On Nurturance and Vulnerability in Academic Life

HI everyone! This post is a transcript of a talk organized by SFU’s Institute for the Humanities Friday Oct 13.


Since the invitation to do the talk grew out of the Nurturance Culture blog, I decided to write it the same way I would write any other piece. I posted the in-process work here, and it grew in conversation with readers. Here is the full text of the talk as it happened, and as it continues to grow and adapt. If you’d like to bring this to an academic community, feel free to be in touch.


Thank you to everyone for being here.

To begin I would like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), and Tsleil-Waututh  people. One of the things that I’ve been learning as a settler learning how to live in a good way in these lands is to speak from the heart and listen from the heart and that is what I’m planning to do today.

I would like to thank the Institute for the Humanities for proposing this talk, I would like to thank Samir Gandesha and Steve Collis at the Institute, and Huyen Pham for organizing logistics and getting the word out. I’d also like to thank all of the friends and colleagues who are here today. I’m going to be taking some emotional risks and it feels good to see your faces.



So, here’s why we’re here today. In february 2016, I wrote an essay and gave it to the world on a blog, and to my great surprise it went viral. It hit over 300 000 views in one week and generated a little starburst of responses and replies around the world. A couple of other posts also went viral after that.


(slide: 189 countries)

It’s now read in 189 countries and has crossed a million views, and the blog has now taken on a life of its own, and this response has raised incredible questions. Just so people know what they’re looking at, this is the wordpress map. WordPress likes to inform you that “countries in yellow are ones that have visited your blog!” – and countries in white are the ones that haven’t visited the blog. I always find this map entertaining. It’s still kind of hard to believe and absurd.

(next: news clippings again).


The writing from that blog is now being used in university classrooms and counselling centres throughout Canada and the US, Europe and Australia. It’s cropped up in anarchist reading groups in squats in Spain, pop up infoshops in Ireland, a women’s organization in Brazil, an article about gender norms in Nigeria, a radio talk show in Mexico, it even cropped up in an academic Call for Papers in Canada. It circulates in ways that are fascinating. And the resonance that it has generated suggests that this concept touched a chord.

(slides: brief excerpts from the blog)


(move through next slides slowly as you speak)



For those who haven’t read it, The key insight of the essay was  to combine attachment theory with cultural analysis. These are just a few snippets from the essay; I’m not going to get into it in great detail because what I’m interested in today is a reflection that arises at the essay’s close.


(slide transition here to slide “what we need is” and stay there for next line)

While it began in the context of masculinity, the piece closed on a much larger question that has continued to unfold along with the life of the article. And it’s this closing thought of the piece that I’m interested in opening up and taking further with you here today. This is a towards the close of the essay; I’ll just give people a minute to sit with it.

(time to read that slide)

I think that one reason the Nurturance Culture essay took on the resonance it did is in part because it was never really only about masculinity. It hit the hearts of so many people in part because the argument about masculinity was embedded in something much bigger, a cultural transformation.

(next slide: what would it look like to be welcome…)


And of course this has brought back for me questions about cultural production and academic knowledge production in this time when we are facing unprecedented difficulty and transformation as a culture, indeed perhaps as a civilization. This is the central question of the talk today, and so we’ll be coming back to this question as we go.

In particular, what I’m inviting is an exploration of a question: How might the cultural intervention posed by the idea of Nurturance Culture alter how we come to academic life?

This is all new work that I’ll be sharing, and I’m intending to create it with you today much as the blog is generated in conversation with readers.

(stay on slide: what would it feel like to be welcome in the world as our whole selves)

The blog has a format, and since this talk emerges out of the work of the blog, I’m going to give it in that format. It often opens with a narrative and then brings that narrative into a political and theoretical concern. I’m going to be working today in that same spirit. I do consider this to be a feminist way of working: our bodies and our voices and our narratives are how we theorize, theory and life cannot be divorced.

[[In Work that Reconnects spaces where I’ve been growing lately we also learn to listen from the heart and speak from the heart, and that is what I’m going to do. If you’re comfortable doing so, I’m inviting everyone here to come today with this same desire to listen from the heart and speak from the heart for this talk. ]]]

Also a word about what I am and am not speaking of today: I’m doing my best to work out of my own position, and so there are important aspects of power within academic spaces that while they influence my thinking, I’m eliding in the talk.

Analyses of ways racism and sexism compound and interlock in academic cultures to particularly impact Black women and other women of colour and Indigenous women are part of the context for this talk but one that I don’t address explicitly, and that feels like a lacuna, so I want to address it openly so it doesn’t become a naturalized erasure. That decision is chosen based in a desire to work and speak on those questions in relationship, to save those conversations for events and work with colleagues who have expertise on these experiences in a way that I’m not able to speak to from who I am and where I am socially located.

So I’d be of course pleased if those reflections and that kind of analysis were to come up in the discussion, and it feels most effective coming from those who walk in the world with experiences that I do not face. If that is your experience and you find as you’re listening that you have thoughts you’d like to bounce back or mix in with this work, I’m always open to collaboration and correction, happy to hear from people who might want to chat and see what happens in the soilbed when we put our ideas together.

In other words, I’m offering this in as honest a way as I can, speaking as who I am, hoping it can be one river of experience and analysis offered alongside others, not intending to create a totalizing narrative.

So, I’ve come to this path in an interesting way.

Three years ago I lost the ability to read. And I went into a very, very still time. I’m going to talk about how that led to the creation of the blog, but I want to go back a bit further and talk about how I came to academic work.

(stay on slide “what would it feel like to be welcome”…)

Narrative – how I came to academic work

I’ve been on the search for places in which this kind of open hearted learning and creating and growing is fostered and there are pockets of people who work in these ways, who do remarkable things. And speaking as a white person, one way in that I’ve had personally has been through the Work That Reconnects, which like many of our fields of inquiry and knowledge is going through tremendous upheaval in our time, good upheaval, the kind that growing needs. In the Work this upheaval is understood as a part of the spiral, in which destruction of old ways has to happen for things to grow in the compost that that collapse creates. That’s been true in my personal life as well as in the cultural moment that we appear to be living in.

This experience of composting the old so the new can grow is directly connected to how I found my way here, moving towards and away from academic work in a way that appears productive now, though it hasn’t always appeared so in every moment.

There are particular ways one comes to academia if you weren’t raised to do it.

(slide: family image) –


I come from a working class immigrant family, a refugee family background. (That’s my dad on the bottom left. This would be when they had just come out of the refugee camps, and it struck me looking at this yesterday that at the time of this image, my family, who speak five languages, would not have been existing in a life in English or French yet.)

(stay on slide)

When I was growing up my father and uncle were master electricians, very respectable work in my family.

(next slide: kids)


I grew up in a house of ten in Cote Des Neiges, one of the most densely populated and culturally and linguistically mixed urban areas in the country, in a duplex with my family upstairs and my uncle aunt and cousins downstairs.

And you know of course it was the 70s and early 80s and no one had heard of seat belts and so the dilemma of how to cart that many children around was solved with my uncle’s electrical truck.

So basically imagine a big white van with the walls full of metal shelves with pretty much every imaginable dangerous projectile strapped to it, and pile six kids into the back. And I loved it. This was my favourite way to get around for me as a kid, piled in this white van with my cousins and my brother and sister. I imagine this today sometimes, six kids in the back of an electrical truck, and how impossible it would be, bouncing around Montreal with electrical equipment and wiring and screwdrivers and ladders. It feels like part of the absurd generative creativity of that time. My mum is a very creative person and my aunt and my mum are both very loving people who brought art and books and music into the house and even though we did not have a lot of money there were always games and toys and creative things to make and do. And while my uncle and my father do not have much formal education because they had to work when they immigrated as teenagers, and were from a working class family to begin with – the intellectual traditions that brought me into academic life are things that I learned from my immediate and extended family.

To debate, to get to the core of things, to play with ideas, to entertain oneself and one another with a deeply felt cosmic irony, to get down to the marrow of a concept, these are the qualities that my family gave me. It’s how we played and had fun. Those are the qualities that gave me a thirst to know, to grow, to learn, to think. I had no idea what an academic career looked like, and I didn’t know anyone who had done this, but I knew that I wanted to be in a place where there was intellectual work happening and I knew that because of them.

And so that brought me to an academic path that my family, much as they love me, could not have foreseen. They wanted me to do something more… practical. [[My uncle who I’m close to, who raised me, once when I was done my Masters and was about to go on to a PhD he asked me at dinner one time,  “If you get a PhD and you become a professor, will you still speak to me.” And I was at a loss for words. But I wanted to say, of course, you made me who I am. i am myself because of all of you.]]

Later I thought of what I would have wanted to say to him. There’s a wise thing that my uncle said to the kids, when everyone was little. If one of my cousins was jealous of another one – someone was more pretty or someone did better at school, whatever. He’d say “What each of us does reflects on the others. So if one of us is beautiful that means we all are. If one of us does something good that means we all did it.” And that was really smart, a good thing to teach kids. And I think the values of my family have shaped me in very profound ways that I didn’t understand fully until I learned more about how unusual this is, at least in north America.

(back to slide ‘what would it look like’)


I did go to university, and I went to Trent, and for where I was at the time that was a very nurturing environment, one in which I was able to engage in that rigourous drilling down into ideas with friends I was learning with. We were deeply engaged in a very interdisciplinary and genuine hearted kind of work. So it was only when I went to grad school and began the process of professionalization that I came to understand that I was being asked to grow able to perform a kind of intellectual work that asked of me that I divorce my body from my intellectual production. I think when you come into academic cultures from underneath, from below, as the AORTA folks and others have pointed out in their work on oppression… entering any structure from below, you have a perspective on the edifice that you’re entering into: a perspective from below. And that perspective lets you see things that are not as readily visible to those who fit seamlessly into structures.

And I resisted this divorcing of body and intellect, and I think a lot of us do resist it on some level.  (next slide: articles)

I also came to like it.

came to like it

and once I began doing my work, I likely would have gone on doing that kind of theorizing, had I not come up against the wall that came next.

The year of the abyss

Here’s how this happened. About three years ago I lost the ability to read. Completely. For about six months I couldn’t read a sentence, couldn’t even look at text. Over the time that came next I went on medical leave and began to work back up bit by bit from graphic novels back up into very creative and grounded writing – one of the first books I was able to read when I couldn’t read anything else was Leanne Simpson’s Islands of Decolonial Love, and I think I could read that when I couldn’t read anything else because it came from such a genuine place and I could feel it.

I couldn’t read much else for over a year. Now I can again, and yet in that time when I didn’t know if that capacity would be coming back, I needed to completely reevaluate my relationship with theory and textuality. This was a very, very still time. Everything stopped. I think of it as a long nothing time, a long time of looking out over the abyss.

(slides from Octavia’s Brood, Evidence: “no one is impatient with anyone else’s growing” and “we did it”)


The next book that I was able to come back to when I began reading again is what we have up on screen, a book that came out during that time that I’m sure many of you are familiar with, the Octavia’s Brood collection. I’m deeply inspired by the work that came together into this book, and I can’t do the project justice here, so I’m going to focus on one short story in it by Alexis Pauline Gumbs that touched me quite deeply in that time and continues to.


It is called “Evidence” and I’ve got a page or two of it up on screen.


In this story a character who lives in a future time when a good world has come into being, is writing back to her own ancestor five generations back, who lives now, who still lives in capitalism and in a time of oppression, racism, and exploitation.

(slide: exhibit B)

The future descendant describes what life is like in her time and reaches back to her ancestor to tell her that it feels like “maybe you knew about us. it feels like you loved us already.” and to thank her for being brave.

There’s a line that I love in this story, and it is –

(slide: no one is impatient w someone else’s stillness)


That line – no one is impatient with someone else’s stillness –

I lived for two years in almost total stillness. I didn’t speak much. I didn’t write and I didn’t often see anyone other than very close people who could see me any way that I was.

And I think it’s important, reading a little bit up the page, that this stillness comes up in the context of a culture in which “it is on everyone’s mind and heart how to best support the genius that surrounds us. How to shepherd each of us into the brilliance we come from even though our experience breaking each other apart through capitalism has left much healing to be done.”

Here’s the thing. That stillness was needed to create the work. Without the time of the abyss, and the decision to trust what wanted to come out into the world through that time, there would have been no Nurturance essay. So what is the relationship between that stillness and knowledge production?  Of course this led me to think of how we generate knowledge: how would we create knowledge if we could work in this way? what kind of knowledge would we create if we let ourselves fall, and surrender and let what wants to come through arrive, shephered and loved and fostered by our intellectual and organizing communities, which can be one and the same thing? how would our knowledge production look? I spent about a year or two there in that place. Now the funny thing about that is that when you’re in it you feel alone, but once you come back up and start talking about this experience it turns out that many people have had that kind of experience of the abyss – of looking out over the edge and not feeling too sure that you still want to be here. That’s a much more common experience than our culture encourages us to admit.

As this was all happening, I was doing two things simultaneously. I was slowly touching this inner personal experience, slowly, slowly writing a piece about it, and I was talking now and then with close friends who are coming up on midcareer – I’m 40, so the folks that I came up with were in this time approaching tenure or now have tenure – are on second books or in some cases third or fourth books and I was hearing the same thing from all of these different people – including successful cis het white men who by all measure had every reason to be content – that they were hitting burnout too, and not only because of having worked hard, but because of a feeling of missing something, of facing a kind of abyss. When the external markers of success are present, but you feel disconnected from something inside yourself, and if you’ve had that feeling for so long you don’t even know it’s a feeling,  over time, that can take a toll, and result in feelings of emptiness or impact motivation and will to go on. And I got really curious about this because I had of course heard for years and years from women of colour, Black women, Indigenous women, and in a very different way in my own lived experience coming into this place from a very working class background – about academia alienating people – but I was surprised when I began hearing these things from upper middle class cis white men with all the right hits on their cv. I was slowly putting all of these experiences together, connecting things that I had not connected before, while looking at the abyss quite regularly. And that’s the what blog does: it puts things together.

And so I began thinking in terms of dangerous gifts, language that I learned from the Icarus project, coming to understand the gifts that can be present in neurodivergent experiences when they are handled in good ways.  And I do perceive this work that I’m now choosing to do as the gift that comes out of danger once you get a handle on it. There was a moment at the very bottom of that time of abyss, a moment when I stopped fighting, and I surrendered.

I didn’t know what would come next, but I gave in. and I had very good guidance from some very powerful body workers who guided this process. On the other side of those kinds of suffering, when you go through them with the right kinds of physical backup, on the other side is a kind of stillness in which everything can happen, what I’m learning is called ‘dynamic stillness.’ And it was about three days on from that day of deciding to give in, to let go, that I pressed ‘submit’ on that blog post and then watched as the internet lit up. And the lingering question that the post opens, and yet cannot close – that question has been with me ever since, and grew into this next stage of the work. And something I saw in a piece by Mia Mackenzie and CarmenLeah Ascencio(quoting David Whyte) stayed with me: that the antidote to burnout is not rest, it is wholeheartedness. That the antidote to burnout is not rest, it is wholeheartedness. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but I was beginning to learn.

Thinking as a poet,  disability is the constraint that rendered possible the production of the Nurturance piece. Coming back to writing with a cognitive disability requires a different kind of relationship with language than the one that I had developed previously, one that engages with all levels of the body rather than engaging the neocortex at the expense of the rest of my cognitive system. And so after the long time in which I could not even look at a line of text, when I did come back to reading, the kind of theorizing that could emerge within the constraint of this cognitive disability has been by necessity grounded in the body. After a lifetime of textuality this new relationship was strange, it was aural, it was physiological, it was entirely new. I had no choice but to work in this way, and to rediscover the gifts that were wanting to come out of this new way of engaging textually, with my whole body and my whole self. It has turned out to generate a kind of work that I would not have produced had I kept on what I thought was my path.

And that brings us to today

I came back to reading and back to theory, in an embodied way. Now I can do theoretical text in part because a brain does heal, and in part because I have learned how to keep myself in my whole body and in my emotions as I engage.

As the blog has continued to make its way around the world, sweeping into new little inlets and echoing back, it became clear that the kind of work that many of are feeling called to do would be embodied, and I believe that this is valuable intellectual work. I’m of course far and away not the first to make this intervention. It has been made and made, and the question is what will it take to transform the entire structure of how we in academic life create knowledge?

I’m thinking of this as a series of questions and explorations, rather than as five point action plan for bringing nurturance culture into academia. The core animating question, one that I’d like to bring to you, and echo a bit between us, is the closing concept of the blog, really more of an opening than a closing:

(slide: what would it look like for us to be accepted in the world as our whole selves – that paragraph that asks that question and describes what it would be like – the solution is slow self love that brings the shame up into the light, people who hold you accountable and aren’t going anywhere – unconditional positive regard).


what would it look like for us to be accepted in the world as our whole selves.

A word about


As I mentioned earlier I’m inspired by the Octavia’s Brood project. I’m also taking inspiration here from emergent strategy, from the work of adrienne maree brown among others, whose work i can’t do justice in the confines of this talk, but I’d like to pick up on just one piece of that work. Thinking in an emergent way, brown argues that organizing work is fractal: in this conception every rendering at every scale of struggle is fractal – we create right relationships within ourselves and with one another which creates a resilience with which we grow able to take on, challenge, and transform state power and structural oppression, listening to and working with those who have a perspective from below. It is from underneath that we can topple all of these structures. this change is collective, not individual, but my hope is that it can happen in an emergent way.

I also take inspiration from the work of Ajay Heble at the University of Guelph and Rebecca Caines at U of A on improvisation, an approach in which one may create a container for transformation but without knowing or seeking to overdetermine what will arise once forces begin to move. like a muscle, we seek many failures, creating room for emergence to happen. I also take inspiration from what little I know of the Boggs school, which I have only learned of from others and from a distance, and yet even in its echoes it has touched me, in video and in descriptions of how Grace Lee Boggs worked with others. I’m taking inspiration from this echo to inform my own practice of knowledge production, one in which speaking together and abiding together in stillness, feeding the soil between us, are how cultures of practice emerge.

I’m also influenced by a growing body of work that Aravinda Ananda and others have been creating that reconnects critical awareness of oppression with somatic practices from the Work That Reconnects tradition.

with that spirit, you now have two options and can pick whichever works for you. I’ll explain both options, and then when I say go you will get to pick whichever you would like to try. The first option is, for those who are comfortable, a quiet walking option. I will explain this one a bit more in a moment. If you choose this option, you will be invited to come out to the open area for an exercise.  Just a quick note to say that anything interactive, please do take care of your body, you are invited to adapt any way that feels good for you. If you want to join and then need to sit or lie down or move around in a way that works for your body that is always completely ok. Please take care of your own body in whatever ways you need. Also, we’re going to be using very gentle somatic tools, but even very gentle tools can bring up emotion, and this is intended as a gentle creative exercise, so I ask everyone to govern your own level of depth, stay within the level that works for you.

Option two, for those who choose not to do milling: I invite you to remain in your seat and take these moments to do a full body scan of your own body. You might start at the feet and work up or any way that works for you. notice any areas in your body that might need a bit of loving attention, and direct breath and care to these areas. Please use whatever tools you normally find help you to become ready to come to the group open, kind, and able to give others a feeling of curiosity and gentle acceptance. If you have a religious or spiritual tradition, a poem, prayer, or meditation words that you normally use to calm and centre yourself, quietly saying them to yourself is welcome. And then when you feel ready, as the milling exercise winds down, begin to look around at who else is here in the room with you, and while respecting the movement of others, choose one person who you feel comfortable with and if both nod, move into pairs at your own pace. I’ll be guiding the milling, so I’m going to just trust the option B folks to do your body scan and buddying up on your own. When the milling folks settle into pairs you should by that time also be about ready to do the same. If you find you pair up sooner simply watch the milling and centre yourself in whatever way you wish. We will do this next bit in silence.

This is adapted from and loosely inspired by the Work That Reconnects and is intended to create room for a comfortable vulnerability and a context of unconditional positive regard for a group, conditions helpful to creative emergence. I’m going to adapt the exercises for our purposes today.

  1. Milling – explain it and then invite to participate –

milling is metaphor in which we shed husks, and reveal grain, like a mill turning hard grain into flour. I invite you to do this in perfect silence, from when we begin, until we settle into pairs. it happens in three steps, normally we begin with eyes lightly open but downcast looking at your feet, or at the ground just in front of you, no eye contact with others at the beginning, walking very slowly and feeling your own presence and the presence of the others around you, as you mill, moving freely through the space. and three times i will invite us all to move a little bit more quickly, and then once again a bit more quickly, but still at a relaxed pace, tune in gently to yourself, and start to notice the feeling of these other people around you and notice if more using your felt sense of one another than your eyes, move towards those who you feel a draw to, allowing others to move freely towards and away from you. As we reach the third stage I will invite you to gently draw towards one of the people who you find yourself feeling comfortable with or drawn towards, you might not know why. again, allow others to move freely, and as you settle on a buddy I’ll ask you to move in your buddies to an open space and find a place to sit, we’ll be doing three questions with this partner.

The person with longer hair will be the one who will be first to speak, the person with shorter hair will be second. keeping silence, please give me a nod if you know who is first speaker.

Now taking 30 seconds silently just thinking to yourself, this will be the question. Before we do it together I invite you to think it quietly to yourself for 30 seconds.

first question:

  1. A time when I felt accepted, seen, and felt belonging as I am, was…
    It can be any moment in your life at any age. A time when you completely accepted and seen and loved, or when you felt the most accepted, belonging just as you are. You can share: what does that feel like, how does it feel in your body? What emotions or sensations does that feeling bring up for you? If you find you can’t think of an experience of that kind of belonging, that’s ok, you can think or talk about what that feels like. A time when I felt accepted, and seen, or felt belonging as you are was…

now you’ll have thirty seconds to think about it quietly on your own. When you hear the bell begin that will transition us back.

(thirty seconds).

ok now we will take turns in pairs. first speaker, you will be invited to speak for two minutes uninterrupted and then will hear a bell letting you know to close your last thoughts. first listener, your role will be to be perfectly silent, and simply give this person your accepting attention. we do this to give people relief from needing to respond, if you wish you can think in your mind, ‘i’m with you. i hear you.’ and your job is just to hold a listening space for them without any words. you won’t need to respond to what they say. when they are done you are welcome to offer them a nod or any quiet indication of thanks.

when the bell rings, first speaker will slowly close their role, listeners you can give them an visual expression of gratitude for what they’ve shared, I will repeat the question, and we will switch roles. A time when I felt the most accepted and seen, or felt belonging as I am was…

(two minutes, close, other person takes a turn).

Then next question:

This time, the second speaker will go first, so those who just spoke, you will be speaking again. Again, you will have two minutes to speak while the other person listens with you in silence, offering if they are able, presence, kindness, and unconditional acceptance. Person listening, you will listen in complete silence; you will not be expected to respond in any way except to offer presence. At the close when you hear the bell, you are invited to offer a silent gesture of gratitude for what your partner has shared.

second question: The kinds of work I would be able to do, if I felt this way every day in my work life, would be…

pairs, reverse, same as before.

now, returning to the person who began the first time, we’ll do one more question in pairs:

third question, returning to first speaker.

what in your life brings you a feeling of gratitude? this can be as broad or as narrow as you like, just bringing up that feeling of gratitude and feeling it in your body. you will speak for two minutes, then you will hear the bell which signals to you to close up your thoughts. I feel gratitude for…

both have turn, bell to close.

thank you to our pairs now please feel free to return to your seats. and with the person you came in with, or someone sitting near you, we’re going to do an exercise in which we connect with a being outside of time.

In this exercise we’re doing something like the exercise that generated the short story evidence in which we step into a conversation with a future being.

You’re going to meet someone from fifteen years into the future, who is living after a time of great transformation and who lives and works in a community in which work has been completely transformed. You can imagine this person is you fifteen years in the future. The live in a time after the great transformation when their work is fostered in a culture of unconditional positive regard and nurturance. You will meet at a point outside of time, and you will hear a question.

(in order to facilitate this meeting we will step out of time and encounter one another, transported by the sound of the bell).

Everyone facing the right wall or the front is a future being, everyone facing the left wall or the back is a present day being.

Future beings, you will speak first. You will hear a question asked and you will hear it in my voice. You will hear it asked as though it comes from the person in front of you. Present day  beings, you will be silent, and you will hear a question asked in my voice, as though it comes from  you. You will hear two questions and will speak twice.

It is amazing to meet you. I know that you are living in a time after the transformation has taken place, and people who produce knowledge create it in a community in which stillness is known to be a needed part of the work, and in which a lot of attention is given to bringing out the gifts that are in each of us and all around us. What’s it like to be in your time?

This future being – you fifteen years in the future – is working in exactly the way your heart would want and works with a community of scholars who work in this good way

– present day beings, you will hear your question asked in my voice, and you will simply hear it as though it is coming through you as your own question, you will not speaik.

Future beings, you will hear a question, and you will hear it as though it comes to you from the person in front of you, and you will hear it in my voice, and you will have two minutes to answer.

When the bell rings we are transported to a moment outside time where you encounter your self fifteen years in the future, after the transformation.

Present Day being asks: it’s amazing to meet you. I’m so happy to know that you are working in exactly the way your heart would want you to – what is it like, how do you work? What are your days like? What do you work on?

2 minutes.

Second question: again you will hear it asked in my voice. You will hear it knowing it comes right from the heart-mind of the past sealf in front of you.

“From your time to mine feels like such a big jump. I know that you are coming in the future but in my time we would not even know how to begin. If you think back to when you were me, how did you begin? What was the first step?”

2 minutes to answer, then close with the bell.

Then if feels right, reverse.

Now we want to gather all of that wisdom that emerged. And we’re going to do this creating a group hive mind that speaks within itself. It may have many voices but it is one mind.  We’re going to do an exercise to gather all of this wisdom (pop perspectives – learned from Marco and Mimi. Adapted here into group mind). We’ll be creating one mind speaking to itself, like electrical currents jumping synapses.
You’ll get a piece of paper; it could be blank or could have a cue on it. This is a free association game, so write what first comes to mind. You won’t need to read out your own words, you may read the words someone else has written.

Cues (helpers give out blank paper with cues in regular size font at the top – as many sheets as participants):

one way to hold up the writing, ideas, and knowledge of those who face systemic oppression in my work world would be:

one way to act in solidarity with those who face systemic oppression in my work world would be:

I would feel liberated if we:

one way to turn this world inside out would be:

(and some blank ones for free associating)

These cues are just there to free up your thinking. Without thinking too hard, writing quickly, write whatever comes to mind, try to write legibly, and when you hear the shaker start, you’ll fold it in four, and then pass and receive continuously while you hear the shaker going. When the shaker stops, open the one you have, read what is on it, and add whatever comes to your mind, responding to the others or whatever is alive for you, then when you hear the shaker again you’ll pass and receive until the next stop, and we’ll repeat that a few times. Does everyone have a paper?

Ok, so write one thought, anything that comes to you, don’t think too hard just let what wants to arise come, fold it in four, pass and receive during a time shaker plays, then when you hear the shaker stop you’ll open the one that you’re holding and see what it says. Now in order to collect all of this wisdom we’re going to create a group hive mind, spoken aloud. In order to do this, simply speak when you feel called, when a space opens up, anything that moves you on your paper. This group mind will be speaking to itself. (go with the group, see what emerges)

We’ll do a few rounds of passing then see what we’ve found. Read whatever strikes you that you want to share. You don’t need to wait to be asked, simply speak when you feel called, words on the paper that speak to you when a pause presents itself or anything else that you feel called to speak. Overlap is ok and pauses are ok. We’ll create a shared group mind of knowledge.

(the group creates ‘group mind’ of all the insights that come up from the cued sheets)

(this was really fun and people got into it, it worked well, the shaker works best as you can judge the timing and be playful)

(last slide: nurturance culture in academic life opening slide)  (some organic responses may arise here depending on what grows out of the group mind game – transition, then close)


as i said when i opened, working through disability requires one to work in a different way, to honour gifts in a different way, and finding my footing in this way has never been fully individual and so I’d like to close with those words that my uncle gave us in his very powerful way of theorizing: that what any of us does that is beautiful, we all did.

and what any of us does that is good, we all did. we do it together. thank you very much.

ps: if you’d like to bring this talk to your local academic community, the event description is here http://www.sfu.ca/humanities-institute/public-events/archive/2017-18/nurturance.html, and I’m open to ideas and collaborations – feel free to ask!

here is a bit more that was originally up at the top.

Every post here was written in rough form, given quietly to a few friends and colleagues and think-together-loves before going out, but then given out to the world while still wet and glistening from the egg. I think of the rough posts as a kind of sonar that echoes out and sends things bouncing back, and reveals contours of oppression in the echoes. The final posts are never complete, but are in a continual state of growing and transformation – in other words, they are alive.

Every single post then gets revised in light of the echoes from the world that come back to me once I post. If you’re interested, you can read more about how that process works and how important it has been for my work in the About section. But don’t do that yet! Because I’m doing something hopeful and exciting here, and inviting your feedback. I’m going to post the very rough notes for the talk, and edit live in here as I keep working on it. Here they are, as they currently exist. Whatever comes alive in this space before Friday, will be the talk as it becomes alive on Friday.


post header image taken from https://onmogul.com/stories/a-relationship-is-like-a-plant, originally from floweryweb.com

Puuung images in powerpoint used with permission by the artist; please see more of Puuung’s work at http://www.grafolio.com/puuung1/illustration.grfl

4 thoughts on “On Nurturance and Vulnerability in Academic Life

  1. Ms. Samaran,

    Thank you for your beautiful writing and your openness (pseudonym and all). Thank you.

    Yesterday, the word “nurture” disrupted my lap-swimming. Nurture…Nurture…Nurture – just that one word, trapped under my silicone cap and haunting me for an hour. So I googled “nurture women.”

    Google first offered me advice on how to snag a nurturing girlfriend: “stay away from the barflies – they are not nurturing” and “these archetypes might be difficult girlfriends.” Unhelpful. I gave up on Google and chewed on the Nurture chant for a day.

    Here was my wobbly thesis: I’ve internalized two conflicting Nurture frames for myself.

    1) In one frame, I am a mom who ushered two babies to adult self-sufficiency and relative contentment. Textbook nurturing, for sure. But I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m not proud in the sense that I take credit for their current status even though I am happy that they are doing fine.

    2) In another frame, I am a lawyer who – today, for example – corrected a potential business partner when he referred to all mechanical engineers as “he.” Definitely not nurturing; arguably rude. And I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m proud of myself for speaking up but also annoyed at myself for risking the deal.

    And yet…and yet…my mom-behavior and my lawyer-behavior is coming from the same body, the same me. Which made me wonder if my nurturing had not been causative in the production of two decent human beings – theirs are random outcomes. Or possibly worse: maybe I have been nurturing compulsively, business meetings included, my free will and economic success subverted by deep-seated cultural and genetic messages passed down from my grandma to my mom to me. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants?

    But then I found your insightful and honest blog. Your voice reached through the interwebs and into my consciousness like a hand reaching toward the pool’s surface, helping me out and handing me a towel. Thank you. I’ll continue to process your teachings and would love to talk with you. -Kristi

    Ps. This absolutely leveled me: “And something I saw in a piece by Mia Mackenzie and Carmen Leah Ascencio (quoting David Whyte) stayed with me: that the antidote to burnout is not rest, it is wholeheartedness.”

    Liked by 1 person

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