hardly knew before, stable love, quiet connection, functional parenting, and I walk around on a cloud like someone in love, suffused with sheer happiness. It’s unreal and seems wrong and apolitical and against all kinds of people’s expectations of what I should feel in these times of blood and hunger.

The truth is that I’m genuinely happy and that’s something I hardly hear anyone say, living as I do in a place where people are often either quarreling or feteing their cares away. I find myself interested in neither end of that pendulum. I’m happy to work hard as I do. I’m happy to spend my little time left over with Stone and Ziya, doing not much at all. I’m happy to spend quality moments with my few, good friends. The rest of the maddening crowd I’ve pushed to my periphery, perhaps only delaying its inevitable impact on this oasis. But, its from this oasis that I am encountering the world, seemingly at odds with its gnashing rage and depressed disillusion.

For this kind of transcendence, I’m grateful. This moment may not last and I cherish it’s cupping hand around me. There is more activism ahead, more political organising, more engagement with the world. But, here and now, I find myself feeling protective about my own sentiments, unwilling to be taken over by the mire and maya (my friend elspeth’s words) that seem to surround, self-conscious about the need to hold tight to an innner buoyancy I feel, and which feels true and real, despite or perhaps because of the way that realities are being constructed and commented upon around me.