The audacity of work

I have a new sense of appreciation for Tanya Clement’s excellent “I am a woman and I am a mother and I do DH” post from Day of DH 2012. Right now, her sense of the “audacity” of being a mother in academia feels very real – particularly a sense of danger that is written into the word.

When people ask how the holiday break was, I cringe.  I generally prefer to be honest in social situations and am thus inclined to reply “shitty – the baby was sick, my sister was sick, I got sick. I had several projects that had been waiting for my undivided attention and they are still waiting. There was neither enough rest nor enough work.” But that makes me a downer of a colleague and so I try to smile and say that it was a busy but good break.

I bring this up not to moan about the break, but as a way of offering some texture to what feels like the inevitable “I’ve been away from my blog too long” lament. One of the things that was waiting for my undivided attention was this kind of writing – there was a post for the excellent blog Avidly on numbers,  numeracy, and the election that didn’t get written (sorry, Sarah!), but that continues to percolate – usually late at night or early in the morning, when I should be sleeping. There are a number of posts on hold about my own work on plague bills and commemorative technologies. I have a zillion things that I’d like to share about the successes and failures of using Omeka and Scalar in undergraduate classes last semester. My students in the Creating Archives course deserve a full discussion of their excellent final projects, which you can check out in advance of that post. I’m particularly keen to write about Helenka Mietka’s “Henriette and Henriette” project, which uses the forms available in Scalar to reproduce her own experience of gendered thinking in archival research. But all of that feels like a dangerous redirection of efforts, away from the things that a more legible in tenure and review metrics – publications, talks, etc.

At the same time, those small writing efforts seemed especially important to me as I faced the task of writing about the Claremont Center for Digital Humanities for administrators here in Claremont. What feels perilous from one perspective, feels essential from another. As we move forward on our grant requests in support of the Center, it’s been important that I, as PI, be able to concisely argue the benefits and costs of such a center for a consortium like ours. Deans and Provosts are busy; they need to be able to see the big picture quickly. I get that – but I’ve not written in that mode for a while. When I sat down to do that I writing, I found it difficult to turn off my scholarly long-form, deep research and evidence approach. A one page document was impossible and four pages took a lot of work and revision. I found myself wishing that I had spent more time blogging so that the genre/voice were more readily accessible when I needed them. This felt like a particularly acute need given that my duties as a mother meant that I had very little time to devote to the writing process. I needed to just get those documents done.

I found myself wishing that rather than not blogging because I’m a mother, I had blogged more because I’m a mother.

It takes a good deal of brain space and energy to shift work modes, in my experience. Accordingly, it feels as though making more room for public modes of writing is going to draw on already depleted resources. But it might be good in the long run. In the way that working out every day is good in the long run but hard to make happen. But I find myself wondering if I’m actually capable of inhabiting both writerly voices – the long form essay scholarly voice that is needed for that article that I love and hate because I’m still revising it – and that of the shorter form, more public scholar who is interacting with funding groups, administration, and outside collaborative groups like museums, artists, and game designers. Maybe I’ll simply become a more flexible writer, the academic equivalent of a triathlete. That would be great – because there’s a lot riding on the success of that effort when you’re a woman, a mother, and a junior scholar.

One thought on “The audacity of work

  1. Like this very much, J. And the notion of writing as a form of training, a kind of discipline as remembering what you want (writing) and not putting it off til there’s time is wonderful. Taught Aristotle today and his emphasis on action as being always makes such sense to me. Even if those actions are little bits. 🙂

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