Lately, a group of us in The Women Who Write have been exploring wabi-sabi. We have been musing on wabi-sabi approaches to doing and writing research. Research that is storied, slow, aesthetic, relational and beautifully imperfect.
Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly…Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time. (Lawrence, 2001) See http://www.utne.com/mind-and-body/wabi-sabi and onbeing.org/blog/omid-safi-illuminating-the-beauty-in-our-broken-places/
We are finding the value of wabi-sabi for negotiating the demands of the often sterile and sterilising contemporary university. Wabi-sabi asks us to re-consider views about ‘what matters’ within the sometimes hard and cruel spaces of the contemporary university where our bodies are subjected to the violence of the ‘publish or perish’ mantra. For this is a mantra that positions us against each other—we compare and compete, and we push and pull our bodies to live up to the demands made upon us. We secretly count up our outputs to ensure that we will ‘count’ when the ‘counting’ is done. We work on grant application after grant application in the hope of winning that all elusive research dollar. Because if don’t we will not count when the counting is done. But, sometimes serendipity and magic occurs in research spaces. The unintentional, the imperfect, the humble become sites for listening and responding to what research is and can be, and who researchers are and can be. This has been our experience as The Women Who Write.
Taking a wabi-sabi approach to research, we think there is great value in thinking beyond such binaries as ‘publish or perish’ to explore aesthetic and paradoxical notions of research and research processes. There is value in connecting to our ability to slow down, to shift the balance from doing to being, and to appreciating rather than perfecting (Lawrence, 2001). Nestled in theories of embodiment, affect, materiality and desire we are now deliberately/promiscuously (Childers et al, 2013) breaking the rules and exploring the cracks and chips of our lived experiences and engaging in kintsugi-like golden repair using constructs of slow scholarship and story. We invite you to join with us and create spaces in research and academia for contemplation, listening and responding—join us in reflection upon theories that resonate, the nature of relational research, and ethics of caring in research worlds.
The pace of the academic life is hectic. Yet, I like many others want to stay grounded. Going slow doesn't seem like an option, yet it is an essential mindset. Slow scholarship, giving time to ourselves, to thinking, to feeling, and to others is perhaps the only way forward. So, we need to remind ourselves on a daily basis 'what matters' and 'what counts'. The academic machine tells us that 'counting counts', but I don't think that is true.
I read somewhere that some good questions to ask are "Is this going to matter to me in a year's time?" "Is this task vital?" "Does this work demand really matter to me, or to someone I respect/love/care about?" Questions like these help us make decisions that support what inspires us, that enable us to contribute to projects and writing and lives that we love, and that contribute to the greater good.
As well as asking questions I think it is good to find 'your tribe', or like minded thinkers, people who are opening themselves to authentic communication and in vulnerable, real, human ways.
If you want to go fast, then sorry you can go alone. If you want to go far, let us go together.
I would like to share some of the blogs/people who help keep me grounded and maybe you can share yours too:
Our book aims to make public the stories of what it has felt like, and feels like, to be an academic. We invite you to contribute. Please get in touch if you have any questions about the project. Also, please do pass this information on to any you think might be interested.
It’s important to shed light on our academic experiences, to make public the stories of what it has felt like, and feels like, to be an academic. It’s important that collective conversations about academic culture and what constitutes our social, political, and intellectual life in the academy can take place. We need to share our findings on what matters to us, and how we might cultivate kindness in the academy, foster care-full work, and count that which is not being counted.