At the Babel Conference

This past Saturday, I pretended I could shift my academic work day to Sunday so that I could attend the Saturday sessions of the 2015 Babel Conference here at the University of Toronto. I felt so guilty not working and yet, shirking my duties for one type of work led to a different kind of work that was just as, if not more, important in its own way.

In the poetry/translation session, there was a woman (Vanessa Scott) who was carrying around yarn and crochet hooks for an art piece linking women and textiles/textuality. Anyone who was able to could contribute a link or two to the chain. I started crocheting in the translation session between writing pseudo-translation poems and afterwards, Vanessa gave me several lengths of yarn to work on as the day wore on, telling me, “You’re good at this. I want to see no less than 9!” I took her up on the offer and crocheted during the dance performances of Cleopatra, Philomela, Salomé. I took the yarn to the session on Hybrid Publishing and worked steadily there, snapping and tweeting these photos, calling it Women’s Work and Multitasking.

Women's Work I Women's Work II

As a single parent of two kids — a title that feels both foreign and familiar, and a role I’m getting used to as days pass — and as an older student, I’ve had to face a work-life balance that men do not have to face — the daily multitasking and emotional labour of being a female-bodied, feminine embodied person in this world. I am coming to terms with my own internalized misogyny. I have oft referred to myself as a gender-neutral ‘parent’ rather than as a ‘mother’ because of the baggage that word carries with it for me. I call myself a person, rather than a woman, because of how uncomfortable I feel being called and referred to as a woman. I am a parent. I am a person. But on Saturday, that shifted.

A poem I wrote in Saturday’s session, a pseudo-translation based on an Old English text, reflects the tension I feel between my own staccato relationship with my mother and my nigh resplendent experiences AS a mother, working to give my children so much maternal connection that I have lacked as a daughter to my own mother.

Crocheting while writing poetry is a familiar place for me. I have found myself in that same space often. I am a poet. I knit. I crochet. However, crocheting in the Hybrid Publishing session, I felt really uncomfortable not paying what looked like full attention to the speakers in the discussion. I felt like I wasn’t playing the game properly. It was a collision of my identities. A collision of worlds — of the private, home-based sphere of text and textile-based creativity and craft, and the semi-public, professional sphere of academia. And while sitting with that discomfort, I then realized that I was also there in that session as a performer of women’s work, showing that I could multitask and pay attention just fine to what was being said. After all, this is what Stitch’n’Bitch groups and sewing bees are all about — talking and connecting while creating textile-based crafts. I felt on showcase in that session as a woman doing what is traditionally women’s work in a [traditionally male-dominated] academic and very technological setting: people were live-tweeting and the session was centred around digital publishing. It wouldn’t have had the same effect were a man crocheting in that session. It would look like the same action, but it would not be the same action for the simple and laden reason that crocheting is an activity centred in the female sphere. I incorporated the textiles and the digital medium in a tweet, which brought the chain full circle, linking women’s work and multitasking to academia and the digital world of connected and interconnected social media.

Because this particular session was set up as a discussion from the beginning, with no papers or presentations, I was able to participate, which is new for me. In a discussion thread, one of the organizers had suggested that it was the labour of an article or of the editing of an article that was important and not the process of it. I raised my hand between crocheting chain stitches and said, initially, “You cannot extricate labour from process.” He nodded, in a dawning accordance. I finished what I had to say and then tweeted this quote, which the other organizer immediately retweeted. We were all multitasking and connecting. Yet, I had the extra with me. The crocheting. The additionally-visible layer of multitasking as a woman in this world, labouring and processing, stitch by stitch, tweet by retweet, connecting with others in that room, others on Twitter, connecting with all the other women crocheting and dancing and sharing other parts of themselves, and finally, connecting with other aspects of myself that I didn’t know were there. It was a unifying experience for me:

Connection. Women’s work. Labour. Process. Motherhood. Poetry. Academia. Texts/textiles/textuality and the inter-connected inter-textuality of Womanness.

I am not just an academic. I am not just a poet.

I am not just a parent; I’m not just a person. Because of the experiences of that day, I feel safe to say I am a mother. I feel empowered to say I am a woman.

This conference was really healing for me in ways I hadn’t anticipated.