Monday, December 12, 2011

On Diverging Energies and the End of the Year

Seattle has been absolutely beautiful lately. Crisp, cool air. Blue skies. Little rain. This was excellent news as I bounded out of my house yesterday morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, to participate in my first organized 5k. With the support of 2 wonderful friends, we donned our Jingle Bell gear (mostly just bright hats and tinsel, along with a symphony of small bells attached to other runners' shoes). I finished the race in 30 minutes, which was my goal (if I had one?), and felt completely energized. I began 2011 with a goal of running a 5k, (among other goals), and now I've done it! (Un)fortunately, I also told myself that if I successfully did a 5k without too much trouble, that I would sign up for a sprint triathalon. One of my running buddies was completely on board with this idea, and so now I suppose that is my new goal. Sprint tri this summer...

As I'm writing about this accomplishment, I catch myself thinking, "elyse, this doesn't have much to do with scholarship or activism, come on..." Ah! Exactly. I am searching and exploring ways to find synthesis and overlap of my own energies. I have never thought of exercise or activity as a way to define myself. It was actually a huge insecurity of mine when I arrived in this hyper-fit city. But now, with some personal goal setting and encouragement of friends, I am happy to think of myself as active and someone who enjoys physically activity. This is another aspect then of how to achieve balance in my life. My whole life. Which includes my scholarship, which includes my activism. See how that works?

But this notion of energy is interesting. It is the end of the year, a time when things are seen to come to a close. We are encouraged to bring some finality to projects, check in with friends and family, take our pulse regarding our projects and goals. This happens in academia (time to apply for the PhD program, many theses and PhD Defenses, presenting my public scholarship portfolio), this happens in the non-profit world (appreciation parties, final fundraising pushes, PR campaigns galore), etc...

Amidst this seemingly inevitable energy (dare I say) vortex, I still find myself drawn to starting new things. Playing music with new people in new situations, running this race, budding relationships; I feel a definite pull towards many new things, even as the air around me is full of murmurs of wrapping up, creating closure and looking inward.

What does this mean for my scholarship and activism? In many ways, they have taken the back-burner, perhaps unwittingly because my energies are so divided right now in both inward and outward looking ways. I also haven't been in touch with SYGW in a while, which feels strange. And, since I transcribed the interviews for my fieldwork, they have sat on my desk looking lonely, but as of yet, not commanded my attention. I have a huge pile of books that have sat on my desk for the entire quarter, their pages longingly wanting to be opened. Instead, at least in the last 3 weeks, I have focused on grading and my TA-ship, very much at the expense of my own work. I did successfully present my public scholarship portfolio (which can be accessed here).

Here, though, I want to be careful. Graduate school has too much of a tendency to make us feel beaten down about how little we are doing, rather than celebrating how much we are accomplishing. My pursuits of late have been incredibly positive for me, contributing to how situated and comfortable I feel in Seattle. They are contributing to feelings of community, feelings of hope and inspiration for collaboration, and general reminders of how lucky I am to be living here, getting support to pursue precisely what is of interest to me. So, perhaps the lack of structure this quarter meant I was not as productive as I "should" have been. On the flip side, I am returning East in a week with a more renewed, refreshed and positive outlook on my time here in Seattle than I've yet had. I have spoken with my other MA colleagues about how we must stay on track and support one another to finish our theses in the spring. I want that process to feel collaborative, even though we are all writing our own projects.

Of course, in writing this, I'm feeling like I'm somehow excusing myself for the abysmal amount of reading I accomplished this quarter. That is rather embarrassing, yes. But, what's done is done, and now I have to move forward, embracing the fact that indeed, the way I live my life is going to inform my scholar-activism. The more balance I can achieve, the more people I communicate and collaborate with, the more I can support my own healthy lifestyle, and the more I can bring compassion to others will all lead to a richer engagement with community organizations and social movements.

On a closing note, it is worth mentioning that today is a historic day here in Seattle, and along the West Coast, as the #Occupy movement is positioning the West Coast Port Shutdown. I decided that I needed to support my students (who I felt I did not support enough earlier in the quarter), and will be holding office hours this afternoon. I feel incredibly torn about this, and would really much rather be at the Port Shutdown. However, it is a choice I've made, and my 60 or so students (many of whom will NOT make use of this time), will at least have the chance to feel supported and well-prepared for their exam tomorrow.

To all my colleagues and friends that are going to the Port: be safe, be smart. This is a very exciting moment for Occupy to show that direct action can be more powerful, in some cases, than Occupation. It will be very interesting to see where this goes.

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