Dissertation Work at Elk Island: A Poem

Recently I have gotten back to writing poetry. I hadn’t written poems in a while (read, years) and I had forgotten how wonderful of a place a poem is to pour your soul out. Writing poetry has always been a very personal process to me. It allows me to descend into my depths often finding unexpected darkness, and resurfacing brighter than before. Since poetry is so deeply personal, it often takes me a long time to get comfortable with sharing a specific poem, and many never even make their way out into the world beyond my poetry notebook.

As I have been reading a lot of Indigenous poetry the last few weeks, I feel inspired. I wake up with little blurbs of verse in mind – which I hurry to scribble down; staring out onto Astotin Lake or the North Saskatchewan river, lines of poetry start to flow in me; and as I read these amazing compositions by Indigenous women*, I’m often invoked to switch between reading their work and writing my own.

I have had periods where the amounts of reading and writing for school were so overwhelming that it beat out any desire to read – or worse, write – anything for pleasure. I am very content and excited that I am not in a period like that. Even better, it is an amazing feeling when your research makes your creative juices flow, when research and creation intertwine seamlessly.

Also, poetry can make even dissertation work sound great, so here goes.

Dissertation Work at Elk Island

My camera
in the wind

still moments
of quiet

while the waves
the birds the trees 
grow louder shape my reading

and the images
the poems the languages
of the land
call me forge new reflections.

- Astotin Lake, Elk Island National Park, September 14, 2021

*I’ll share some reading suggestions in a future post!

PhD: A day in the life

This blog was originally written for the “PhD Day in the life” series from the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, University of Alberta. The original post published March 10, 2020 can be accessed here. This series portrays the daily lives of PhD students in the department.

Half awake I grope around in the dark, impatiently looking for my bottle of water – my best friend who accompanies me 24/7. It has been five months since I moved to Edmonton from a rather humid (read: rainy) country. Every morning Edmonton’s dryness leaves me gasping for water.

After tucking back a gallon of water it is time for my morning routine. I start with breakfast in bed (comprised of yoghurt, granola and defrosted fruit – I am still shocked by how expensive fresh fruit and veggies are here in Canada! – and of watching half an episode of Gilmore Girls – one of my guilty pleasures, along with my old-time favorite Friends, and the fairly recently discovered Grace and Frankie). A refreshing shower to wake me up (except in -44oC because I really don’t want my hair to freeze off my head once I step outside). Lunch prep involves making my sandwiches à la Dutch. Today I’m having my favorite: a slice of multigrain bread with margarine and Gouda cheese, topped with a slice of roggebrood, rye bread. And then off to uni.

On days like today, my routine also includes bundling up and telling my roommate for the 100th time how much I love this country and its weather. Yes, a -44oC feel is extreme and quite the experience. But there is this big yellow thing in the sky here, and it is there pretty much every day brightening my mood (nothing like the Netherlands with 217 days of rain in a year). Also, I will always pick -44 oC over +44 oC!

I am definitely a morning person, so I like to make the most of my mornings by reading the longest and/or the most difficult articles early. Today: Michel Foucault and Albert Memmi. Memmi turns out to be surprisingly relevant in a Canadian context. Foucault is… Foucault. The lighter readings I save for the afternoon. It turns out that today’s afternoon readings, Nussbaum and Strauss, work on my nerves – so much for light reading.

Lunchtime is one of my favorite times of the day, because 1. I love food (obviously, this makes dinner my other favorite time of the day), and 2. I like hanging out in the grad lounge with my newly acquired friends. Often we – the first year students – joke about how we have colonized the lounge, but, seriously, we hang out there way too often: we chat and joke for hours, taste each others food, and many a crossword puzzle has been solved in the lounge (the Metro ones are not enough of a challenge anymore so we have moved on to New York Times ones – they are no piece of cake).

As usual, after lunch, my “after lunch dip” kicks in. In Dutch we often use the term “after dinner dip” to refer to that period of time after dinner where you’re just very dozy and satisfied. I’ve adopted the similar expression for the similar state of being that occurs after lunch. The after lunch dip makes me very unproductive and incapable of reading without falling asleep, so I use that time to get organized, clear out my email, talk to people back home (I often email my 91 year old grandma, who usually texts me the following day because she doesn’t know how to reply to an email, but she does know how to text – those texts, without interpunction, always brighten my day). Today I managed to control my after lunch dip and to get some – not so light – readings done. On non-class days like today, I end my long day of reading with a trip to the pool for a relaxing swim. Swimming three times a week really helps me to stay sane in the craziness of PhD life! (I am amazed by how much focus the U of A puts on mental health!).

Like I mentioned before, I love dinner time! Cooking (even a quick and easy meal) is so relaxing, and is just the ultimate me-time. After dinner I might do another hour of school work, clean the bathroom or do some groceries. Around 8 pm, I tune out for the day, watch some Netflix (today: Monster-in-Law – please don’t judge), and read a book (today: Naturally Tan – again, please don’t judge). And then, sweet dreams and welterusten!