Urban Adaptation

Sustainable urban living, rural dreams, and daily change for a homemade life.

Archive for the ‘Working stiff’ Category

Bytes and breeds

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By day, I research and teach about digital thing – bits and bytes and their effects on how we live our lives and interact with each other.

By night, I read blogs on urban homesteading, avidly research about sheep breeds, make my own pickles, and grow basil in my apartment window.

It feels like there’s a divide here, a significant split, possibly even a rift, between the two.  I’m trying to reconcile these things, trying to find tenuous links and possible projects and things that will let me stand not with my feet in two different worlds, but in one slightly messy combined one.  I have virtually no idea how, though, although it’s something I find myself thinking about a lot more these days, especially after another session flipping through the hatchery catalogue that sits on the coffee table.

I certainly think there’s room in this digital age to have both.  The Greenhorns blog recently posted about a course on using smartphones on farms.  The Internet has provided the space to question trademarks, raise questions about organics, and connect with similar minded folks.  I am endlessly impressed with the blogs and websites that I find that make hands-on, highly material work that is grounded in..well, the ground accessible to anyone, anywhere with Internet access.  I use digital resources to work and plan and figure things out for myself, to connect with other people, to make a record of what I’m doing.

But in my own life, I still feel like there’s a divide.  I suppose part of it is that I’m highly focused on finishing my dissertation, the one big project that needs to be completed and is about as far removed from any kind of material existence as can be imagined.  My hope, though, is that when this is done, when the light at the end of the tunnel has proven itself to actually be the light at the end of the tunnel and not a train that’s barreling down on me, that I can start to work on combining some of these things that are near and dear to me into my research and my life, and building better, stronger links between this academic life that I lead and these other things that I very much want for myself now, and in the future.

Written by Jenn

April 12, 2011 at 1:03 pm


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“We must not only become reliable, progressive, skillful and intelligent, but we must keep the idea constantly before our youths that all forms of labor, whether with the hand or head, are honorable.”

Booker T. Washington


After a long discussion with The Boy over lunch today that covered everything from how different types of labour are valued through to anti-intellectualism, I was glad to stumble across this quote, first because I think it can be an easy thing to forget, especially in this modern society, and second because it’s  a solid reminder of the fact that I need to better incorporate different forms of labour in my own life.

I’m an academic.  I spend a whole lot of time in my head reading, writing, and thinking. I certainly think there’s value here in thinking about the world and asking questions about different elements of culture and society.  There’s also value in teaching about it, and helping students to develop critical thinking skills so that they can better engage with their world.

There’s equal value in other forms of labour too, though.  Over the last few years I’ve found that I’m increasingly dissatisfied with living life mostly in my head, wrapped safely in the spires of the so-called Ivory Tower. And so, I’ve looked for other ways that I can engage in labour, even when they’re relatively small compared to the academic side of my life.  And I’ve found, happily, that ensuring that academic life is coupled with more tangible forms of labour makes for a great deal more balance in my life, and also what feels to be more productivity.

Carrying heavy loads from rice to soil home, planting seedlings, hanging laundry, and digging in the yard are all forms of labour. I find they help to ground me, remind me of the basis of daily life, and to not get too caught up in my head or my work.  I’m also aware that they’re productive in very different ways.  Hauling, planting, and digging are all productive in very concrete ways – I wind up with more materials at home, and more things growing outside.  In academic work, at most I wind up with a conference presentation or a journal article, which are material only because they’re sometimes (only sometimes) printed on paper.  While both can be satisfying in their own ways, there’s certainly something to be said for the value in seeing the real, material results of labour.

These are by no means the total basics of everyday life – to provide completely for myself would require labour that I doubt I can even begin to fathom, and that I imagine would take me away from most if not all of my academic endeavours.  I also realise that I am in a privileged position – I get to work at a job that I enjoy, and only take on other aspects of labour by choice, based on what I want to do and not on what is necessary for my survival.  But these small acts, a movement towards forms of labour other than the immaterial, the digital, and the ephemeral, help to ensure that I don’t get too lost in my head for too long, and bring me back to everyday life in a way that becomes more valuable and necessary all the time, both for practical and more personal reasons.



Written by Jenn

April 2, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Opening a window?

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I teach sessionally, and this year, with budget cuts and collective agreements and various other things working against me, I’ve been offered only two courses.  I was hoping for three, if not four.  And for the courses I have, there’s no guarantee that they’ll run if they don’t meet enrollment requirements.

This is…well…upsetting.  Two courses works out to just over $11000 a year (before taxes, which takes it down to about $10000), which is not exactly a whole lot of money to live on.  I’m putting out feelers for as many other options as I can right now, although I may not know anything for a little while.  For now, I’m still making as much money as I can, and putting away as much of it as I can, but I’m a bit shaken still.

To be fair, I have savings.  The Boy has some extra money coming in.  We will not be destitute, not by a long shot.  But I don’t want to dig into savings, if I can help it.  It’s always been a point of pride for me to live below my means, and I intend to keep that up as best I can right now.  So I’m formulating a plan.

The first bit is employment related:

1.     Pull in every reasonable job I can for the foreseeable future.  Every little bit of work helps.

2.     Finish the dissertation.  This means I can finally stop paying tuition.  This was the plan for the summer anyway, but it feels like even more of a priority now.  Over $2000 a semester buys a heck of a lot of beans.

3.     Get published.  The more I can do to make myself marketable, the better chance I have of finding a good, more permanent job.

The next bit is simply tightening the budget.  While I haven’t exactly been lax recently, I could be better about cutting the fat a bit more.  Assuming that I’ll make $10000 next year, that’s about $830 a month to live on (not including groceries, which The Boy usually pays for).  $830 is tight but workable (okay, tight doesn’t really accurately describe it, but groceries would make things infinitely tighter), so that’s what I’m going to try for this next month.

I’m thinking I’ll blog this – keep track of what is spent and where, and also how I’m feeling about the whole shebang.

Logically, I know we’re okay.  I can look for other work.  The bills are low.  I have savings.  There’s a lot of food here.  I know how to eat cheaply.  I have all the shoes, clothes, and outerwear that I could need for a good long while.  The apartment is full of inexpensive entertainment – books, games, and music.  I’m creative and stubborn.  We’re just fine.

But still, it’s unsettling.

And so the final step is to try to see this in a more positive light (in the interest of full disclosure, this final step took me a few hours after drafting the rest of this to get to – this was most definitely not an immediate thought).  I’m looking for the window that opens when the proverbial door closes.

This is a kick in the pants to get the dissertation finished, and to seek out new work in new places with new people.  It’s a chance to slow down a bit.  It’s an opportunity (albeit somewhat forced) to step away from consumerism a bit more, and to figure out how to live pretty darn frugally.  Heck, if nothing else, it means a light teaching load for the next two semesters and a chance to exercise, read, sleep, publish, write, play music, see friends, and catch up on a whole pile of things that I’d like to do.

But for now, well…blah…

Written by Jenn

March 29, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Posted in Money matters, Working stiff

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November in review

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With a bust schedule, I didn’t quite accomplish everything that I wanted, but I did pretty well, all told.

With my little 10×30 project, I got the requisite number of things boxed up and ready to go out for donation.  There’s still a lot more to do, but a box of books and many bags of clothes later and the apartment feels a bit better.  I’m looking forward to doing more, and am considering having a repeat performance this month.

For The Anyway Project, I had a few successes as well.   The kitchen was cleared out further, and some clutter was removed from the apartment.  We had the landlords come in and do some weatherproofing, which will hopefully make it less draughty in here.

Financially, I managed to save about 45 percent of my income this month, up from the 20 percent that I was aiming for.  This won’t be possible every month, but this was a good start.  I cut back even the limited shopping that I already do to accomplish this, and I’m pleased with the results.

Tracking resource consumption has been somewhat more difficult than I thought, so I’m still trying to figure this one out, and considering ways to lower it even when there isn’t an actual measure available to work from.  I’m also still a bit stumped on taking on extra work, both in terms of what to do and how to fit that in right now, but I’m looking into some opportunities.

Family and community took a bit of a beating this month as I didn’t get out that much for various reasons.  On the up side, though, I have been more focused on spending money locally, which I hope is helpful from a community perspective.

I’ve managed to keep outside commitments to a minimum in order to keep focusing on the most important things right now – dissertation, teaching, and job search.  I have started a few of my own projects that mesh well with my values, though, so that’s a nice break at the end of the day sometimes as well.

And finally, in terms of time and happiness, I’ve been working on eating a bit better, exercising more – I walk to campus a few times a week now – and taking more time just to rest and relax.

Up next?  Planning out what I want to work on for the next month.  While December’s usually interrupted by holidays and a visit home, I’m considering ways that I can keep up with working through this life that I lead a bit more.


NaNoWriMo and InaDWriMo

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In a fit of…I don’t know what, actually, I signed myself up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writer’s Month) and decided that I could write a novel in a month in addition to all of the other work that I do.

Then, by a happy accident, I stumbled across InaDWriMo, or International Dissertation Writing Month (the ‘D’ can also stand for acaDemic, for those who are not currently writing the dissertation and would like to join in).

So, rather than pouring my heart and soul into a work of fiction (the time will come for that, it’s just not right at this moment), this year I’m following along with NaNoWriMo and working on academic work instead. This is the chance to finish off (or at least expand on) some of those semi-finished works in progress on my hard drive. It’s also an opportunity to get some more work done on the next dissertation chapter.

The goal?

50 000 words over 30 days for the month of November. According to my basic math skills, that translates to about 1667 words per day, which seems pretty reasonable. The first week was, as so many first weeks tend to be, a bit of a slow start and I came in at around 4000 words.  But I’m starting off with a bang this week.

Honestly, if I don’t make it, it’s not the end of the world.  Right now, the 7000 and change words that I have written are 7000 words that I didn’t have a week ago.  Almost 4000 of those words went onto a blank page where there wasn’t a paper before.  Others are slowly taking shape, with lots of good ideas coming out.  Right now, the focus is on getting things down and getting as much out as possible, and editing will come later.

I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished already, though, and it’s lovely to see the word count grow and papers develop as I work on them.  Right now, I’ve got three on the go, plus the latest dissertation chapter.  I think that’s a reasonable number, although I’m toying with getting down a few ideas on a still barely-there paper as well.  But no matter what I decide, this seems to be working for me, and it’s nice to bet things done.

Written by Jenn

November 9, 2010 at 1:29 am


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After the end of October, I’m wiped.  I’ve completed a job application and a funding application, finished off the most pressing part of a massive journal project, written a chapter draft, and kept up with my other academic duties.  This week, I lectured twice and went to meetings.  Tonight, I polished off the last of the current round of grading.

There are more things that need to be done, of course, important things that simply got pushed back a bit because of other timelines.  I’ll get to those too.  But for now, I’m resting.

For the last few days I’ve been so tired that I’m a breath away from tears a lot of the time.  I’m also cranky like nobody’s business, and a bit “punchy” as my mom likes to say.   While I don’t think I’ve been untolerable, it’s been somewhat unpleasant not only to be around me, but also to be me.

And that is why I’m taking this weekend off to do what I want to do.  I may catch up on reading, or cleaning, or writing, but I’ll be doing only what I want to and feel like doing.  There’s cooking and baking I want to do, and novels I want to read.  There are walks to take in this rapidly cooling season, and warm blankets and tea and movies and books to enjoy at home.  There are friends to call and people to visit.  It may not all happen this weekend, but I very much need the break to sink back into myself again, and get into the mindset to do the other things that still need doing.

Tonight, late as it is, there will be tea and cranberry jelly in oatmeal, some TV with The Boy, and maybe a bath with a novel before I pack myself off to bed early.  Tomorrow, who knows, but if nothing else it feels wonderful to have an open schedule and the room for doing what I want, rather than what simply has to be done.

Written by Jenn

November 5, 2010 at 11:02 pm


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I’ve spent a lot of time complaining recently about the amount of work I have to do.  Some of it is my regular teaching duties, while some is other jobs that I’ve taken on.  One project especially has been coming in later than it was supposed to, crunching a lot of things together into these last two weeks.

It’s been hard.  I am very tired as a result.  We’re almost there, but not quite, and a few things have had to slip as a result.  It’s not the end of the world, but it’s left me feeling off-kilter and cranky as a result.  Hence the complaining.

Really, though, I should be grateful, and focused on all the good that’s come out of this for me.  Because of this work, I’ve made enough money to cover my tuition this year, which otherwise would have had to come out of savings.  I’ve had some great experience, and have a really great job listed on my CV.  I’ve met and interacted with some fantastic people who I hope to keep in touch with.  I’ve had the opportunity to work through some of my own research and get feedback on it.  I’ve submitted a few necessarily applications for various things.

And most of all, despite the few things that had to slide, I’m grateful that somehow it’s all getting done.  That despite the shifting deadlines, the late papers, the many things that needed to get done, I’ve managed it all.  I may be tired, and a bit cranky, but I feel as though I’ve accomplished something, and that is a lovely feeling.

But now?  Now I would like some sleep.

Written by Jenn

November 1, 2010 at 12:31 am

Posted in Working stiff

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Grey clouds.

Article writing.

Comfy couch.

Red bush tea.

Wool blankets.

Fleet Foxes.

Written by Jenn

October 26, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Patience, grasshopper

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One of the work-related things on my plate right now is job applications.  Some interesting positions have come through my mailbox recently, and I’m now in a position where I’m able to apply for some of them.

Given how crazy the next few weeks are going to be with other work-related things, I got to think about what I can do to be best prepared if something should come up.  From an application perspective I’m in pretty good shape – I have all of my documents other than cover and reference letters pretty much ready to go, so I can get applications together quickly.

Interviews are another story, though.  I’m currently making arrangements for some interview skills workshops and practice sessions.  But I also got to thinking about clothing, since I don’t have much that’s interview ready in my closet.  Even worse, I was browsing through Banana Republic’s site (their pants fit without tailoring, which I like), and was once again horrified by the cost of suits – the one I was looking at was $124 for pants, and $240 for the blazer.

I was out for a bike ride today, and happened to be by the local thrift store, so I went in to look to see if there were any suits that would work for interviews.  After striking out in the suit section (not a huge surprise, really, in a sea of 80s pastels and super-long shoulder padded blazers), I had a look through the blazers where I happened across the very blazer I was looking at online only a few days ago.  After a few second of debating just getting the blazer, it struck me that perhaps I could find some wool pants that would match, since much suiting material is similar.  And so I went and had a look.  Lo and behold, I found what looked to be the same pants I was looking at online, and they matched the blazer perfectly.  The pants were $7, and the blazer was $15.  For $22, I bought a suit that would have cost me over $400 to buy new.

Now, anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I shop almost excusively at the thrift store, and that 98% of my closet (and probably 75% of my home) has come from one such store or another.  I love the thrift store (possibly more than I should, but that’s another post).  But this find was pretty exciting, even for me.  It was also rather impressive for The Boy, who is usually rather indifferent my thrifting ways (“a total score” were the words he used, I believe).

Happily, the suit wasn’t the only needed thing that crossed my path today.  I’ve had 4 watches die on me in the last two weeks (a sign from the universe to slow down a bit, perhaps?).  To tide me over until I can get my usual one out to be fixed I picked up a new-to-me one for $2 that seems to run well and that I actually quite like the look of.  And then, although it’s not really so much a need, a much-wanted field vest in my size finally crossed my path and came home with me for a whole $3.

Now, I’m excited by the suit, certainly, and the other items, but I think I’m also excited by the fact that, once again, I was able to not only find something used that I needed, but that I was able to find pretty much the perfect thing.  A few days ago as I was looking online for suits I assumed that I simply wouldn’t be able to find anything close to what I wanted.  Admittedly, I haven’t had much luck in the past, and I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a suit for awhile now.  But, at that moment I was ready to spring for that suit then and there just to have it out of the way and ready to go.  I’m glad that I didn’t, though, and although the moments I spring to these conclusions are getting farther apart, I’d like to keep this in mind for the next time I decide I’m just going to have to give in and go the typical shopping route and spend the big bucks for what I need.

Written by Jenn

October 14, 2010 at 3:52 pm


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There’s a lot of work to be done around here.  Two jobs.  One dissertation.  Research and writng.  A governmental application of the “holy crap is this ever huge!” variety.  Excercise.  Eating.  Trying to keep the apartment at least reminiscent of clean.

I’ve been in a work mood recently.  While the apartment and perhaps exercise have slipped by the wayside a bit, it’s been productive.

Today’s turning into another one of these days.  I’ve spent the morning so far on the couch.  Since 7:30 I’ve managed to get a lot of writing done, emails dealt with, and I have some editing on the go as well.  I’m sitting propped up on the couch, wool blanket over my knees, window propped slightly open, tea on the table beside me, and the Anthology of American Folk Music Anthology Revisited playing.

The key for me, I find, is to make work feel as pleasant as possible.  Sometimes writing is frustrating.  Sometimes editing is tedious.  Sometimes research can be a drag.  While I generally love what I do, there are things about it that are not exciting or thrilling.  But, by setting myself comfortably, with things that I love around me, the work becomes more tolerable, even enjoyable.  They’re small things, of course, but they make a difference.

Written by Jenn

October 7, 2010 at 11:48 am

Posted in Working stiff