A few weeks ago my son came home from preschool proudly wearing a laminated card on a string around his neck. His friends had nominated him for a Kindness Card. It read ‘Thank you for sharing your kindness with us today”.
We don’t always acknowledge kindness so visibly. (This is one of the reasons Academic Kindness on tumblr and twitter has been such a success).
This post is in lieu of nominating family, friends and colleagues for kindness cards. Since my last post, we have been inundated by kindnesses large and small. People have shared their experiences of epilepsy and illness in emails of support and hope. Colleagues have made my daughter feel welcome on campus. Her friends have visited and added some brightness to our days. Here is a snapshot of the delicious dinners that have been made for us.
Being freed from the responsibilities of shopping and cooking has given me time to edit the final version of a book chapter on academic motherhood due this week. My chapter uses Luce Irigaray’s metaphor of mucus, and its connections with her concepts of sexual difference and women’s two sets of lips, to perform a feminist writing of the lived experience of motherhood and academia. To illustrate the worlds of maternity and the academy, italicised autoethnographic ‘sticky moments’ interrupt scholarly writing.
Our current experiences have made their impact felt. (This extract comes from the third part of the chapter, so apologies if it reads as though you have missed most of the conversation):
I am editing this chapter with my daughter on a beanbag next to me. Her epilepsy, up to now well controlled, has escalated. She spent last week in hospital having seizures lasting up to seven minutes every fifteen minutes. Out of hospital, she continues to have thirty seizures a day. She is bone tired but otherwise in good spirits. My colleagues have picked up my slack but I had things to do, and, let’s be honest, work is a good distraction…
Perhaps my current location and temporality leave a trace in my academic writing, even if I haven’t thought this through. Irigaray is interested in what is unthought and untheorised in philosophy—in particular, the feminine—but which leaves a trace. Mucus offers a metaphor for this. In her writing on visceral philosophy, Tamsin Lorraine writes that mucus is “Irigaray’s term for the unthought moving toward representation—those strangely uncanny aspects of experience that defy already established self/other and body/mind divisions” (1999, p 37). Exploring the qualities of mucus, Lorraine writes: “The body is inert without its relation to mucus. Mucus … presents a living material that brings one closer to the infinite beyond which exceeds all boundaries” (1999, p 40). It may be a stretch: mucus as the trace of the divine, the soul. A slippery idea.
I’ll tell you something else that is slippery: the flow of writing and trying to hold a line of argument when I am thinking about my daughter next to me, and how soon we need to pick up her brother. He vomited in the car this morning (I couldn’t make this up). He’s always had a weak stomach, prone to motion sickness, and is anxious about his sister’s unrelenting seizures. The car will stink after being in the sun all day …
… Nourished together, motherhood and academia open up different and creative ways of thinking about and being within the contemporary university. My line of argument is thus: Motherhood and academia leak into each other in messy ways. Separating and containing the subjectivities of academia and mother is impossible. Maintaining the competing priorities of plural subjectivities requires nourishment as women, mothers and academics. We speak and write of our experiences, share and create spaces and challenge the confines of our universities.
In my office, I am writing and mothering simultaneously. Outside the window, the sun is setting red and hazy from hazard reduction burns in the national park to the north. I rouse my daughter from a doze and set towards home. I don’t yet know it, but she is about to have a twelve minute seizure. And I will be thinking of angels, and trying to test the weight and meaning of feminist philosophy under harsh fluorescent hospital lights. I’d love to respond to the reviewer’s request to conclude with my key learnings from exploring the metaphor of mucus in academic motherhood, with what my sticky moments reveal about intersubjectivity and the soul, but I am found wanting. There are no neat endings here.
3 thoughts on “Kindness cards”
Dear Agnes, I am so sorry to hear about your daughter. I am crying as I write this – partly because I am overwhelmed by what you and your family are going through and partly because I have become exhausted and raw attending to a family emergency myself. After 4 weeks in 2 different hospitals, the last 2 weeks in intensive care, my father’s diagnosis is still not clear, but epilepsi is a strong contender. Brain damage is a reality as is his defiance. I am writing this sitting at his desk, which is littered with the paraphanalia he used for composing and arranging. The evidence of his creativity in various stages of completion are difficult to reconcile with the man who is struggling to feed himself or to follow what is going on around him.
From the distance, my kindness cannot take practical shape. I can only offer my empathy. For what it’s worth, my thoughts and my heart are with you and your family.
Oh, Christa, I am so saddened to hear about your father. I am writing this from hospital where my daughter has been readmitted. I feel for your exhaustion and tears -experiencing the same here. Thinking of you and your family.
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