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.