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So What Comes Next?

Reading week break at last!  Thank goodness for this week off teaching as I don’t think I would make it through the rest of term without it.  The last six weeks have been probably the busiest of my life.  Certainly I have never worked so hard, and yet I feel like I am constantly coming up short and never achieving anywhere close to what I need to be doing. My levels of stress, fatigue and frustration are starting to take a toll on my health, so I am very grateful for this week ‘off.’  I hope to get a lot done over the next five days, having spent the first three of the break doing very little other than cooking, cleaning and visiting with my wonderful friend Angela who came to stay for a few days.  She left this morning and now I have to get back to work.

My plan for the week is to get caught up on my backlog of grading, get ahead in my lesson plans, and hopefully do a little cooking as well.  This morning I put a double batch of chicken soup stock on the stove and that will begin my culinary endeavours for the week.  This afternoon I plan on making a batch of fermented veggies to get me through the rest of winter.  Beyond that, I have to spend some time reading through my cook books and coming up with ideas.

Overall, working (more than) full-time while trying to eat local and live somewhat more lightly on the earth than average is becoming a grueling, miserable existence.  I seriously cannot imagine most people being able to sustain such an effort, particularly if they have a family.  Perhaps if you have a partner who is 100% on-board and you work together.  Even better if you can connect with friends who similarly wish to participate in these alternative practices.  For example, Angela and I have very similar approaches to nourishment, yet we live 4 hours apart making it impossible to do more than support each other through verbal encouragement.  And I have other friends & family members who would no doubt be very happy to participate and share the work, but we all live so scattered about that trying to do so may end up actually being more effort than just going it alone.

I have to say, neoliberal capitalism (as the pinnacle of the capitalist project, so far at least) has really done an impressive job of fracturing and fragmenting our society.  As I watch the events in the Middle East unfold, I envy their collective spirit and camaraderie.  No, I am not glorifying their struggles or the tough lives many of them lead, but I am impressed and inspired by the level of collectivity still present in their societies.  I am very doubtful that here in Canada we could ever come together en-mass like this to protest against injustice.  Well, perhaps in the East or in Québec, where the sense of community remains more intact, but here in Ontario I think it highly unlikely.  At least for now.  We’re too busy stumbling along in our zombie state of consumption comma to even be aware that something’s wrong.

That said, I am meeting and connecting with a growing – rapidly growing it seems – network of people trying to make change in our crazy lifestyle.  I am exhausted right now and feeling a bit down and negative, but this gives me hope.  Really I can’t see how we can keep stumbling along the way we do for much longer.  Something’s going to have to give.  Perhaps it already has.

Last week I had a guest speaker come to one of my classes.  She argued that American hegemony is dead.  And along with it, the lifestyle it exports.  It may take some time for its legacy to die out, but the change has already taken place she believes.  Certainly watching the events in Egypt has made me think this way as well.  A decade ago the US would never, ever have allowed something like this to happen to their stronghold in the Middle East. That Obama hasn’t even released a formal verbal response makes clear to me the depth of US impotence.  As we look at Egypt – and increasingly the rest of the Middle East – and wonder ‘what’s next?’, I think we need to put this question to ourselves as well.  If giant corporations, acting through the Federal Government, are attacking single farmers over miniscule volumes of food they, too, must be sensing their impending demise.  Now more than ever, we must live the change we wish to see in the world.

Of course only time will tell what’s really going on.  But I have no doubt that we are experiencing dramatic transition right now.  To what?  I have no idea.  But historians will certainly look back at this era and mark it as the turning point to whatever is coming next.  And let’s hope it will be something better than the present.  Surely our socially and environmentally destructive lifestyle shouldn’t be that difficult to improve upon!

In the spirit of all of the above, I have been – yes, once again – trying to figure out what to do with my life after April.  This is the third year in a row where, as my contracts near their end, I am left dangling with no idea of what’s coming beyond the end of the academic year.  I have to say this is getting very old.  Academia’s growing dependency on contract teaching suggests that I would have some kind of job security, even if it only offers a below poverty-line income without even the most basic of benefits (in exchange for 10 years of graduate education!).  But they can’t even tell me what might be available for next year yet.  So while it is likely I’ll find something, there are no guarantees and right now there is absolutely zero work on the horizon.

I’m quite frankly fed up with not knowing what my next step is.  So, in keeping with my new-found conviction that neoliberalism is dead and that I must be the change I wish to emerge from the transition, I have decided that I am now an ‘independent academic.’  I’ve met a few people who claim this title and have long admired them.  I am now claiming it for myself.  And as such, I have decided that I am going to take a sabbatical.  After all, I’ve been slogging away at this academic business for 7 years now (actually 10 if you count my masters work), and one is supposed to take a sabbatical every seven years.  As an independent academic, I don’t have any administration to answer to, so I am giving myself permission to take 2011-12 off of teaching so that I can focus on finishing my dissertation and getting myself published.

My sabbatical begins on May 01, 2011, and I can’t wait!

In the meantime, I have decided to give notice on my house and find a more appropriate home in which to spend this time.  Specifically I need to find a house that is better maintained, and that has some south-facing garden space so that I can get back to growing (at least some of) my own food.  While I love my current house, it is rapidly deteriorating and the landlord refuses to fix anything.  As there are no heating ducts on the second floor, I’ve had to close it off and live in the dining-living room & kitchen for the last two months.  Only a couple of light switches work in the house, the dryer is broken (not that I use it that often), the roof is in such bad shape that much of it ends up on the lawn with every windstorm, and it leaks into one of the spare bedroom.  To make matters worse, in the cold of this winter I’ve discovered just how inefficient the woodstove is (compared to a high-end woodstove, which would be a wonderful asset in such temperatures), and also that the person I bought wood from likely sold me a lot of soft wood mixed in with the hardwood, which burns poorly.  It’s not even the end of February and I’m almost out of wood.  Turning up the furnace (located in an un-insulated basement and that uses uninsulated pipes) is prohibitively expensive.

Finally, my lane hasn’t been plowed once this winter and has been impassable since December.  As such I have to leave my car several hundred feet from the house and drag my bags of books, boxes of food and whatnot back and forth through knee deep snow every day.  Now I should simply be grateful that I can afford the convenience of owning a car, however this is lost on me after working a 13 hour day and arriving home at 11pm at night in -20C.  For the last two months I have been chronically cold, exhausted and fed up with living in this house.  Suffice it to say, I need to find a home that is easier (and cheaper) to maintain for the coming year.  I will be giving my two month’s notice at the end of this month, and trust I’ll find a new place for the month of April.

All of the above is taking a very big leap of faith. I do believe fervently that when you follow your heart, the forces of the universe will align to support you.  But it’s frightening nevertheless.  I’m scared for our collective future, as well as for my own.  But I believe that by acting in good faith, by following my (our) heart(s) and by taking a chance, I (we) can get to somewhere better.  What that will be, only time will tell.

2 Responses

  1. Hey there,
    nice to see your well, though frustrated, been a long time since posts.

    Try the Landlord and Tenant Act, check it out through the local land office or municipal building to assist in resolving the issues.

    If your not stuck on the living in Southwest Ontario, I might have some ideas for the North of Lindsay area, send me an email if your interested. You can check out my blog as well, I will be updating it in the next couple of days with tons more info regarding the opportunity I am talking about.

    Cheers WildernessReturn
    (I am a whole lot closer to returning now, thank the Universe and Goddess for Miracles 🙂

  2. you posted “This afternoon I plan on making a batch of fermented veggies to get me through the rest of winter.”

    I have never heard of this, what do you do with Fermented veggies? The only thing I can think of is make a sour mash to drink with?

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