On care-full scholarship

I woke up at four am this morning. Not something I do often, but from time to time this hour seems to be magical, necessary, and part of my process*.

I am currently in this blissful window of time and space that is post-PhD submission but pre-anything-else. Yet, I still feel the pressure. Publish or perish is never far from my mind. And so, I am awake at four am.

This liminal space is a strange one for me. I feel myself expanding into spaces that I have craved for so long – fiction, stream-of-consciousness writing, creativity, art, beauty. These are the things I had no headspace for in the thick of my PhD. I never thought I would be that person; all consumed by one project. I refuse to feel guilty about it though – my PhD really mattered, matters, to me. I put a lot of care and connection into that piece of work. I sacrificed willingly.

So now that I have submitted I am ready and excited to share that work with the world. I have published three papers out of my PhD in the process, and have two more to go. I am enjoying this process of sharing my research, my vision, my thinking with the world.

However, I am also constantly being tapped on the shoulder by the shame gremlin that says: ‘well, what next? Are you capable of turning this into the next step?’ I am all too aware of the reality of academia post-PhD, that the competition is rife and the opportunities barren. At the same time, I realise that I can only do my best, and feel heartened by my friends taking up amazing positions and doing really great work. I feel hope yet. Perhaps that is naïveté, but I remain grounded in the knowledge that I am not my PhD.

I have been speaking with a friend lately on finding, holding space for, and maintaining connectivity with my work, with the work that I value. This is where, for me, the magic lies. To me this work has a number of different facets, but primarily it is in finding that space where I feel flow and competency, where I am proud of what I am producing, and am actually producing.

My PhD sent me into the thick of anxiety, where my own scarcity and perfection narratives ran deep. In emerging from that space it was more creativity, not less, that has helped me to write (I identify as a writer – I learned long ago that being a writer is not contingent on being published).

This weekend I have turned, once again, to Brene Brown “Rising Strong“, Amanda Palmer “The Art of Asking“, Elizabeth Gilbert “Big Magic” and Sara Ahmed “Living a Feminist Life” in building shame resilience and reimagining the academe, my academe, our academe – (re)conceptualising my contribution to this space I value so very much. I will write more on this in due course, when my mind has fully captured the pattern of these patterns.

It’s now five am and I have turned to Mountz and colleagues For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal UniversityI first read this when it was published in 2015 and spawned a host of ‘slow scholarship’ thinkpieces. It resonated then, but with unease. It resonates even more now. I think, back then, the unease stemmed from getting caught up, as most of us did, in the ‘slow scholarship’ trendy and easy aspect of the piece – and missing where the true power lay: with the more challenging Feminist Politics of Resistance aspect. Perhaps it is my own awakening recently that has amplified this, but I now read this piece and the words of Audre Lorde and Sara Ahmed sing. The authors state “Care work is work“, and in reading this now so many connections ping in my mind. There is inherent depth and connection here. This. 

This is not about doing less work. This is not about pitting productivity against self-care. This is about self-care as productivity. Not merely in our academic work but as humans too. As scholars contributing to the collective, doing our life’s work. It matters. 

I revel in the headspace I have just now. I find myself making new connections and feeling excited about the process of discovery, and of creation. This work, this writing, takes courage. Sometimes courage is a small, quiet room. But my whole being is telling me it is time to go there.

Ultimately, I am re-discovering my own inherent care and connection with creativity in my academic work, as academic work.  This is meaningful to me. This is what scholarship means to me.


*This writing, this post, is part of my process, too. It was written stream-of-consciousness style with very little editing, as I often do. Today, for some yet unknown reason, it felt important to hit publish. Sometimes our words just need to be let out into the world. Please be kind with them.