Tag Archives: cafes

A reckoning

Today is the last day of my sabbatical and I’m feeling contemplative. This has been the best sabbatical I have ever experienced. Although I might not have done as much work (read: writing) as I had wanted to, I have done some significant personal and intellectual work. These are the accomplishments, successes and resolutions:

  1. I have determined that although early retirement seems tempting, I am not ready to stop working at the university just yet. There are things I still want to accomplish in both my teaching and my administrative roles. A new course on indigenous literatures. Better funding packages for doctoral students. More traction on non-academic career building for all graduate students in Arts. Writing too, but that is always going on in the background.
  1. Strengthening my network of international colleagues has been a true delight. I am now in meaningful and regular contact with colleagues in Croatia and Poland in particular. Facebook helps! But so do other gizmos and software such as smart phones and WhatsApp. We communicate, build relationships, make lasting friendships as well as work collaboratively on projects. I will be going back to Zagreb in October for a conference organized by V. Awesome. I will stay in the apartment we rented and which felt like home. Excellent.
  1. Including a recent holiday trip to Cuba (where I also have connections with the University of Holguin), I have travelled in eight countries in six months. What a rare pleasure.
  1. Living in Europe for four of the six months has deepened my sense of myself as a European person. It is odd that this is happening after spending most of my life in Canada—45 years! And ironic considering my academic specialization is Canadian literature. But it’s true. My soul responds to Europe. I was born either to pick potatoes in Eastern European fields or to sit in cafes talking. Probably both. I walk the streets of villages, towns and cities and I feel at home. I recognize it; it recognizes me. This morning I woke up and realized that I had been dreaming in German—with the same level of proficiency I actually do have, not as a fluent German speaker. But stil, isn’t that odd? IMG_1675
  1. Books can weigh you down. I sent a box of books I intended to read (those autobiography theory and indigenous literary theory books that had been collecting on my “to read” shelf) from Canada to Vienna. They arrived safely. I sent a box of books from Vienna to Zagreb. They never arrived. Lost in the customs house no doubt. Abandoned and now unread by me. I miss them, but it is also strangely freeing not to be followed by books. Although I am not ready to retire, I am ready to start divesting myself of books.IMG_0892
  1. I have had the privilege of spending whole days reading. Most of you reading this blog will understand how truly splendid and rare that is. Right now I am reading yet another book about WWII and Eastern Europe: Walking Since Daybreak by University of Toronto historian and Lativian-Canadian Modris Eksteins. He embeds his own family story (going back to his great-grandmother) within the larger story of the war and in particular what happened to Latvia. His purpose is larger than that. He argues that “The year 1945 stands at the centre of our century and our meaning.” Get that? “our meaning.” That resonates with me. And I am learning so much from Eksteins’s book because he is a historian and he looks back centuries to the pagan tribes that settled in Eastern Europe. Oh, and did you know that Catherine II, Catherine the Great of Russia, was born in Stettin Pomerania! I didn’t. I have also just read the latest Kate Atkinson novel, A God in Ruins, which is partly about her [fictional] protagonist Teddy’s experience as an RAF bomber pilot during the war, involved in the relentless bombing of Germany. On the ground, cities burn and civilians die. Hamburg. Nuremburg. Bremen. Berlin. The two sides of my family—English and German—are defined in relation to that war, with which I am completely obsessed. IMG_1635
  1. My visit to my mother’s home village (now in Poland and about which I have already written) has prompted more writing. I am writing what I think might become a book one day. Child refugees during 1945 and what they pass on to their own children. I am involved in the Oral History project being conducted by the Waterloo Centre for German Studies and have discovered that many German-Canadians in the Waterloo region are, like my mother, originally from the East. Many of them emigrated and settled here in the years after 1945. Many of them share similar stories of flight and living in deportation camps or under Russian occupation before they could finally leave Germany. I would like to talk to their children.
  1. And finally, my marriage has been strengthened by spending an extended period of time with Arlequino. We were never more than a few hours apart for most of the four months we were in Europe. And we loved it.
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Working in cafes

It’s Wednesday, a non-teaching day, and the day when someone else cleans my house (insert middle-class guilt here, but follow quickly with sigh of relief that I don’t have to spend my time doing it when I’ve got better things to do). I clear out of the house when S. comes to clean, as I just get under foot and she’s happier turning up the tunes and just getting on with things. Thanks S.

Sometimes when I clear out of the house on non-teaching days I don’t go to the university but to a cafe. Here I sit with sandwich and coffee and computer. There’s  lots of noise around me. People come and go. I don’t really listen to snippets of others’ conversations, but sometimes I notice what they are eating and who they are talking to and try to imagine their lives. I almost always notice what devices they are using–including the print kind. Lots of people work in cafes. Free wifi. Portable computers and tablets and smart phones. A lot of work can be done in these spaces if you can tune out the noise.

So far, I have written a blog post for the departmental website, answered emails, Facebooked with an autobiography colleague, watched numerous videos about Metis history to find the best one to show in class tomorrow, and written lecture notes about the poems we will study by Metis poet Marilyn Dumont.

Now it’s lunchtime and I’m going to move to a different cafe for lunch. Later I will meet my Spanish teacher in yet another cafe for my one-hour Spanish language lesson. M. is from Colombia, and she praises my work. I love being the student again, even if for only an hour a week. Life long student, me.

Later still I will meet with some of my colleagues/friends (they really are both at the same time) for our weekly girl drink. A ritual we all enjoy. We talk about work, of course, but we also talk about so many other things. It’s fun. It’s often irreverent. And it’s supportive.

A friend has begun writing a new blog about her research. Reading 18thC letters. It’s so articulate and thoughtful. So well written. I need to find that research time and that research writing voice again.

But not today. Today I do the busy work of being a professor. In a cafe. Or several. With accompaniments.

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