Recently I read that the twenty-first century will be the ‘age of the migrant’. This pronouncement made me laugh and boil with rage in equal measure–for pretty much the same reason. I often come across such headlines telling me that people, by which I mean middle class white Anglo-Americans, are discovering phenomena, whether growing their own vegetables, sewing their own clothes or migrating, that working poor people have known as their lived experience for hundreds of years.

I’ve been a migrant almost all my life. From the age of three months I was on the move from the place where I was born to the next place my parents were going, and then eventually on to the next place my partner was going. I’d never thought very much about what that really means in my life until quite recently. I say I’m a migrant and, depending on your understanding and experience, you might think I mean I was born in one place but grew up in another, or that my job has brought me to a place that I didn’t grow up in. Those are both true in my case, but my life has been permeated and structured by migration in much more complex and layered ways. I was indeed born in a different place than where I currently live. Also,

  • My mother and I were not born in the same country and don’t have the same mother tongue.(My mother and father were also not born in the same country as each other, or share a mother tongue, though they share the same ethnicity and race.)
  • My partner and I were not born in the same country, don’t have the same mother tongue and we don’t share the same ethnicity or race.
  • My grandfather, father and I were all born in the same place, but my father and grandfather both died in different countries (different not just from the place they were born, but different from each other).
  • Members of my family have migrated from one place to another for four successive generations (i.e my paternal grandmother’s father was born in India and migrated to Mauritius; his child, my grandmother, was born in Mauritius and migrated to the UK; her child, my father, was born in Mauritius and migrated to Canada; and his child, me, was born in Mauritius and migrated to the UK, Canada and Finland).

Most of the time I do not bother to explain these layers to people, even people I know well. Insofar as people can understand and relate to the idea of migration they can generally only do so one generation or move at a time. I’m thinking here of the confusion an Italian-Australian friend who lives in Canada regularly encounters when she tries to explain how it’s possible that she is both Italian and Australian but living in Canada (not to mention the fact that she is the mother of a child who is part Pakistani).

Though I teach literatures that speak to experiences of colonialism, dispossession, exile and migration, I’ve never really found myself in the literature of diaspora, probably because of my more tangled lived experience. I’m aware that most people who meet me probably think I teach the literature I do because ‘it’s about my life’. It’s not. There’s no novel about my life, family or history. For this reason, too, as with many aspiring writers, I’ve always wanted to write about my life because the world I experience isn’t one I’ve ever encountered in a novel.

The fact that I don’t see myself reflected in literature is not inherently problematic for me, for a few reasons. One reason is that when you study literature from a postcolonial, feminist or queer perspective you come to understand that representation cuts at least two ways. It is marvellous to see yourself represented if that representation allows for the full possibility of your being. If, as is sadly much more likely, representation is a means of confining and producing only certain versions of your being, it is dispiriting, even silencing, to encounter those representations. Another reason is that I retain some faith in imaginative empathy. If we can only truly, madly, deeply love the writing that is about us, or can only write the texts that are about us, what will happen when we are faced with the suffering of others? I have to–I do–believe that we can truly care about those who are not us.

Nevertheless, though I don’t find it problematic that my migrant family and experience are missing from the novels and poems I’ve read, I would like to write about it myself and this is where confusion sets in. When I gave my blog the title ‘thinking from here to there’ I was thinking of it as a metaphorical descriptor–how do I get from the thought I have here to the written page there. I often become lost along the way from here to there, sometimes because I am curious about other things, sometimes because I’m not sure I can make it. As with all metaphors, however, there is an important materiality to the ones that stick in our minds and our narratives. My life has been a literal shuttling back and forth between places and inevitably that means that the raw material of my writing life is oddly unstable at its core. This isn’t to say I don’t have a writing self to work from, or that I am a fragmented self.  It isn’t that I don’t know if I exist. It is more a question of whether my existence is worth transformation into text. Literature is a kind of knowing but an odd kind; what authorizes that knowledge, what do we lay claim to know when we write ourselves into fiction?

When literary critics in the 1980s began to write about the ways that fragmentation and unstable meanings were the hallmarks of the postmodern condition, and postmodern narrative, there were others, especially those who studied black and postcolonial writing, who pointed out that such issues were well-known to and had been negotiated by minority writers for years. What seems to be important here and now is something that others struggled to do ten or twenty years ago in another place. The questions of where ‘here’ is and where ‘there’ is are temporal as much as spatial. When Salman Rushdie burst onto the scene with his magical realist Indian-English in Midnight’s Children, it seemed incredible. When GV Desani published his account of one man’s spiritual adventures in All About H. Hatterr thirty years earlier, it seemed odd and disorienting. Now we read Desani and know that he was on to something. His novel is understood now, post-Rushdie, post-modernism, as one of those gems that defies the boundaries between modernism and postmodernism. (If you’re intrigued, you can read more about him here.) What I wonder is how did Desani know that it was possible to write like that? How did he trust his own higgledy-piggledy existence enough to write from it, to write about it?

It is a common enough adage that you should ‘write what you know’. I’m tempted to say I don’t know about anything. I don’t come from ‘here’ or ‘there’. What I seem to know about is the motion of knowledge itself; the moment before you understand; the moment after you realize you don’t know; the moment you realize that you never understood; or the moment you realize that no one has ever understood you as anything more than a particular instance of a general problem (migrant, woman, marginalized).

I can imagine an argument that all literature is really about not knowing, about not being sure of what you really know, but I don’t find such broad generalizations useful for solving the problem of writing. It doesn’t help me to learn that this is a ‘universal’ problem when I can see for myself that the universal has never yet happened to alight on the particulars of my experience. Existential novels, for example, are about not knowing whether we are doing the right thing, living in the right way, but they rely on very sure and certain characterizations of time, place and human behaviour to communicate that. In fact, canonical existential novels are, often, the highly stylized and aestheticized products of writers very sure of the value and solidity of their time and place. Marginalized writers, on the other hand, are often writing about a time and place their readers don’t know, perhaps even a place their readers don’t really believe exists. Sometimes that is another side of the same space they inhabit with those who are at the centre–they show you a place you thought you knew because you live in it–and sometimes it is a place they have left behind but reconstructed in memory. In either case, they can claim a knowledge of something, a place, a time, a world that they breathe life into with form and language.

My attempts to write my world into existence, both academic and creative, seem to founder in the ceaseless motion between the places I’ve moved to, left behind and sometimes returned to only to leave again. I am not a nomad, there is no natural cycle to my wanderings. Neither am I a cosmopolitan, making myself at home everywhere with the casually imperial air of one who is free to travel anywhere. I wonder, is it possible to make fiction out of that, the constant movement of self and knowledge? What would that look like? How would it read?

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been trying to write about what it is to love straight white men as a straight brown woman for a long time.

I wouldn’t say that all my writing, academic and non-academic, is reducible to that particular project, but as I work on making sense of the things I can and do write about, and the things I want to but don’t write about, I see that there are some connections between all my writing projects that are becoming clearer now.

When I went to grad school it was a really a kind of stopping place on the way to writing fiction. I thought I would just use it as a structure for becoming a writer, but as I attended classes and wrote papers I became interested in other aspects of questions of race, writing and desire. I was incredibly irritated by the way desire could only be spoken about in terms given by psychoanalysis, which were always already white terms. Histories of love in colonial societies, and representations of such love in literature, all seemed to presume that the question of desire should and could be addressed by identification, lack, fetishes, Lacanian mimicry, haunting and mourning. It seemed that if I was going to say something about love in a time of colonialism, I would have to begin by explaining why psychoanalysis wasn’t enough.

Meanwhile, at the same time, I tried and failed to write my stories. I taught classes where the students and I talked about the sweet seduction of interracial love as a colonial narrative–all we have to do is fall in love with each other, despite the odds, and we will have found our way back to the ‘universal’, no need to actually decolonize the world or our desires. I also struggled with increasingly difficult and demoralizing encounters with straight white men in the academy, nearly all of which I can’t elaborate on at this time of writing.

If I were to try to characterize what has happened to my writing, knowing that I still don’t see a lot of it very clearly, I would say that I allowed myself to be diverted, over and over again, from the things I thought and felt because I believed that I could not write directly about the things I wanted to say. It seemed to me–and it still seems to me–that I have to work my way through the historical morass of how desire and colonialism have been understood before.

I recognize that to a layperson that last sentence might seem rather strange–isn’t a psychoanalytic approach to desire all about recognizing how our individual histories have formed us? We desire this because of Mommy-and-Daddy, or that because Mommy-and-Daddy would not let us have it when we wanted it. But that is not history. It is the mere passing of time as understood on the scale of one individual’s life. An actual history reveals that psychoanalysis is one of the key theories developed in the nineteenth-century to colonize our ideas about desire–that we love what is the same as us, that we identify with others so as to incorporate them into ourselves, that we repeat these searches for what we know and can consume over and over and over. Psychoanalysis does recognize some difference as part of the play of desire, but it cannot recognize or admit to its own part in deciding what kinds of differences will matter when we talk about desire. (So, yes to sexual difference, but no to racial difference.)

In thinking and writing about how problematic our theories and histories of desire are though, I have forgotten myself. I have tried to forget about the ways that loving actual white men, who didn’t love me back because of the colour of my skin, frames the world I live in and try to write about. I have tried to forget about how difficult it is to write as a recognizably rigorous scholar when you want to talk about race and colonialism as more than simply ‘context’ or ‘background’ to a universal theoretical problem. I have tried to forget about how much more talent I would need as a writer to write stories about race and colonialism that would be read beyond a niche audience. I have tried to forget about myself and this desire to write.

And I have almost succeeded.

 

 

 

In my frequent reflections on why I don’t write more one of the most persistent concerns is that it is so difficult to say what I actually want to say. Surely all writers struggle with finding the right words or the right form, but what I mean is finding the right situation in which to say what I am thinking.

Over the course of many interactions I have with colleagues and students in a week I am regularly surprised by comments that I can find no sensible response to in the moment they occur. I don’t mean that I don’t know what I think, but rather that I don’t know if I can find a way to say what I think that does not sour the conversation. This calls for careful judgement, in the most trivial as well as the important conversations.

In the last few weeks temperatures have been hovering around -30 C where I live, which naturally leads to very short conversations with strangers about the weather. This utterly banal topic of conversation has an underlying direction that you should respond to correctly to make the encounter a reaffirming rather than alienating one. Almost everywhere I have been in the last two weeks, someone has said to me ‘How is it out there?’ and I have sometimes given the wrong answer. The wrong answer could be ‘yes, it’s awful’ (I should have said ‘it’s cold, but so sunny/pretty/warmer than yesterday’) or ‘actually, it isn’t that bad’ (I should have said ‘it is horrible, won’t we all be glad when it’s warmer/gone/we don’t have to shovel the driveway’). In other words, to keep things going, sometimes you are supposed to affirm what the other person thinks, other times to make them feel better about what you both know, and now and again you are supposed to challenge their thinking, but in a way that confirms we are all in this together.

You can’t get that conversation right every time and, on balance, that one probably does not matter that much. We’ve all found ourselves saying things we didn’t mean because we understood that it was what would make the conversation flow. Canadians have developed a rather effective little call-and-response for this situation, which is simply to say ‘Cold enough for ya?’. You only have to laugh or smile in response to this and everyone has had their conversation about the weather and gone away feeling their common humanity.

Whether you think it is really awful that it is cold out there doesn’t matter much. If you say the right thing to keep the encounter light and pleasant it has no negative consequences really and has every possibility of being a friendly encounter that makes both people feel better.

When you scale up to talk about more difficult issues, however, it starts to become tricky. People who are in some way disadvantaged by the class, racial or sex-gender structures of society regularly encounter these small conversations as micro-aggressions, and their unsettling effect is cumulative. The experience of micro-aggression isn’t that one rude, uninformed or bad-tempered person said ‘x’ to you; it is that polite, educated and nice people also say them and that these exchanges exist in the same conversational matrix as the conversations about the weather. How shall I tell you it was inappropriate for you to ask me that? Shall I tell you I don’t discuss those issues with someone I don’t know that well? Shall I make a joke that makes a point, but we all have a laugh together?

You have to respond to the moment you find yourself in, making a series of judgments about what effect your words might have. It isn’t cowardly not to want to alienate people and it isn’t especially skillful to constantly show people that you think differently than they do. At the same time you can eat your words so often that you forget you can say that you don’t agree. Do you carry on trying to have conversations with others or do you just decide some conversations are not worth having and only talk to people you are sure understand you?

My own inclination has always been to try to keep having conversations but to become more skillful about them. At least part of my blocking about writing has to do with a sense that I am still not skilled enough to do that. I’ve always imagined academic writing as fundamentally conversational: ‘I’ve been listening to several of you talk about this issue, and while I think you all make good points, here is my different view.’ You can only say what you want to say by referencing what has already been said and in the way that it has been said. You work your way through a phd in order to be equipped to start talking with others. So what if they aren’t talking about the things you want to talk about? Or in the way you want to say them? What if you have to listen to five different conversations before you can start talking, whereas others only have to listen to two?

My work focuses primarily on postcolonial theory, which was non-existent as an academic specialization in literature before the 1980s. There had been conversations about imperialism before that, but not such that a literary scholar could make use of in a way that was legible to others. The critics who pioneered postcolonial theory did so by genuine erudition. They had listened to so many more conversations than their contemporaries, because they had to in order to start speaking. And it is indicative that feminist, queer and postcolonial scholars often have to begin conversations by saying ‘let’s talk about what isn’t said’. We have to begin from silence. We have to enter into conversation through silence.

All this is wearing on the writing soul. It is tiring, always wondering if now is the right time to say it; if you have taken your silent share in the conversation long enough; if you will be allowed to speak again after you have said this; if anyone will even notice you are speaking? My writing silence is not the sign of a lack of thinking and reading. It proceeds from a deep sense that I cannot find the situation in which to say what I want to say.

It is a truism that you only work out what you should have said when the moment has long passed. Writing looks as though it arrests time, stops it in its tracks so that you can think of how to say what you want to say exactly, but this is unsatisfying in the sense that when you have thought of exactly the right thing to say, your listener may be long gone.

Conversation with people who don’t know the same things I know is vital for me, but for reasons that are unclear to me, my confidence in my ability to take my part in the conversation has diminished significantly in recent years. This blog takes the place of that, even as I am aware that blogs are often monologues rather than the dialogical space they purport to be, but I live in hope of one day talking and writing about the things I want to say again, rather than making small talk about the weather.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was thirteen I persuaded my parents to buy me a year’s subscription to a hockey magazine. We had only recently arrived in Canada and almost every boy in my school either was or had been a hockey player at some time, though in some cases quite reluctantly. The boys who actively played hockey formed one of the elites of the school and most of them would not have given me the time of day, but one of my first, and lasting, friends in that town happened to be one of them. I read the hockey magazine for him, because of him. I didn’t know anything about hockey, other than the field hockey I had played in England, and I thought that taking an interest in hockey would be a friendly thing to do.

I learned something about hockey and made a good friend.

This week I planned to write a post about the things that are difficult to say because there is no situation or community in which to say them. In fact, I had already written that post when the spirit of Valentine’s Day reminded me that although I do struggle with finding a community for my work, I’ve always been keen to learn about things that my friends are interested in–things that I have no particular interest in except that they are interested in them. And the more I thought about this, the more I realized how much I have learned from taking an interest in what other people do, rather than looking for people who do what I do.  Among the things I’ve learned about in some detail because of someone I liked, or loved, had a passion for the subject are: the history of the early church, how to drink real beer, kendo, The Spice Girls, Tibetan Buddhism, how to play squash, Rembrandt’s etchings, and science-fiction.

Now, this may be a particularly gendered way to acquire knowledge. It is at least partly the result of being socially trained to relate to others as a listener, spectator or receiver rather than as the speaker, performer or doer. If I didn’t have my own intellectual, artistic and practical interests, there would be a danger in just following in the wake of other people’s passions. There is a valuable space, however, for learning things purely because they interest the people who interest you. It is the natural context in which many of us learn as children though we don’t usually reflect on it as such. If your parents enjoyed going to the opera rather than canoeing, you are much more likely to have done the same simply because of your relationship to them. I would have preferred to do more sports as a child but my father was fairly unatheletic, as a result of which physical exercise was not emphasized much in our home.

As it happens, my earliest experience of learning something outside the classroom was entirely driven by affection, rather than a personal interest. My younger brother wanted to learn the piano when he was as young as three years old, but he was both too little and painfully shy to go to classes by himself. He would, however, happily go to sit in on lessons with his older sister, and so I was given piano lessons so that eventually he would learn to play. Of course, I learned to play too, though never as proficiently as my brother, who is genuinely a more talented and natural musician, but my life is also enriched by having studied music for the love of him. (In that case, the affection worked both ways. He would go where I was and I would do things for his sake, and it was a dynamic my parents skillfully made use of.)

We live in a moment when managing your own life projects is paramount. You are obliged to develop yourself according to your skills, your interests and your talents, so that you are perfectly customized to realize your life as an individual. In such an environment, working with others is still important, but only insofar as you are working on your own project that somehow meshes magically and productively with theirs. There is something apparently authentic about working on your own hobbies or research, but equally something vaguely dependent or immature about following your affections for others wherever they may lead.

It is probably true that something you pursue for the sake of a friendship is unlikely to become your life’s work–you will remain an amateur. As a way of living, however, it has considerable attractions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of 2014 my partner defended a doctoral thesis. There’s nothing extraordinary about that except that when we met over twenty years ago I was an undergraduate and my partner was preparing to begin a phd at a Western Canadian university.

It has never occurred to me, and in fact I think it would be quite inaccurate, to describe my partner as a procrastinator because I’ve seen the work that has gone into the development and refinement of an original intellectual style. The person I share my life with has a profound curiosity, a propensity to investigate things thoroughly (reading everything one needs to know in order to say something meaningful about a topic), and a deeply independent streak (which often means investigating everything on its own terms and not accepting received wisdom).

Over the years, refreshingly few people have asked me why the dissertation was taking longer to complete than they expected. In the last month however, once the doctorate was a fait accompli it seemed to be a license for people to ask and offer some breathtakingly audacious advice on how my partner and I should manage our academic and married life better, more effectively and implicitly on the proper timeline.

We’ve never done anything at the right time or at the right pace. We married ‘too young’, then we spent ‘too long’ studying; we waited ‘too long’ to settle down (which we still haven’t done since I spend a significant part of the year in Canada teaching while my partner and our home is in the UK) and we may have left it ‘too late’ to have children.

It is hard to have conversations like this with friends. It is hard to realize that people around you, who actually care about you and your wellbeing, perceive your life as somehow failed, chaotic, or unproductive because it hasn’t followed the right pace or achieved certain landmarks at the appropriate times.

It is doubly hard when, of course, there are things you are not happy about with your life. Did I plan to sacrifice my family life for the sake of an academic job? Never. Until now, I’d always gone where my partner’s studies and work took us. Did I plan to be a blocked academic, who doesn’t produce enough research publications in a timely fashion that would allow me to get a job in another university in the current regime? No. I published a book with a serious academic publisher within three years of obtaining my doctorate. I thought I was going to be the academic that I planned to be and would be able to make choices based on my merits as a scholar. So the shape of my daily life right now is not what I want, and it is so easy to start believing the thoughts ‘if only you’d done this quicker’, ‘if only you’d done that at the right time’, ‘if only you’d …’ and ‘if only we’d ..’ until you are consumed with what you could have done, if only you’d handled time properly.

But the unsolicited advice I’ve been given in the last few months has helped me realize something that perhaps I’d never fully absorbed before. When my partner came into my life, it changed my whole understanding of time. I was brought up not just to meet deadlines, but to attempt to beat them. Much of my father’s self-image was built on having been the youngest to win a particular prize or pass an exam, and he was obsessed with his children doing the same. In that context, it was refreshing for me to meet and know someone who seemed to just follow where their own curiosity, intelligence and ethical commitments led, and did so persistently in circumstances when others would have given up. Over the years, I’ve also repeatedly seen the generosity of my partner’s paid and unpaid efforts, which have often been quite literally for the benefit of others, helping others to get their work done rather than achieving individual success. It is slow? Yes. It is. That kind of work cannot be fast, and it cannot be accomplished alone or attributed to the heroic self-disciplined efforts of one person. And it may never show up as something you’ve achieved in time-space.

There’s another way, of course, that time changed when I began sharing my life with this person, which is that as long as we were travelling together we were never wasting time. That is not sentimental consolation, it is reality. Time is not wasted because you fail to get things done, it is only wasted when you fail to live the life you want because you think it cannot be done that way.

In this way our experience of time is also intimately connected with imagination. How we imagine what is possible for our lives generates its own timelines–when things can and should be accomplished, how long we should spend on tasks, and how we will know when we have come to the ‘end’ of time. Some aspects of my life, such as writing, have become quite literally unimaginable. The only way I can grasp writing is by returning painfully, and unproductively, to the timeline that has been established by others (write more and publish now, frequently, faster). I cannot imagine it any other way at the moment. But other aspects of my life, such as the life I share with another, seem to be actually freed from imagination, and thus, also from time. There is nothing to achieve, nothing to be and nowhere to get to. Time is beautifully, serenely still. Has it been twenty years? We stopped counting some time ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today was another interesting teaching day, one that in some way struck me as a postscript to what I wrote about last week.

After a lecture I gave today, one of my students came to talk with me for the sole purpose of thanking me for speaking about race in the classroom. As she explained it, she has never been taught by a professor who is a woman of colour before and she wanted to express her appreciation for my willingness to talk about racism and racialization. This has never happened to me before in my teaching career and it took me completely by surprise.

There is a particular kind of identity politics and scholarship that has never held much appeal for me, partly because falling between various categories all the time I can never quite find myself in the identities described (for example, I’ve written before about the peculiarly displaced ‘Indianness’ that inhabits my body). For that reason, I assumed that it did not really affect me that much that I was not taught by women of colour (no, I did not have that experience in university either), or that I do not teach many women of colour. I experience the micro-aggressions of teaching and learning in a primarily white university but I also continually overlook the work it takes to do that because it is part of my normal, everyday existence.

It never occurred to me that something as simple as the thanks my student offered me could make such a difference to my perception of what I do on a daily basis. It wasn’t an act of simple reflection or identification; she didn’t say ‘because you are a woman of colour, I also feel like I belong here’. It was an act of recognition that to speak about race and colonialism matters in the study of literature, in the university and in the world.

I’d like to believe that any student could come to this moment of recognition, that race and colonialism matter not just for me because I am a person of colour, but because those tools have been used to build the world we all live in. And, in important ways, I have been longing for my white students to give me the sign of recognition, as though that would be the real sign of my success as a scholar-teacher. Procrastination comes easy when you set yourself such implausible goals. If you hope for something that really seems quite unlikely to happen, it is very difficult to keep working on it year after year.

And then, on a day like today, I am reminded that I could work towards other directions. I could work towards the young woman who came to talk to me after class. And somehow that work feels a little bit easier to do.

 

 

 

Today was a good teaching day.

This doesn’t mean that my classroom activities were particularly successful or lively, but rather that by engaging in the teaching-learning relationship, the tight bind of procrastination was, for some hours, magically dissolved. Today, sitting and drinking tea with two of the women I am currently teaching after class proved to be one of the highlights of my week, and on the walk home I was buoyed up by the thoughts of all the things I wanted to research and write about following our conversation.

It was a salutary reminder to me of how much our interactions as students and teachers affect our tendency to procrastinate or, conversely, to have that expansive feeling of wanting to know more, to think deeper and to write about it all. During the walk home I tried to reflect on what those teachers did for me in order to try to understand something about the experience I had of being, once again, enabled to do my work–this time through an encounter with my students, rather than with my teachers. When I look back at my own history as a scholar, I see a person who slowly learned to procrastinate, not a person who was always ‘lazy’ or ‘unmotivated’.

One formative scholarly experience for me was simultaneously taking a seventeenth-century prose and poetry class and an honours Shakespeare seminar with the same professor. I had probably never worked so hard in my entire undergraduate career as I did that year — learning to use the microfiche so I could read still unpublished seventeenth-century prose narratives, researching unfamiliar historical and literary concepts so that I could present them to my classmates, reading and re-reading everything I was studying so that I could do the analysis expected of me. It did not turn me into a seventeenth-century specialist or give me the best grades on my transcript, but I enjoyed that year so much because of the taste it gave me of being a scholar. I worked because I wanted to be able to take part in the conversation with my professor and my peers.

And that conversation took place everywhere. That professor invited us into his home and we ate treats that he and his wife had prepared for us. We also spent many an hour in his office outside class meetings, watching adaptations of Shakespeare–sometimes accompanied by his young children who were on campus for the afternoon.

I took that experience with me to grad school, where I thought that I would be entering into a permanent state of scholarly bliss–where still more work would be required, but the conversation about literature would also expand to fill the heavens of my little world. There were some wonderful experiences in grad school, but the climax of this scholarly bliss was probably the end of my years as a master’s student and the early years of my doctoral studies, after which things began to change again.

In the mid to late years of my doctoral studies I was, for various reasons, very much alone and without any contact with my peers or any other academics. It genuinely seemed to me that there was no one to have a conversation with. And the conversations themselves changed. Suddenly, every time I did meet an academic we talked about the job search, our prospects, where we were publishing, whether we had attended the right conferences and whether we were networking with the right people. The writing work especially became harder and harder as it became more and more disconnected from live, human relations.

When I began to teach I found it a tremendous relief to get back to talking about literature and literary theory. I enjoyed teaching because it, once again, seemed to open up the possibility of having long, slow conversations about books and ideas.

That is, I enjoyed it until I realized that, especially in North America, my students were not particularly interested in literature, or in examining the details of how a narrative is constructed. I am very fond of many of the young people I teach as people, but spending my days fruitlessly trying to convince them of the merits of studying literature does not leave much time to talk about the literature itself.

Somewhere along the way, the conversation I was so excited to join seems to have become difficult to locate.  But just as a handful of my teachers cleared a space for the conversation–showed me what it could be–so too, a handful of my students every year show me that the space still exists. Every year, there are one or two faces that I recognize are longing to join the conversation too.

Days like today, when I have the opportunity to sit and drink tea and talk about the value and effects of literature on our lives, I feel incredibly grateful for the work I have. And I feel particularly grateful for the ways in which those live conversations with my students encourage me to keep trying to get back to the person I was when I first became a scholar.

For that reason, I want to say thank you to those whose teaching and learning has been invaluable to me. To my teachers, thank you for fostering in me a joyous sense of ability to join the conversation. To my students, thank you for generously allowing me to enter into conversation with you.

Thank you:  Leigha Bailey, Greg Blue, Luke Carson, Jess Cloutier, Ron Cooley, Deleone Downes, Cameron Duder, Robert Eaglestone,  Emilie Fournier, Joel Guillemette, Smaro Kamboureli, Mary Laur, Tad Lemieux, Yashoda Maharaj, Kristina Maki, Shannon McComb, Somdeep Sen, Emmett Turkington, Brendan Vidito, Elizabeth Vibert and Soile Ylivuori.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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