Writing in Public (or, It didn’t occur to me anyone would actually read it)

There are elements of my personality I was unaware of until I started reflecting upon my personal circumstance through my writing. When I started blogging, I genuinely didn’t think anyone outside of my immediate circle of colleagues and friends was likely to read it. When my writing started to gain a modest following I went through the gamut of emotions from shocked, to happy, to more-than-a-little concerned, at the sudden scrutiny I felt myself to be under. Even now, when I hit the blue ‘Publish’ button I have a miniature panic attack, while my brain processes all the various worst-case-scenarios that my writing could bring about. My mental state being what it is, I spend my life trapped in a web of hyperresponsibility, waiting to be caught out for a crime I’m certain I’ve unwittingly committed. This blog has given me pause to think about these elements of my personality, as well as a fresh perspective on the politics and pitfalls of writing, particularly writing in public.

It was the sudden upswing in the popularity of this blog that has made me stop and consider the things I have written. I have always gone to great lengths to distance myself from the experiences I talk about in these posts, in order to both scrub them of identifying features, as well as shed new light on them. I can look at the less pleasant realities of being a long-term casual academic for example, and scrutinise them as one would a bug under a microscope. That being said, no Smart Casual is an island and my stories inevitably play host to a cast of characters who exist at the centre of their own stories, but on the fringes of mine. I have covered topics on my blog as diverse as parenting, mental illness, and the casualisation of higher education in Australia. My stories are my own, but they also belong, in part, to the institutions at which I work as well as to my peers and colleagues. So what does this mean for the act of writing in a public space?

Dr Nadine Muller reflects on some of these issues in her post ‘Silences & Selfishness: The Politics of Blogging the Personal’. Much like her, I have started to give more thought to the potential repurcussions of my writing. I worry that someone I know could recognise themself in my writing and be hurt or upset. I wonder if my admission of having OCD could be damaging in terms of future job searches, or if my students past and present could take offense to something I have posted. I tentatively navigate this tension between my professional identity and my private by choosing my words carefully, by avoiding spite and accusation, and by keeping my blog largely separate from my ‘professional’ profiles. That being said, there are no clear boundaries between these parts of my identity: I blog under a pseudonym, however my blog is linked in my Twitter bio. I speak in generalities and give only vague examples, but this blog is still about me and my life experiences. I started this blog for myself, but now it has a wider audience. How much should I edit? How much should I withhold? Just how honest is too honest? Contemplating similar issues, Dr Muller concludes:

[…] there is a fine line to be drawn between raising awareness through personal anecdotes and protecting oneself and one’s professional identity – selfishly – to not render the situation worse, on an individual level. Perhaps blogging and other social media – no matter how openly, cautiously, personally or professionally it is done – can help us find that line, as a sector and a profession, and thus to raise awareness without harming ourselves. It’s this line that I will have to learn to walk, though I doubt I’ll be doing it in silence or on my own.

While I don’t think it is necessarily ‘selfish’ to want to protect yourself from the potential negative repurcussions of blogging about ‘the private’, my circumstance is such that this isn’t so much of a concern of mine. My lack of a PhD makes me immune to the fear of career fall-out, because for me, an academic “career” is unlikely to eventuate, and my circumstance is such that casual teaching is becoming an untenable situation anyway.  The way my writing has gained its following seems to be because the stories I tell resonate with other people who are in a similar predicament, albeit for different reasons. Readers respond to my ‘truthiness‘. It has only been through my public writing that I have come to understand that my feelings of isolation and fatigue are not mine alone. My blog was never intended to be an exercise in ‘awareness raising’ about the issues affecting casual academics in Australia, however for some it has functioned in that way and for that I am glad. From what I can tell, it is the very ordinariness of my story that people relate to, which is an extraordinary feeling, while at the same time being very humbling.

While raising awareness is what my blog has perhaps done for others, I am also starting to think about what blogging has done for me. The process of writing has forced me to critically examine the ways in which I talk to, and about myself. There are a few themes which have punctuated my blog posts thus far. My place as a casual academic and university drop-out are the two most obvious themes, but there is another that underpins my writing: self-doubt. I am in the habit of apologising for my very existence. I know I do this, I am aware that I do this, hell I am angry at myself for doing it. A snapshot into the daily life of The Smart Casual would sound something like:

“I’m so sorry” I say to the train door as it closes on me. “Excuse me!” I exclaim to the awkwardly positioned coffee table as I bang my kneecap on it. “Probably my fault” I say to the barista who messed up my coffee order (for the record, it totally wasn’t).

I come from a long line of apologisers. My Mum apologises frequently and with passion. She issues apologies that are heartfelt and sincere. There wouldn’t be a problem for this except she apologises for things she didn’t do and has no need to take responsibility for. Her hyperresponsibility has now become my own. This has become part of my personal narrative; the story I tell myself when I reflect privately on my life and experiences. It can be summed up thusly: everything is bad, and it’s all my fault.

The process of ‘writing in public’ has allowed me to examine this narrative that has been running through my head for the past decade. For me this is partially the appeal of blogging, I get to be at the centre of my own story. I’ve spent so long being a Mum, and a partner, and an employee, that I have lost sight of my own identity and storyline. I am so busy, that it doesn’t occur to me not to be busy; and I apologise so much that it doesn’t occur to me that I don’t have anything to apologise for. Writing for me has performed the dual function of allowing me time to indulge in a past time I enjoy, as well as the opportunity to reflect upon my own circumstances in a more productive way than the trapped-in-my-head brooding I am used to. As my good friend advised me via personal correspondence (and I am paraphrasing): “don’t apologise, make apologising the point”. I have taken that with me in my writing.

The original proposed title for my blog was “Anxious in the Academy”. This same friend rightly advised me that this was a poor choice of name, as I would be trapped under the mantle of this name regardless of the direction I may want to take my writing in the future. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but adopting the moniker The Smart Casual was already a rewriting of my own script. I am still anxious, both in the sense of my precarious employment status, as well as in reference to my OCD. But more so I am smart. I can write that without cringing. It’s a small word that holds so much promise. Hell, not everyone may be inclined to agree with this assessment of myself, but even that really doesn’t matter.

With my words I am changing the narrative. I hold the pen now.

For those of you who are interested in this idea of the personal narrative, I strongly suggest you watch the excellent TedX talk by Elena Morgan (Schmutzie) on “Self Doubt and the Power of Personal Narrative“. It is an idea which has resonated with me so much, I hope it does the same for you as well.

The emotional toll of the toxic workplace

This post is not in reference to any particular workplace or environment I have been in, but is an amalgamation of the experiences I have had across many different workplaces. While I reference The Thesis Whisperer as a blogger I admire, my post isn’t about academia or even university specifically (I have had a life outside of this place duh). Unfortunately I don’t have any concrete answers to provide, rather, this is a thinking-through of my own reactions to the experiences I have had. 

A toxic workplace can take many forms. What one person finds intolerable, another may experience as business-as-usual combative office politics. A Google search reveals that this notion of the toxic workplace has entered the lexicon of popular culture, has become a ‘thing’. Some checklists credit specific personalities and archetypes as being responsible for this particular phenomenon, others recognise the existence of more general behavioural patterns. In my experience it can be both: it can be because of the influence of a few ‘bad seeds’, or it can be a general environment of negativity and paranoia that takes its toll on everyone. Put simply, a toxic work environment is one in which you go home at the end of the day feeling at best unfulfilled and depressed, and at worst angry and anxious.  In my experience  these feelings creep up on you. At first you attribute your unhappiness to isolated incidences, or to particular people who you work with, however eventually you come to realise that these events aren’t isolated, but patterns of unhealthy behaviour that, if unchecked, can repeat themselves for months and years at a time and cause untold emotional suffering.

The Thesis Whisperer’s post ‘Academic assholes and the circle of niceness’ examines the phenomenon of toxic individuals (“assholes”) as present specifically within academia.  Citing Robert Sutton in his book ‘The No Asshole Rule’, TTW notes that being an asshole (arsehole?) is advantageous, and while workplace assholes may not be popular, they do end up being respected more, and their behaviour may even end up being emulated by the people who work underneath them. TTW continues:

Appearing clever is a route to power and promotion. If performing like an asshole in a public forum creates the perverse impression that you are more clever than others who do not, there is a clear incentive to behave this way.

The sad thing is, I have worked with far too many assholes to argue that this isn’t the case. I think everyone has. Being a jerk, perversely, pays off. I have worked for and with some of the most gorgeous, genuine, talented people you could imagine, but I have also worked for, and interacted with, some massive jerks. Jerks in high places. Jerks who don’t apologise, who never back down, and jerks who appear to all intents and purpose to be a success within their careers. Jerks who act like jerks so often that it has become normalised, background noise, part of ‘the-way-it-is’.

That’s all well and good, but there is a cost to fostering this environment. It is true that in some workplaces the people who act like jerks may appear to rise to the top, but the flip side is that good, kind, talented people will be lost. TTW notes:

He [Sutton] clearly shows that there are real costs to organisations for putting up with asshole behaviour. Put simply, the nice clever people leave. […] It’s a vicious cycle which means people who are more comfortable being an asshole easily outnumber those who find this behaviour obnoxious.

My post isn’t about academia specifically. As a long-term casual my interactions with academia have only ever happened from the fringes. I have made my opinions on the treatment of casuals abundantly clear. However toxicity is something I have known to permeate the cultures of environments as diverse as the retail sector and the corporate sector. I have worked at, and left, my own share of toxic workplaces and situations. I have stayed up all night worrying about work. I have cried to colleagues about unfair treatment and conditions. I have taken stress leave from work because the situation had become so untenable. I have had my concerns about a potentially dangerous situation dismissed by a superior who really should have known better. I have worked alone in a cubicle or an office and felt angry, alone, and having no idea what recourse I had, if any. I have rarely, if ever, stood up for myself. These experiences have come to have an emotional toll on me. I enter into these situations in good faith, and remain in them for far too long for many reasons. I think part of me doesn’t want to believe that the people who are nice to my face, are perhaps not as well-meaning when I am not around. I also form loyalties to colleagues in the workplace, where I will feel a sense of obligation to the individuals I work with. Mostly I make it about me. If only I was more assertive/less sensitive/better at handling complex situations/thicker skinned I would be able to cope better in these situations. So I return to the scene-of-the-toxic-crime, day after day, silently hoping that things will get better, all the time knowing full well that they won’t.

With the transition into full-time employment, comes the risk of encountering this toxicity. This makes me question my own abilities. It isn’t the work I question. I am fully aware that I am smart and driven and capable. It is the navigation of office politics that makes me feel entirely out of my depth. I am already someone who speaks in the passive voice. My emails are peppered with “if it’s OK” and “would you be able to’s”. Having come up against these kind of environment and conditions in the past has made me question my ability to be the career person I would like to transition into.  My daughter is going to school next year, casual employment is becoming increasingly tedious and demeaning, I want to start being paid for public holidays and sick days, which seems like a small ask and yet seems to be the hardest thing to transition to with my background as a long-term casual.

This blog post may read as if I am not capable, but I am thinking about it from another perspective. It isn’t that there is something wrong with me, it is that there is something wrong with workplaces that reward negative and intimidating behaviours, and that leave the people who work hard and contribute feeling unacknowledged. I refuse to compete with my colleagues, I am perfectly capable of being diplomatic because I posit it as being fucking nice and talking to everyone as I would want to be spoken to. I am more than capable of responding well to criticism as no one could ever be more critical of me than I am of myself. When I have come up against these situations in the past I have talked a big game when I am at home with my husband about how I am going to stick-it-to-the-man, but at the end of the day I will back down, eventually walk away, as I figure my mental health and emotional stability is worth more to me than aspiring to a ‘career’ in a place that makes my colleagues and I unwell, rewards arsehole-ish behaviour, and fosters unhealthy interactions between peers.

As I said in my introduction, I am unable to offer any advice on how to navigate toxic workplaces as I am unsure of how to address these issues myself. This year is the year of the assertive Smart Casual, so I am turning a critical eye to my experiences within the workplace, and asking myself what place I see for myself in the future. I know I want to write. I know I want to work in an environment which fosters teamwork and collaboration, and doesn’t operate on a platform of competition. I know I will not tolerate intimidation tactics and make them about my perceived sensitivity. The Thesis Whisperer offers the suggestion of instigating a “circle of niceness” within the worklace: a space where colleagues can come together to “be[..] together and talk[..] about ideas with honesty and openness” (sic). I think this is an idea that can be useful outside of the academy, as the asshole phenomenon is definitely not university specific. I want that, I think most people want that. It is an idea I am going to bring with me to my current situation, and to any future employment situations I enter into.

If you need a nice Smart Casual at your workplace let me know.

The Smart Casual sure is Punctual!: on Mental Health and Academia

It is all too common to see PhD students work themselves to the point of physical and mental illness in order to complete their studies. It is less common to see PhD students who feel that they are under such pressure that the only option is suicide. But it does happen. There is a culture of acceptance around mental health issues in academia – and this needs to change. (source)

I have read a few recent pieces from The Guardian about mental health issues and academia. This has caused me to reflect upon my own experiences as a woman with OCD, a casual academic, and prior to that, an undergraduate and postgraduate student. In this post I am not speaking for all people with mental illness, or even all people who have OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a term that encompasses a wide selection of behaviours and compulsions, and the experience that one person has is likely far different to that of another, even with the same diagnosed condition.

OCD has manifested itself in different ways for me, in different points of my life, however one thing has held true for me for as long as I can remember. The reason it took so long for me to realise I had anxiety because I didn’t know that was what it was. I became so used to being consumed by panic and worry that it never occurred to me that it was even a problem, it was and is my default setting. I am always fucking worried, or as I would tell myself, a “realist”.

I was not diagnosed with OCD until after my daughter had been born. My pregnancy had been horrendous to say the least and I had become extremely unwell. One observation I had made, even before this diagnosis, was that the behaviours I had adopted during my pregnancy (obsessive thoughts, rituals, obsessive Googling) were just an extreme manifestation of behaviors I had experienced since I was a teenager. However many of these could easily be written off as quirks, or eccentricities. I have always been a “worrier” and come from a long line of worriers. My Mum is a superhero whose superpower is the ability to leap to the worst conclusion in a single bound and I found that I followed suit. I used to do silly things, that I recognised as being silly as I was doing them. The pegs on the line had to match in colour on a single piece of clothing or something would happen to my brother. That is ridiculous. I know it’s ridiculous, but it was an easy enough ritual to do, would make me feel relieved once I had done it, so really what was the harm?

Insidious.

I was never particularly successful at high school, a point that some people find surprising given the academic aptitude I displayed once I got to university. The only subject I gave a shit about was 3 unit English. Whether or not that still exists or how that system works I have no idea, but that’s what it was called in the shadowy era known as the late 90s.  I got to uni and I crashed head first into Cultural Studies and English and Sociology and fell in love. I loved the thick books of photocopied readings full of Stuart Hall and Foucault and Dorothy Porter. I loved the writing and the reading and the discussions. I loved discursive analysis and semiotics and ate it all up. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I began to engage in behaviours which were unhealthy, and perhaps even damaging, but because these equalled success within the academic context it didn’t even occur to me to question them.

Inimical.

I lived only a ten minute walk away from campus, if that. However it became my mission to always be “on time” to class. However what is “on time” for me is actually grotesquely early for others. I had to be the first person in the classroom, I don’t know why but I had to be. I would sometimes get to class as early as 60 minutes before it was scheduled to start in order to avoid the shadowy spectre of ‘lateness’. I don’t know what would have happened if I had have been late, and I never asked myself the question of why it was such a big deal either. I would use this time alone in the classroom to review the readings and mentally prepare for class discussion.

The Smart Casual is so punctual!

I would hand in assignments at least a week earlier, if not more. This was in the pre-eLearning era which meant that I handed my beleaguered tutor a physical print out which they would then have to store until the assignment was actually due. They would be astonished, or annoyed, or confused. I had to do it, to give myself at least temporary respite from the anxiety that was a part of my daily existence. Once I had handed it in I would feel okay, it was one less thing on the list. Why would I want to leave it until the night before when I could relieve some of that grinding worry by getting it out-of-the-way a month or so before?

The Smart Casual is so organised!

My marks were of the utmost importance to me. If I didn’t get at least a D I would be devastated, and to be honest less than a HD made me profoundly unhappy. I worked and stressed and worried and in the last two years of my undergraduate degree I got a HD average, but at what cost? I wasn’t in any social clubs, I had only a small group of friends, and I worked only short-term temp jobs between sessions in order to make my studies my absolute number 1 top priority above all else. My only respite was Thursday “uni night” drinking sessions where I would drink to get drunk. Drinking culture was a massive part of undergraduate life so this wouldn’t have even stuck out as unusual. I drank to escape my own stupid mind.

The Smart Casual is so smart!

Now I am not arguing that being punctual and organised and smart aren’t all good qualities to have, because they are in fact all exceptional qualities to have and will serve you well both in the workplace, and in life generally. However they must also be weighed against the personal cost that they present. However to me none of the above ‘symptoms’ I mentioned signalled that something was wrong. I cast these behaviours in a different light: they instead meant that I was a born academic, I hit the milestones, I got the marks, I submitted the First Class Honours thesis and if constant “worry” was what it took to get it done, well so be it.

It is this element of my personality that has brought me the most personal success and recognition, is also a part of me that has caused me the most anguish. It was my (unrecognised and undiagnosed) OCD that was part of the reason I dropped out of my PhD without seeking assistance or guidance from anyone else. I had been so successful as an undergraduate, I never needed help to get the HD’s, so it seemed to be an admission of failure to put my hand up and say “help me”. I didn’t want to need help. I had worked as an undergraduate in isolation and it had got me places, I don’t know why this stopped working when I was a PhD student.  I think it was the isolation, the fatigue of working on a massive project with seemingly no end in sight. I felt like I was a burden to my PhD supervisors. Coupled with the breakdown of a long-term relationship it got to the point where the only option I had was to walk away. While I did what I had to do to cope at the time, I have regretted that decision ever since.

I have learned to recognise these unhealthy patterns in myself now. While I have learned to temper my more extreme tendencies, these patterns still remain. I am early to work. I get things done always. Deadlines are not a challenge to me, as the only way to avoid the extreme anxiety they cause in me is to face them head on and get that shit done. The point of this post is that I understand the pressures that undergraduate and postgraduate studies can cause, and I empathise with the myriad ways that students may usocd-nightmare-memee to cope. Many students procrastinate, I could never do it myself but I get that is what works for some.

OCD has kind of become a buzzword, shorthand for ‘anal retentive’ or ‘obsessed with cleanliness’. Image macros about OCD make it about patterns and hand-washing. That’s not my thing. My house is almost always a shitfight, and a crooked picture or mismatched pair of socks has zero impact on my well-being. According to Jeff Szymanski, OCD in pop culture tends to focus on the disorder as being “cartoon-like” with individuals “portrayed as eccentric, sociopathic, or dismissively (just another hand washer)” (source).  The reality of OCD is much messier. Yes it can be hand-washing, and Monk style obsessive counting and cleaning, those are real manifestations, but they are not the only manifestations. Really OCD just refers to the myriad of ways that different people choose to alleviate their extreme symptoms of anxiety. I was and am a master of keeping my symptoms imperceptible. I don’t scream or swing from the rafters or scream obscenities at the train station therefore I must be okay. Except sometimes I’m not.

I have visited friends who’ve said offhand remarks like “I am so OCD about my dvd collection” or “I am so OCD about cleaning” and while I get it, it also makes me sad because it completely dismisses the reality for me and others who have this particular brand of mental illness. Our painful reality becomes a quirky idiosyncrasy. I don’t take it personally, the people who have said these things are almost always the most caring and empathetic people I know, but it reminds me that there is a thing wrong with me, a thing that is somehow good but also bad, a thing that makes me strange and wrong but also punctual and smart.

If you are reading this and it strikes a chord then I urge you to reach out to people around you. Some people get driven to the point of illness by the stresses of academia and this isn’t okay. For others, academia just exacerbates the tendencies that already exist, and that’s not okay either. Don’t drop out. Don’t disappear. Don’t think that you are lesser than, or weird, or sick. It’s okay to be a worrier, it’s not okay to be consumed by worry. Your campus should have mental health facilities available for both students and staff, please make use of them. If you are experiencing more urgent issues and are in Australia then call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

An Illustrated guide to the academic session (for a casual)

I have shared an ongoing joke with my brother over the last few years. It is that every year follows a similar pattern, and he can anticipate the theme of our weekly dinners based around the time of year it is. I am nothing if not predictable! The pattern is as follows:

Patrick Star's To Do listI start off the year pining for mental stimulation that only casual teaching can provide. It is a long time between drinks for casual academics if you don’t have any other projects, or thesis writing, or teaching over summer session, so by the time late January rolls around I have usually started putting out feelers via email to try to locate some work, or am responding to requests for the same. Around this time I also start to reconnect with my casual colleagues, enquiring if there are “any hours” going begging. This pre-session time reeks of quiet desperation, wherein my colleagues and I are wanting to line up the employment which will sustain us through the next 6 months.

My enthusiasm dips sligShit on my dreamshtly in the weeks just prior to session starting. Organising my one-hour-a-week office space usually takes multiple trips onto campus. More and more emails making demands on my time find their way into my inbox. Casuals have to, for a reason that is never adequately explained, provide a copy of their birth certificates. Having been employed at this same institution previously for any length of time apparently doesn’t preclude you from this.

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Cue the first few weeks of session. For want of a better term I am PUMPED. I am excited to get into the classroom with the students, I am excited to really get my teeth into the readings and the assignments. It doesn’t matter how many times I explain, I still receive emails from students in these first few weeks asking if they can see me at obscure times, outside of my consultation times. I ask if we can schedule an appointment at this time, or perhaps talk over the phone. I suspect they think I am fobbing them off. Turns out there aren’t enough paid hours in the day to read the readings, prepare for class, and handle the many requests for help I field from students who are overwhelmed by the demands of higher education.

I have to add the printer to thLLfHme shared PC I am allocated. I know how to do this, however all of the printers on the system have vague names that give no indication of their location within the labyrinthine building I am located in. If I do manage to link my PC to a printer, and then actually find the printer within the building, chances are it is out of paper. Or ink.

Hell_are_youI dread using the photocopier. As a long-term casual academic, I am more than familiar with most of the faculty administration staff. But if I cross paths with someone new then I will likely find myself subtly interrogated: “who are you teaching for/what days are you in/don’t think I have seen you before”. To get around this I will minimise photocopying I have to do, which is easy to justify with environmental concerns. Or I will photocopy earlier in the morning when the building is empty, photocopies I then have to lug around with me for the rest of the day.

klSvGwt

I enjoy watching the lectures, but am doing it at home, im my own time, on my own internet. My speakers are broken so the sound isn’t the best but if I lean close I can just hear it.

 Mid-session I am sick of the parking situation. It is $9 a day for casual parking, which still relies on their even being a space for me to park in. My daughter is usually the first to be dropped off at daycare so I can hopefully find a spot on campus. If I don’t find a spot on campus I will have to park on the street, which means an extra 15 minute walk after work. This could mean the difference between pickingcar my daughter up on time, or picking her up late, which incurs a hefty penalty. I carry around piles of text books, markers, draft assignments, and my own supplies in an overstrained backpack as I have nowhere to leave them. I don’t have a room in which to leave it so I take it everywhere, including lunch and meetings. I have the tendency to become irritated with my colleagues if they use over their allotted hour in our shared office space. If they run over their hour that causes me to start late, and run over my hour, or get less shit done that I intended to do.

By late session I am stressed. The hourly rate I am paid has been blown out of the water with extra duties. A student plagiarising equaThe Simsls hours of unpaid work. My students want more of me than I am paid to give, but often I will give it any way because to do otherwise runs counter to my academic ideals. It takes an hour to reupload marked assignments to the learning platform. I do this from home because I refuse to hot desk, but as a result I am using my own internet. My Twitter notifications blow up on the night the essay is due and I am online a lot more.

I haven’t been paid to attend all of the meetings I have instigated. I want to meet with the subject coordinator to make sure we are a united front, that what I am telling my students is not different from what s/he is telling them. It isn’t a requirement (my subject coordinators have always been great that way) but to me it is a part of good teaching. I am coming onto campus more often.

The end of session. I am buried under a virtual pile of assignments. Around marking time particularly my existence becomes diminished to the size of my tiny spare room office. My daughter whines for me plaintively from the other side tumblr_muxqpy814F1qkp0mmo1_500of a closed door while I mark long into the night. The rate of payment for marking paid by some unis doesn’t account for adequate feedback, and barely allows a marker to read an assignment more than once. I provide it anyway, against the advice of my colleagues and subject coordinator. Marking is a sacrifice our entire family makes; my husband, my 4 year old daughter, and myself,  in order to allow me to do the thing I once-enjoyed but now I’m not so sure.

After session. The assignments have been handed back, or uploaded to the learning platform. I have attended the second of only two paid meetings allocated for the session and my work was found to be satisfactory. I am no longer able to use my temporarily assigned office so there’s no point hanging about, that much is clear. The above pattern is repeated for the second session.whining

And you know what happens at the end of every year? I say “fuck this”. I rage. I bitch and moan like an impotent jerk about how I am getting exploited and how I refuse to put up with it any longer. I attend end-of-year parties and drink to a new beginning. I ask myself who I would be if I judged myself by different parameters, who The Smart Casual would be if she existed outside of the institution.

January rolls around and I miss it. I fucking miss it. I tell myself it wasn’t that bad last year. Sure you don’t have an office. Sure you are isolated and fatigued and work for apprentice wages. But the flexibility is good right? And the students, you love the interactions with the students! You get along great with your casual colleagues, too. And besides, what else would you even do?i-never-make-the-same-mistake-twice-ecard

I am aware of this cycle, because I have lived out some variation of it for the last ten years. The byproduct of being a long term casual is that I have started to think of myself and my labour as not having value, because that is how it is treated. I am dispensable. My employment is precarious. I am underpaid. If I am all of these things then I must be pretty shit mustn’t I? On Twitter Josh Boldt summed it up succinctly when he Tweeted: “the psychological impact of contingency can be the most crippling“.

So if the current situation isn’t that great and the future opportunities are practically non-existent, what’s keeping people around? For me I think it is partially because I have given so much of my time and energy to these ideals that my identity has become inextricably linked to academia. Which is bizarre because ‘academic tutor’ is a position others often hold in high regard. People are sometimes impressed when I tell them what I do.. impressed! Which is ironic to me because I sometimes feel like the least important person on campus.0CcEoX3

2014 is a turning point for me. As I have posted about before, I am going to set unprecedented boundaries in terms of my workload. I plan to be proactive in terms of communicating my needs and limitations to my full-time peers and colleagues, and maybe, just maybe, I will be able to focus on all of the things I love about teaching at university. Yeah there are sector wide institutional issues with casualisation that aren’t going away any time soon, but there are also issues with ME I’ve got to work on too.  I take complete ownership of that. I remain optimistic that things can and will change, on both fronts. The outcome could be that my conditions improve and I start to feel good about what I do again. Or it could be that I am quietly and unceremoniously dropped off the list of suitable candidates for teaching. Either way I know that I tried to make things better. I honestly believe that it can be better.

Except for marking. That’s always gonna suck.  marking