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One of my “play hard” moments, on an aerial hoop at Cirque Indy.

Welcome to the next installment of my Workaholic Missives post series, wherein I talk about my philosophy behind work/life balance (or lack thereof, as some would have it).

I know it’s trite, but I try to live by the phrase “Work hard, play hard.” I like the website Get Bullish’s take on this: “If it isn’t extremely productive or extremely pleasurable, just stop. Either eat something healthy that takes five minutes, or have a huge decadent meal with friends for two hours. Either go to the gym and work every fucking muscle in your body like an Olympian, or stay home and find someone to make out with.”

Basically, the idea here is that if you’ve got limited time in which to be awesome, either spend it being as awesome as possible, or recharging as aggressively as possible. I know, the idea of recharging aggressively seems weird to some, but that’s how I’ve been exploring work/life balance in the last few years, and I’ve really enjoyed it. This blog post shares some of my strategies for making it work.

As a freelancer, I run the risk of always working. There’s always another proposal to write, a blog post to pitch, or a project to write, revise, etc. I know this is ingrained into me by academic culture to some degree (see my post on normalized weekend work at Conditionally Accepted), but I’ve also had to navigate the “you should be working more!” ethos of freelancing. Piling one on top of the other has not necessarily been that healthy for me.

Luckily, I’m all about the self-care interventions. And sometimes that means aggressive self-care: taking a weekend off to travel because I’m on the verge of burn-out, or scheduling a massage after a lunch date but right before a work date followed by rock climbing (a.k.a. last Tuesday). I take care to always meet my commitments to others, backing out only when it’s really dire, but I match that persistence with a commitment to myself as well: to engage in what is healthy and pleasurable as much as I can possibly fit in, justify, and/or afford.

The “work hard” part of the phrase means that I try not to waste time on things that are not-work, assuming that I have the energy and the mental focus to put in good work. Since I do a range of activities in my freelance life, it could mean deciding whether I have the attention span to do something related to a college class I’m teaching (lesson planning and grading papers tend to take the most focus, whereas small tasks like recording attendance are less strenuous) or whether I should do something on social media that’s less obviously related to a project I’m on, but could help promote my work in ways that might be fruitful later. It could be the difference between “work on my book proposal while I’ve got the brain power for it” and “send out inquiries about a performance opportunity for my dance troupe because those are halfway scripted already.”

The “play hard” hard of the phrase means that I take my relaxation seriously, and I try to fill it with activities that not only recharge me, but about which I’m passionate. That can be a tricky balance: for instance, I truly love dancing, but sometimes I’m just too tired from all my other stuff to really make a serious go of a night out dancing. So it might mean practicing at home a little bit, followed by watching performances by some of my favorite dancers, in order to get that creative charge going. When I’m totally worn out and can’t brain anymore, then I’ll do something low-key that I still really love, like reading a novel or spending time with someone I care about. Watching trashy TV tends to fall pretty low on the list… yes, even I have a few guilty pleasure TV shows, but I tend to combine them with social time (my life partner and I have a list of shows we’re working our way through) or with introvert time (like if I can write in my journal or knit while watching a show).

On the flip side, the “play hard” aspect means that if some relaxation or social activity doesn’t really appeal to me, and I don’t have a good reason to do it regardless, I’m probably going to turn it down. My free time is too limited for me to spend it in an activity that doesn’t serve me.

So, yes, I’m very mercenary in how I make my choices with my free time, in large part because of this need for balance that I perceive. On that note, time to make a shopping run for a dinner party, before working out, before a lunch date, before teaching a dance workshop, before spending the rest of the day working on grading and writing. Like ya do… if you’re me.

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Indy Monumental Yoga

Me being choosy with my time, at an event that combines belly dance and yoga, two activities I fiercely carve room for in my schedule.

In my last Workaholic Missives post, I described how most social engagements pale in comparison to the thrill of saving the world through education and art. That leads to a question I’ll discuss here: how on earth do I figure out what’s worth doing when I’m not working?

The answer: to be calculating and strategic and self-serving, while being up front and honest and not mean about it. In other words, to be mercenary as fuck.

I’m going with the definition of mercenary as self-serving, or doing things only when they benefit oneself, not necessarily in the sense of only doing things for money. That’s more aptly communicated by, ya know, calling someone a capitalist. Apparently the Latin origin of the word refers to someone being for hire, and while money came to be important to the definition, the idea of being in something for personal gain remains central to my understanding of it.

Since deciding not to pursue a full-time career in academia anymore, I’ve had to be more mercenary with my time on a professional level. I love academic research, writing, and publishing… but it doesn’t pay like freelance writing does (or at all, really), so I can’t devote very much time to it. I love teaching, but adjunct wages make it so that teaching isn’t the best use of my time either, so I only teach one class a semester. And so on.

I’m not the only alt-ac scholar who’s had to disentangle herself from the lure of academic time sucks with an eye toward self-serving career goals. But I also apply this attitude toward my non-professional life, which is where things get sticky.

Invitation to hang with friends at a bar? Facebook event involving a signing/reading/viewing? Dinner party? Drum circle? Those all sound lovely, but what do they do for me? Since I am not, in fact, a machine (or an ice queen, as rumors might suggest), then an event’s “what it does for me” might be as simple as “helps me relax.” Also acceptable answers include “I get to reconnect with friends,” or “I get to practice dancing,” or “I get to interact with a topic I work with professionally but in a low-key environment where I don’t have to be the one presenting/leading/teaching it.”

Not everything I do is work-related (surprise, I know), but I consider almost everything I do through work-related lenses, applying the same mercenary filters to assess how an activity benefits me or helps me reach a goal. Spelling it out like this can make me sound calculating, but hopefully it also helps the people in my life understand why I do what I do. And maybe it helps others like me feel less alone and outside the norm.

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A selfie as I’m on my way to teach (while undoubtedly juggling a billion other tasks in my head).

For the second installation in my blog series on being a workaholic, I’d like to talk about my lack of social life.

If you know me IRL, you might be thinking, “What?! Jeana, you have a thriving social life, what on earth are you talking about?!”

And… to a degree you’d be right. When there’s an event or a group that I prioritize, I’m there. For example, I’m dedicated to promoting the belly dance community in Indianapolis, so I’m teaching classes two nights a week, spending other nights rehearsing or performing, and so on. I help run a local sex-positive meet-up group, so I’m visible in that community. And so on.

Except I don’t actually have that many personal social commitments. And I prefer to keep it that way.

Part of the way I experience being a workaholic is an intense commitment to, and inflation of the significance of, the causes which are important to me. So it’s not just that I’m an educator, it’s that I’m saving the world through education. I’m not just a sex educator, I’m saving the world through sex education. My research and writing and teaching and blogging and dancing and art are all part of my mission to bring progressive thought and acceptance of non-heteronormative sexuality/gender and bodies of all kinds to the rest of the world.

I have the fervor and zeal of a new convert, and in some ways that’s true: since turning away from academia and pursuing an alt-ac career, I’ve felt newly infused with a sense of purpose and a drive toward relevance. Getting a PhD was fun, but I wasn’t overly concerned with improving anyone’s life but my own for the majority of that process. Now that I’ve hopped on the alt-ac bandwagon, and become more of an activist in sexuality circles, though, I’ve become rather outspoken about the need for more education (sexuality and otherwise) in pretty much every aspect of life. And it fills me with a righteous sense of passion and indignation and must fix this now.

Hopefully this doesn’t sound naive, but I truly believe that educational opportunities and communication skills and tolerance for diversity can help save the world. So when someone asks if I have time to hang out, time during which I could be blogging or preparing a lesson plan or conducting research or networking at a sexuality professionals meetup – all converging toward this glorious end goal of saving the world – of course the answer is no, I don’t have time to hang out.

Be right back, saving the world.

It’s cool to get coffee with you a couple times, but I have more important things to do.

Gotta cancel that lunch date… it’ll be my only time to blog today. And so on.

It’s a harsh reality of my world that most people aren’t as interesting to me as my work is. There are exceptions, of course, since I’m not a total hermit: the people I make an effort to stay in touch with, to include in my life, to see somewhat regularly. But the majority of the people I encounter, while lovely individuals, simply do not hold my attention in comparison with (or rather, in competition with) my work.

I do this mental math every time I receive an invitation to a social event, whether it’s a group thing or a one-on-one hangout. I hate to admit this publicly – or at all – but it’s what happens in my brain.

If this is the price I pay for helping to change the world through education, well, I’m kinda okay with that. I try to train the people in my life to not take it personally. Not sure how much success I’ve had, but ah well… since this is is Workaholic Missives post I can point people toward it in the future, right?!

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Me performing at Tribal Revolution, June 2015. Photo by Carrie Meyer.

I attended the Woodhull Summit on Sexual Freedom last weekend, and while there, took part in an excellent workshop on shame led by sex educator Charlie Glickman. As I was taking notes and live-tweeting as much of Glickman’s fantastic content as I could, I began to notice some points of overlap between shame resilience techniques and the way I teach dance.

The first point of overlap is that when we’re talking about shame, we can discuss not only what it is and how it feels, but also how it looks on the physical body. Glickman defines shame as the sense that one is a bad person, and that shaming oneself or others is often destructive, but it can also lead to positive outcomes, such as giving one an incentive to not do certain unhealthy things again. Yet the discussion of shame can go much deeper than emotion & reaction; we can also talk about the physical behaviors that embody shame.

This is where it gets really interesting to me, since I’m a huge fan of discussing embodiment. According to Glickman’s research, shame gets embodied through:

  • Looking away or breaking eye contact
  • Physical disconnection
  • Closing off one’s heart or slouching
  • Silence

If anyone has seen Amy Cuddy’s TED talk about posture, you’ll know that she basically substantiated through research a correlative relationship between posture and performance. People who hold confident “power postures” perform better on all sorts of tests and by all kinds of measures, and people who do the opposite do worse. The lower-confidence, less-powerful postures all align with shame embodied states.

This is where teaching belly dance comes in. Specifically, I teach American Tribal Style® Belly Dance, wherein posture is supremely important. We borrow a lot from flamenco, which accounts for some of our uplifted posture, and ultimately, much of the dance form’s overall aesthetic emphasizes lifted lines, which you can see in the photo of me performing that’s at the top of this blog post. By merely teaching this dance form, and by constantly reminding my students to maintain their posture, I’m helping them with a small mental hack to improve their emotional states. It might be a tiny thing in the context of their lives, and I don’t have peer-reviewed research to back this up, but I believe that I’m doing something to combat shame-induced posture and thereby contributing a little bit of positivity to my dance students’ lives.

The second point of overlap has to do with my teaching practices. There are a number of things that feed shame, such as unspoken rules, bigotry, and unhealthy hierarchy. Guess which things I don’t allow in my dance classes? I make all of my classroom rules explicit, and I do so with gentle humor, like when I correct someone’s “I can’t!”speech to a phrase of “I can’t…yet.” (example: “I can’t shimmy!” “If you’re going to say ‘I can’t’ remember to throw a ‘yet’ in there, so you can’t shimmy yet, but you will.”) I don’t let my students get away with body-shaming statements, even when they sound completely innocuous because they’re so dang common in our culture. I encourage an open learning environment by constantly asking if they have questions, and always making it safe to ask, or to take time for self-care, or really, anything they need.

It might sound like I run a loosey-goosey dance class but believe me, my dance students learn. They drill. They achieve really wonderful things. I try to tell them how proud I am of them, in blog posts like this one and in person.

I’ve felt shame in the dance classroom before, and it’s no fun. I try to structure my dance classes in such a way that my students will rarely go to that place, and if they do, hopefully we can work through it together to get somewhere useful. As Glickman noted in his presentation, not all shame is bad; it can be an adaptive response, depending on how you handle it and what you draw from the experience of it. It’s my hope that if shame ever surfaces in my dance classroom, we’ll work with it and through it together.

The final point I’d like to make is that shame is about disconnection, and its opposites (love, growth, healing, and community) are about connection, emotional and otherwise. My teaching style encourages a sense of trust in the dance classroom: in fellow students, in me, and in the wonderful improvisational dance language we practice together. In a broad sense, my hope is that by teaching a style of dance that gently pushes students into connecting with one another through eye contact and trust (because as a follower you have to trust the leader giving the cues for the next move, and when you lead, you have to trust the followers to be synced up with you), I’m paving the way for connection rather than disconnection, for empathy and love rather than shame.

I know that the sense of connection I found through tribal dance has benefited me in innumerable ways, including saving my life during a rough patch. This discussion of shame vs. connection is still a little abstract, and again, I don’t have empirical studies to back me up here. But when I see my dance students returning session after session and sticking with the style, I see them blossoming and incrementally becoming more trusting of each other when they dance, and more confident in general.

Sometimes people remark on how I do such disparate things in my life – writing, folklore, sex education, dance – and this is one example of how everything ties together. I went to a sexual freedom conference, attended a fantastic panel on shame, and realized that my dance teaching style is implicitly geared toward removing shame from the dance classroom in order to foster connection, confidence, and caring. How cool is that?!

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Image from Wikimedia under a Creative Commons license. Originally uploaded by user Fry1989.

I thought about putting this post over at my sex education site, but decided to publish it here instead. Why? Because I’m increasingly convinced that activism needs to be a part of my scholarship as well as my daily life.

The state in which I currently reside, Indiana, has passed a so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA, also known as SB101). As this Huffington Post blogger explains, it basically opens the door to discrimination against groups that are not currently protected from such – namely, LGBTQ folks and other sexual minorities, anyone to whose existence a religious group might object.

While I generally support protests and even certain boycotts, in part to raise consciousness and in part to display displeasure, I have to agree with friend and colleague Mike Underwood who states:

Rather than a blanket boycott of Indiana, I’d suggest a strategic and vocal boycott of businesses seen to use this law to discriminate against marginalized persons. Instead why not vocally patronize inclusive businesses?

And on top of that, fight to make sexual orientation a protected class for the entire state, and to get SB 101 overturned so a more reasonable protection for religious expression can be crafted and implemented.

Boycotts punish everyone, and tend to disproportionately hurt smaller business of those already marginalized.

That’s why I’ve started asking establishments that I go into what their policy on RFRA is. And you know what? It seems like a small act, but it has so much potential.

Already I’ve spoken with employees at my favorite cafe on the northside of Indy, and heard that they promote tolerance and inclusion. I cheekily replied that I’d be happy to give them more of my money. What I wasn’t expecting was for one of the employees to approach me as I was packing my things to leave, and to warmly thank me for bringing up the issue. That was really touching, and a good reminder that activism isn’t just about creating concrete change in economic patterns, but also about connecting with people.

On the scholarly side, we’ll see how much attention I can give this issue in my classroom. On the one hand, I may not need to mention it much, as my wonderful students this semester have already posted links to relevant news in our online discussion group. On the other hand, my status as a PhD-wielding college lecturer gives my words a certain amount of weight, and so speaking up might infuse some opinions with a bit more legitimacy, and give my students something to fall back on if they want to mention our hypothetical classroom discussions to their peers or family members.

As Kelly J. Baker points out, scholarship and activism have an uneasy relationship: “Activism appears to have merit when it can be neatly attached to one’s scholarship or a vision of a shared politics.” I’m already pretty “out there” as a scholar who does a lot of work on gender, sex, and sexuality, so it’s probably not surprising to anyone  that I hold the position that RFRA is thinly-disguised homophobic bigotry.

We’ll see how things go with this (abhorrent) piece of legislation. I’m going to try to speak up as much as I can, in both formal and informal settings, in part because I have a privileged position as an institutionally-recognized scholar, and in part because I get to vote with my wallet, and make human connections while doing so. I also get to lean on some personal privilege here, as I walk around wearing a wedding ring and am cisgendered. In my mind, one of the better things to do with privilege is use it to challenge the status quo and help others out, so hopefully I can do some of that here.

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I’ve been turning this post over in my head for a few months, and now seems like a good time to make it.

I am not accused too often of being an “angry feminist,” but it still happens from time to time. As though that is such a terrible thing to be; worse than a greedy capitalist, or a dishonest politician, or an unapologetic rapist. As though it would be better for me to not be angry or not be feminist, but be something else instead, even if that something else is also a negative trait.

This Tiger Beatdown post on angry-feminist-shaming really resonated with me. In it, Flavia writes: I refuse to be boxed in the simplified category of “ranter” because I am angry. Because this anger makes me “difficult”, it makes me “alienating”, it makes me “impossible to deal with” and I should just accept that certain things just are.

Anger drives us to action; anger keeps us from being complacent. Yet it is a really charged thing for women to be angry, since in many cultures, women are not supposed to get angry. There is no safe way for us to unleash our passions. In folklore, literature, and history, we see the dire consequences of women getting angry: Medea, Snow White’s (step)mother, the doomed Amazons, the Maenads. There is little cultural space for women’s anger. We are supposed to swallow it and, I don’t know, transform it into milk chocolate hearts and rainbow bird’s nests. Or better yet, not feel it at all.

This excellent (but potentially triggering) post at Fugitivus talks about the conditioning women undergo to be pleasant and agreeable in every.single.interaction of their lives, and how given that context, it’s unsurprising that “if you accept those social interactions as normal and appropriate in your day to day life, there is absolutely no reason you should be shocked that rape occurs without screaming, without fighting, without bruising, without provocation, and without prosecution. Behavior exists on a continuum.”

One reason I chafe at the negative connotations of the “angry feminist” label is that it’s meant to police women’s behavior. Because if being an angry woman is clearly unacceptable in our society, being an angry feminist must be a billion times worse.

Another reason I dislike the stigma is that I don’t actually see being an angry feminist as a bad thing depending on what you are doing with that anger. I totally do not mean this to turn into a judgment of how those feminists are doing it wrong but these feminists are doing it right; rather, I mean that anger can be an intensely destructive emotion, and that shit will consume you if you let it. Which is not helpful for anyone, really, unless self-destruction does something unique or desirable for you.

But here is the thing: when feminists are angry, we are angry about oppression. We are angry about women’s (and indeed, men’s) options and identities being limited and defined by patriarchy, religion, laws, culture. We are pissed off that being born with a certain set of genitals means you are far more likely to experience sexual assault, to be denied health care coverage, to take a pay cut for the same work.

And our anger is frequently tempered with empathy. Feminism is a collective movement. You gain empathy by realizing that yeah, it also sucks for people who are both like you and unlike you. That opens you up to awareness that oppression happens on many axes, not just gender/sexuality, but also ethnicity, religious identity, immigrant status, nationality, class, and so on.

When you start to think about oppression and you start to realize how much it sucks to be oppressed, you generally don’t want to inflict those same feelings on others. This is where I’m going with the empathy thing. And while bell hooks has said this way more eloquently than I ever will, this is why feminism can and should intersect with multiple anti-oppression stances, and why all forms of oppression are related.

I think this, ultimately, is why the idea of the angry feminist is so threatening in a contemporary mainstream American/Western context: because the oppressors can’t understand a way of being angry that does not involve doing violence to others. Since that is how they work, by keeping others in check through fear and control. It’s power-over rather than power-with, to borrow a term from Starhawk.

But many feminists (and again, it’s such a broad movement that it’s hard to generalize about) understand that being oppressed–for gender or anything else–really blows, so we channel our anger into challenging oppression, not redirecting it onto whoever’s lower on the totem pole than us. We comprehend the destructive effects of displaced abusive anger and instead strive for transformative passionate anger.

Not that we’re perfect and get it right every time; I still feel helpless, and I still fight losing battles on the internet with people who are turned off by my anger so I really should adopt another tactic but I don’t because this shit is so raw, this being told I am less than human and don’t deserve sovereignty over my body. I am trying to do it better, to be more compassionate, to channel my anger into something useful and not wallow in rageful depression or lash out at potential allies.

This is why I don’t back away from the term angry feminist: I think it can teach us many things. It can be used to start conversations, or to end them, if the idea of an angry woman is so alien as to point out irreconciliable differences that it’s not worth bashing your head against. We do need some amount of self-preservation instincts to keep up this fight while life goes on around us, after all.

I hope that someday we won’t even need the term anymore: that women will have socially acceptable access to the same range of emotions as men, and that the idea of feminism will be something taught in history classes since it’ll no longer be necessary once gender-based oppression is banished forever. Yeah, I can keep dreaming. But I like my anger with a dash of optimism.

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