i've been "working" on an armchair ethnography for about the past year now – actually longer, i guess – and i've finally gotten to the point where i can start working things out here, among friends. (we are friends, right? i certainly hope so.) so we're about to start on a bit of an epic adventure.Read More
last month i was going through the cactus garden comments for approval, when i came across one (well, technically, two in a row, but they were the exact same comment, word-for-word and caps-lock-for-caps-lock) raging about a joke meme i had shared over in seeds back in 2011.Read More
i have, for some time now, been considering what to do.
when my grandmother passed away this past september, i was understandably drained.
i had lived with her as a caregiver for a couple months in the beginning of 2013. starting in april, with rotator cuff repair surgery, she spent the next several months in and out of the hospital and rehab centers. along with the slow recovery from the surgery, there were broken ribs and kidney failure. there were medicine allergies that became continuous, serious problems because doctors didn't speak to each other and updated charts weren't always actually updated. in the end, though, it all came down to congestive heart failure.
watching decline is never easy. it's one of the most difficult aspects of life that we all must face. we can hope for peace and comfort, but no matter the circumstances, mortality is always present and life is always finite.
but there's more to this story than just contemplation, grieving, and the dose of ennui that arises in us all after sitting in hospital rooms and hallways for weeks on end.
our lives are, in essence, holistic systems. they are extraordinary webs of interaction, of physiological function, of seamless multiplicities of emotion, of societal (dis)connection, of cultural constructions, and of endless moments that pull us along through life.
in all of this, grief can be a difficult concept because this web does not pause. and while it can be overwhelming and consuming, it is not a singular entity. it is buffered by humor, by love, by anger, by frustration, by compassion. it is all of these things, but is not a sum of those other emotions; it is a product.
and that web is still a moving network fluctuating in the wind.
we say life goes on, but that implies that it stopped for a moment. action and attention are diverted, but truthfully we never stop until the end. and even then the holism of our lives is not concluded. there is the comfort of atoms and molecules, that even gone we are not gone.
we go through our lives with enormous thoughts and truths. it's so often easier to push those thoughts to the background, to let it be the static crackling in the late night silence as we plod our way to sleep. but sometimes we have no choice but to confront these thoughts and realities head on.
very shortly after my grandmother passed away, i started a new job. i met new people at work and in my private life. people i know my grandmother would like. it's an understatement to say i love my new job. i love the work i'm doing, i love the environment i'm in, i love being around my field and being able to talk to people who think the same sort of thoughts i do. in four months, i've had one bad day at work, and that was mostly because of a frustrating phone call.
on my first day of work in the beginning of october, our family cat, kira, died. her decline had been very sudden, but not.
for a very long time we had been taking care of her － giving her fluids and vitamins, keeping her a on strict grain diet － and it had hit a point of normality that it was almost possible to believe we could go on like this eternally. i would slowly herd or carry her (depending on how well she seemed to be moving that day) up to my bedroom every night and she would sleep in her cat bed or on the heat vent in the floor. occasionally she would irritate my phebe cat and sleep on the foot of my bed. and every morning, kira would plod her way back downstairs for breakfast. near the end, the first flight of stairs down became too steep for her to manage, so i would carry her down to the landing. i could have kept carrying her forever.
in december i went to cardiff, where i presented my master's thesis at the "drinking dilemmas: space, culture, and identity" conference. i met more people, i toured the city, and the only pictures i took were inside the doctor who museum. this past month i received confirmation that a book review i wrote for the journal food and foodways has been received by the publishing company and will likely be published soon (three years after i wrote it, but still...).
in all this time, with all the good and the sad, i have not been able to write. i have just a handful of chapters left on my novel. i have the research for the theoretical academic paper i want to explore piling up around me. i haven't even been able to write slow mail letters to my friends － one of my favorite late night, going to sleep activities. and, of course, i have not written in the garden. words haven't eluded me, i just haven't wanted them.
last month i renewed the domain name for the site. this month i'll be renewing our contract with squarespace. for the past few months, i've been watching my own creative decline, and i haven't liked it. and with that decline has come a sort of decline here in the cactus garden.
i do not know how long i will want to keep this space, but i understand the life of this world is finite, too. we're not at that point yet, but it is a serious contemplation that will remain static in my head for at least a while more.
am the elder is working on some posts for you over in bloomeria lumiere. i will, as time allows, begin a slow return here and over on the books page. seeds will return. we will find our way again, at least for some time. but we will maintain our prerogative to disappear when we want or need to, for however long we need to, and when we return, we will not apologize for being away.
decline is part of us. it is nurture and nature. it is organic. we have seen decline and we, ourselves, have declined. but, more importantly, until the absolute end there is always the chance for resurgence.
illustration by the cactus garden's in-house artist, nj. cause custom art is always fun.
academia, no lie, is a tough world.
it’s stressful, it can be cut-throat, and yet it can still be incredibly rewarding.
there’s a reason why it calls so many people across so many cultures; the pursuit of knowledge, the desire to add to our global understanding is a siren. for all its faults, we embrace this world because just as we give to it, it gives back to us.
when that balance is gone, that’s when we move on.
that’s not a sad thing, though. i think that truth applies to most of our loves and interests in life. life is lengthy and what might interest at one age or in one place, may not in another. the multi-faceted nature of our lives is something to be admired, not feared.
because of all of this, i find it incredibly sad when i read about academic elitism and boundaries within learning. and whenever someone mentions the “ivory tower of academia” i end up realizing i have a very different idea of what the potential of this metaphorical tower might be.
the idea of the ivory tower is not a new concept, and the perception of lofty scholars withholding knowledge or looking down (from the top of the tower, of course... it’s a metaphor day, so let’s play) on the rest of the populace is distressingly common.
the tower is a closed structure. entrance is difficult and selective. financial guards with soul stealing clauses block the way, and even once past those dark entities, the path to the top of the tower is daunting. applicants climb over each other’s backs, clinging to the outer marble façade with only the barest hopes of making it to the top to climb in through the window like rapunzel’s prince.
why is this?
when i think of towers, i think of lookout towers. of semaphore flags and great fire beacons lighting the night. towers are tools for the people, their height a boon to perspective. towers share information, not just to those in the towers, but also to those below. standing on the apex of a tower is like climbing to the crow’s nest — there is a responsibility to share the spyglass’ vision with the crowd below. progress is made through the sharing of knowledge and the collaboration of understanding with all peoples, not just with a select few.
so why doesn’t the ivory tower of academia have a door? what benefit does this blockade actually have? how is such a stratified society sustainable?
regular readers of the cactus garden will notice that for all our academic interests, we strive to maintain an accessible and friendly voice. our words are for all audiences, regardless of background, education, or whatever other division. perhaps it’s not the most academic-sounding voice, but it’s important to us. our forum and our self-sufficiency have allowed us to make this call. yes, in our other projects we are more formal, we conform to the expected voice of academia, but that is because it needs to be done. we make compromises for respect, for a place within the faulty world we love.
as an anthropologist, I find it sorrowful to think that the publication of a new ethnography used to be a big deal to the general public, not just among fellow scholars. i think of the ubiquity of zora neale hurston and how in my undergrad career i read her words in both anthropology and english classes.
when i first started to write this post, i did pounds of research. twenty academic articles still liter my desktop. i wanted to write this piece with all the citations* in the world, to share my addiction to research and the love i have for such investigation. but as i started to write, to really think my words through, it became apparent that all the references i could have used wouldn’t make the point i wanted.
i’m not the only person who feels that learning should be open access, that communication and the encouragement of both interdisciplinary fields would benefit us all, that segregation between professed academics and the rest of the world is detrimental to development. to continue to think otherwise will only hold us back.
so, let’s call in a carpenter
let’s put in that door.
and let that ivory tower be a source of hope, a lighthouse in the night for us all.
*Screw it. Here are some of my citations anyway.
Consider it a suggested reading list, or whatever.
And if you’re looking for more on this, this is just a pittance of what I’ve been going through.
Barata, Paula, Sandeep Hunjan, and Jilliam Leggatt
2005 Ivory Tower? Feminist women’s experiences of graduate school. Women Studies International Forum 28: 232-246.
Barry, Jim, John Chandler, and Heather Clark
2001 Between the Ivory Tower and the Academic Assembly Line. Journal of Management Studies 38(1): 87-101.
Bond, Ross and Lindsay Paterson
2005 Coming down from the Ivory Tower? Academics’ Civic and Economic Engagement with the Community. Oxford Review of Education 31(3): 331-351.
1999 Ethnicity and Diversity in Dutch Academia. Social Identities 5(2): 211-225.
Etzkowitz, Henry, Andrew Webster, Christine Gebhardt, and Branca Regina Cantisano Terra
2000 The future of the university and the university of the future: evolution of ivory tower to entrepreneurial paradigm. Research Policy 29: 313-330.
2004 Academia: in the ivory tower, surrounded by ivy-covered walls. Analytical & Bioanalytical Chemistry 379: 748-749.
Gallant, Mary J. and Jay E. Cross
1993 Wayward Puritans in the Ivory Tower: Collective Aspects of Gender Discrimination in Academia. The Sociological Quarterly 34(2): 237-256.
2011 Information-sharing in academia and the industry: A comparative study. Research Policy 40: 105-122.
Jamie, Angela H.
2003 A Room without a View from within the Ivory Tower. American Indian Quarterly 27(1-2): 252-263.
2012 Locked in the Ivory Tower: Why JSTOR Imprisons Academic Research. The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/01/locked-in-the-ivory-tower-why-jstor-imprisons-academic-research/251649/, accessed September 12, 2013.
Miranda, Deborah A.
2003 What’s Wrong with a Little Fantasy? Storytelling from the (Still) Ivory Tower. American Indian Quarterly 27(1-2): 333-348.
Ritchie, Euan and Joern Fischer
2012 Cracks in the ivory tower: is academia’s culture sustainable? The Conversation. http://theconversation.com/cracks-in-the-ivory-tower-is-academias-culture-sustainable-8294, accessed September 12, 2013.
Shreeve, William C., William G.T. Goetter, Janet R. Norby, Arnold F. Stueckle, THomas K. Midgley, and Patricia S. Goetter
1988 Changing the Ivory Tower Mentality. College Teaching 36(1): 28-33.
Sending Signals from the Ivory Tower: Barriers to Connecting Academic Research to the Public. http://www.com.washington.edu/graduate/assets/publicservice/ps_sprain.pdf, accessed September 12, 2013.
Wang, Sheng and Raymond A. Noe
2010 Knowledge sharing: A review and directions for future research. Human Resource Management 20: 115-131.
i'm feeling a bit rough.
my grandmother (who, because of both love and biology is also am the elder and am the younger's grandmother, too, and goodness that was an awkward way of saying that) went back into the hospital yesterday. she's been in and out of the hospital and rehab centers for so much of the past year that it hurts to think about percentages.
so, while i have no clue where things will be going from here or in what direction, i wanted to share this parody, because it made her smile so much when we watched it together way back when.
normally i would say commence discussion of food allergies, parodies, the role of humor in the face of an upsetting situation, but i think that can wait for another time.