Why?

…because in a year or so I would like to be able to trace this journey. Just to check if I was right about what is gonna come for me and for the communities I belong to.  And for my research that suddenly and unexpectedly became tightly interwoven with the rest of my life. Or, rather, I was abruptly awakened to the fact that it’s always been seamlessly integrated with my everyday reality, only I wasn’t really willing to see it and to acknowledge the consequences. So for quite some time I’ve been desperately trying to establish boundaries between my professional life and my more or less private sphere. At the time it seemed so right and reasonable: not conflating one with the other so that they don’t bother each other too much and I can preserve some space to be someone different here and there. Occasionally these personalities intermingled, usually when I was heading for the performance or when I met people who knew me as a musician and/or as an environmentalist and an avid permaculture gardener. There is some kind of pleasure coming from switching gears and shape-shifting between the worlds that are set apart. Another thing is, any kind of ‘personality’ has always felt oppressive and fixed beyond my taste. But not anymore. I can’t gloss over the fact that writing is at the moment almost impossible, no matter how hard I’m trying to set me on my keyboard and limit the news consumption. And limit my interactions with family (mostly my ailing parents whom I can’t really help now because I can’t visit them out of virological concerns),  friends and communities I belong to, dispersed across continents and networks of communication on which we all became so strongly dependent as of recently (except maybe for the community of my Zen practice where, as we often say, the practice is the space where we stay together).

So I’ve been long neglecting the extent to which my research and teaching is in fact integrated with the rest of my life. Even last year, when I had to undergo quite serious surgery and then spent the whole month on paid leave to fully recover, the business quickly became running as usual. Or so it seemed. I stopped for a bit reluctantly. I noticed, for example, that I’m physically not able to bear the stress of hurrying up. Even chasing the bus seemed beyond my body/mind. Yes, it partly evolved out of the time of recovery regime, when for a couple of months I had to avoid straining myself too much. And these new ways of body/mind became so well integrated within me that I just couldn’t give it up. No matter how urgent things looked like, there was always this red light in my head that often kept slowing me down, sometimes against my conscious will. So no deadline was urgent enough to limit the proper amount of sleep, for instance. And you know what? I noticed that not meeting the deadlines does not incur the end of the world. Nor even the end of cooperation in most cases, if both parties see it as valuable.

Which is not to say I’m reckless or lazy. I’ve been (slowly) learning to respect my own limits. It took me more than a year to notice how unrealistic the timelines of my various endeavors were and I’m still learning the precious art of setting healthy boundaries. I’m de-learning everything I’ve heard, read or was taught on how the proper academic ‘career’ should be like. Granted, it is much easier when you’re tenured (in the country where I’m based we have a slightly different system but in general the postdoctoral degree of habilitation is an equivalent of tenure). Actually, my tenure already came at a price:  the surgery I’ve already mentioned and a couple of months of uncertainty whether it might be cancer. Luckily it wasn’t. The amount of stress I’ve undergone for all the 13 years of my academic career proved to be just insurmountable. And in a great part, it was me who cooked it up for myself. Wait, actually, nope. NOPE. It’s nothing wrong with having plans and wishes to succeed (whatever this success in academia means these days, for me it means to be included in the international networks of likeminded people of a shared field of interests). Nothing wrong with dreams. Rather, all is wrong with an often cruel and inhuman environment where you’re bound to pursue it. Especially, when you’re a female academic from a semi-peripheral country, where higher education and research has never been a priority (if measured by the reality of the level of financing, not the phantasies of consecutive governments’ declarations – the steady level of financing hoovers around 1% of GDP: in 2017 Poland spent 1,03% of GDP on R&D as compared to the average of 2,03 for the whole EU and yes, it increased to 1,21% in 2018 but it is more creative accounting than lived reality), from a family where you’re a first-generation holder of a university diploma (not mentioning PhD), someone who jumped on a bandwagon of a university career in her 30ies (for many reasons, one of which was a grim reality of the economic and social transformation of mid-nineties when you happened to graduate from the university – in pre-EU Poland the unemployment rate at the time was around 15% – and in dire need to support yourself rather than pursue the academic dreams).

So, here I am, associate professor at one of the best Polish universities (which, although occupies the tier of 301-400 in this ranking,  still is one of the two universities mentioned there at all, and earns #338 in this ranking). I’m not a fan of this kind of rankings, but they are often referred to as a (mistaken) measure of quality. The fun fact is that in the latter the Arts&Humanities division (my cohort, at #236) fares slightly better than Natural Sciences (#242), but we’re still being lectured on what waste of the taxpayers’ money we are. Or, wait. In this country, humanities are at the forefront of the current ideological battles and are considered a strategical asset in shaping the so-called “politics of history” and re-installing the proper amount of national pride. Which is nothing to be ecstatic about, if your field happen to be digital culture and new media art.

So, here I am, middle-aged, mid-career associate professor at one of the best universities in this country, famous for its 700-year history and for the fact that it turned down once the job application from no other than Marie Skłodowska-Curie (after she managed to graduate from Sorbonne). My gross salary is roughly 1387,71 EUR (1 498,91 USD) monthly (before taxes) which translates into 16 652,52 EUR yearly (17 986,92 USD), before taxes. This semester I teach 7 courses because my research grant has ended. For 3 years it used to pump up my salary by roughly 500 EUR extra monthly, before taxes – thanks to which I could afford meeting you at international conferences and buying books. Now I need to earn this money myself to keep in touch with my field (yes, I applied already for another grant but you know what it’s like). Each course is one 90-minute class meeting per week. Two courses are at the doctoral programs (one at another university). Normally, my teaching load is 180 hours per academic year, which translates into 6 30-hour courses (90-minute class meeting per week each). I’m required to perform the top-notch research (measured with Scopus-indexed publications and grant projects, whereas I prefer open-access online journals significant for the network of colleagues whose opinions really matter to me and engagement with the international forums fostering meaningful dialogue and mutual learning). I’m the vice-editor-in-chief of a leading Polish journal in cultural studies. I chair the Ph.D. program in the discipline of art studies within Jagiellonian University Doctoral School.

The personal development fund for my whole Institute (around 20 employees) hoovers around 6552 EUR (7700 USD) PER YEAR. It is supposed to cover participation in conferences and publications, among others. Out of this, I can usually count on up to 400 EUR per year (the average international conference registration fee is in the range of 250-300 EUR).  I work on my own equipment. I have access to decent research infrastructure (Sage Premium, Project Muse, EBSCO, etc.). I have access to several platforms supporting online teaching (such as MS Teams, customized Moodle, and, as of recently, Webex). I have an extensive network of wonderful colleagues and friends across academia in Poland, Europe, the United States, and Australia. The range of support I was getting from my direct supervisors throughout the whole 13 years, on different stages of my academic career, varied tremendously. But as of recent, I can say I work in a generally supportive environment – without the support from my faculty, I wouldn’t be able to spend 4 months as Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence at Winona Stae University (MN) (it deserves the whole separate story here). I guess it is mostly because I’m considered an asset valuable enough – which is OK, I’ve been working hard to get where I am.

I don’t have kids. I have elderly parents to support financially (their income is roughly 600 EUR monthly and both of them suffer from different health conditions, with one of them being in the need of constant care).

I chose to write in English (which is not my native language so occasionally there might be some mistakes in how I surf its waves ) so that the larger group of people could follow (and, hopefully, participate in the discussion here).

I’m not complaining. I’m just summing up and clarifying for myself, where I am at at the turn of March and April 2020. I’m gonna write this journal mostly for myself. To check out in a year, how this road (now and supposedly) ahead has been.  

I was supposed to write a book, and rather quickly, summing up my research project that ended rather abruptly in January 2020. I’ll share this story separately too. I was supposed to write at least two reviews of the books I really dig and wanted to share my thoughts on them.  And as far as I can see on Facebook, I’m far from being the only one who stumbled upon a writer block.

So I’m gonna trace this journey hoping that it will help to kick start the process of writing in general. (My book on post-digital imaging will be in English, as was most of my publications over the last 2-3 years).

I was inspired by the Facebook post that Annette Markham shared one day, reporting her own obstacles with writing. I could totally relate to it and then this urge to somehow chronicle what is happening with me as a researcher these days started materializing.

I do hope I will still be in the capacity to read this one year from now. And I’m really curious where we’d all be, circumstances permitting.

2 thoughts on “Why?

  1. I so enjoyed reading this post, for many things I feel exactly the same! Big hugs from my self-isolation in Cambridge, hoping we’ll be able to organise our Budapest part 2 journey once this craziness ends!! Baci, Francesca x

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    • Thank you, Francesca! I think this reality is a very special one: spatially isolated but closer to each other at the same time. Let’s keep hight hopes for meeting in person soon!

      Like

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