Urban Adaptation

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

Posts Tagged ‘academic

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

Reference library

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I am my own library.

I’ve always loved reading and having books around.  When I was 10 or so I had one bookshelf, crammed with books, and piles everywhere else for the ones that just wouldn’t fit.

Things aren’t really that different now, although the focus of the books has shifted.

When I started my Masters degree, I realised how hard it was to get some of the books that I needed from the library, if they even had them at all.  I also realised that 3 weeks was simply not enough time for some of them.  So I started buying books.  Not a lot, but when I needed something, especially for my research, I tended to get it so I could have my own copy, always available, that I could do what I wanted with.  This carried through to my doctorate, and I’ve been fortunate enough to receive some grant money that has allowed me to buy most of the books that I use for research, many of which are generally good, useful texts that will be handy for a wide variety of academic work in the future (Veblen, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Baudrillard, Bourdieu, de Certeau, and Simmel, I’m looking at you).

Once I became aware of issues around food security, sustainability, and peak oil, I began to see the value in using this approach of making sure I had books on hand that would help me live the life I was increasingly wanting to lead.  And so, with another bookshelf on hand, I started building up a greater selection of books on cooking, gardening, knitting, sewing, preparedness, preserving, food issues, compost, household maintenance, and most recently, raising animals.

Coupled with the fiction that I also kept around, this makes for a lot of books.  Actually, for awhile I considered getting rid of some of the fiction or academic books to make a bit more room (the fiction especially was considered for the shopping block), but then I read one of Sharon’s posts that included a section about buying books and feeling that she should be the local library, and I stopped thinking that way.

While fiction may not be useful in the practical sense, it gives me some very inexpensive, reusable, and lendable entertainment.  It’s an escape, a way to get away from the world for a while.  Sometimes its inspirational.  Sometimes its relaxing.  But I appreciate having books around that I want to read, and so when I see something at the used bookstore for a few dollars that I want to have around long term, it often comes home with me.  At the most recent 50 percent off sale, I came home with John Steinbeck, Eudora Welty, Dostoyevsky, Douglas Adams, John Irving, and Annie Dillard.  I’m still not looking forward to moving them, and I do trim the collection here and there but, by and large, the books stay.

The building of my library has been facilitated in a few ways.  My long-standing love of thrift stores has certainly helped, and I’d say the vast majority of my books have cost no more than a few dollars each.  Back in my undergrad days there was a thrift store where almost every book was a quarter or less – total bliss.  The annual library book sale here helps as well.  Also, everyone I know knows of my love of books, and birthday and Christmas gifts are frequently gift certificates.  I also do a few reward-type programs that don’t cost me anything, but that add up to a bit of book money here and there.  Occasionally there’s something that I want or think is useful enough to buy new, but this is very much a rarity.

Missing from this post: photos of my book-covered coffee table, bedside, nightstand, desk, and dining room table.

Written by Jenn

April 6, 2011 at 11:18 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

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

Good evening

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Because of a The Boy’s health, when he’s visiting for awhile we need to make occasional trips to the US for blood tests.  They’re necessary, of course, and worthwhile, but also pretty draining.  Picking up a rental in the morning.  Five hours or so driving in the car.  Crossing the border.  The test.  Crossing the border back again.  Then, since we don’t usually have a car, taking care of errands that are out of the way or difficult without one.

Needless to say, it’s a long and usually at least somewhat draining day.  This is hardly physical labour we’re talking about, but the timing and the stress and the driving (ugh, the driving) do not really leave a whole lot of energy at the end of the day.  But it’s so nice, especially in contrast to the rest of the day, to come home in the evening to my little place and just breathe for a bit.

After a dinner of pasta (store bought, I’ll admit, for the convenience of just coming home and eating), I’m curled up on the couch.  The windows are open with cool breezes blowing through, and I have a favourite quilt around my feet.  I’m spending a bit of time on the computer, in an interesting mix of end-of-the-day multitasking that has taken the form of having fun while networking.  I have Iron and Wine’s “Norfolk” playing, and my guitar next to me to play a bit later, and there are rumors there might just be tea with honey involved before I collapse tired but content into bed.

Written by Jenn

May 27, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Posted in Personal stuff

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