No Drama, Not Today

This comic was drawn by Vreni Stollberger (here’s her website) and written by me, Kathryn Hemmann (@kathrynthehuman on Twitter).

I routinely get a lot of strange comments on all of my blogs and social media accounts. What this has taught me is that, if you exist on the internet, people will send you hate. You can be the kindest and most conscientious person in the world (although I’m certainly not), but mean people don’t need a reason to harass you. I’ve learned that it’s best not to engage with trolls, since there’s no better way to shut them down than to deny them a platform to stand on. Still, it’s frustrating to have to deal with people like this when all you want to do is stay in your lane and enjoy your time online. The pressure to maintain a “positive” attitude and pretend as if nothing is happening when you’re trying to cope with threatening messages can get a little intense and unreasonable sometimes, to be honest.

Ah, well. Haters gonna hate.

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone

I’ve been learning some things about academic book publishing recently, and I can’t believe I ever had the nerve to criticize any of the academic books I’ve read. This process isn’t easy!

I don’t mean to suggest that publishing an academic book should be as simple as writing something and submitting it. Peer review is important, of course, and academic presses should maintain standards.

That being said, a lot of academic presses seem to expect that their authors will do a fair amount of the formal work of publishing for themselves. I want to discuss this in more detail in future posts, but let it suffice to say that it takes a great deal of time and effort for an author not just to ensure the quality of their manuscript itself but also to act as an editor and agent of the press.

I’m working with Palgrave, which is better than most, but the process of getting my book into print hasn’t been as smooth as I (perhaps naively) hoped it would be. One of the most rewarding aspects of publishing academic writing is working with a good editor, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of editorial support in academic book publishing. For me personally, this has unfortunately exacerbated the anxiety I already feel about this project.

I therefore decided to hire an independent academic editor. I’ll write more about what this entails in the future, but for now it’s liberating to admit that I really need some help getting this book published. Because I’m already so stressed about everything, I also asked a close friend to help me out and serve as a liaison with the editor to make sure communication remains open (as opposed to me having a panic attack and taking two weeks to respond to an email).

I understand that this is somewhat unorthodox, but I believe in this project, and I want to publish the best book that I can. In order for this to happen, it’s important for me to have access to help and support. Manga Cultures a really cool book project, if I do say so myself, and it deserves to be done right.

Work Work Til You Go Berserk

Hyperemployment, or the Exhausting Work of the Technology User
https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/11/hyperemployment-or-the-exhausting-work-of-the-technology-user/281149/

It’s easy to see email as unwelcome obligations, but too rarely do we take that obligation to its logical if obvious conclusion: those obligations are increasingly akin to another job—or better, many other jobs. For those of us lucky enough to be employed, we’re really hyperemployed—committed to our usual jobs and many other jobs as well. It goes without saying that we’re not being paid for all these jobs, but pay is almost beside the point, because the real cost of hyperemployment is time. We are doing all those things others aren’t doing instead of all the things we are competent at doing. And if we fail to do them, whether through active resistance or simple overwhelm, we alone suffer for it: the schedules don’t get made, the paperwork doesn’t get mailed, the proposals don’t get printed, and on and on.

But the deluge doesn’t stop with email, and hyperemployment extends even to the unemployed, thanks to our tacit agreement to work for so many Silicon Valley technology companies. Increasingly, online life in general feels like this. The endless, constant flow of email, notifications, direct messages, favorites, invitations. After that daybreak email triage, so many other icons on your phone boast badges silently enumerating their demands.

Where is the lie, honestly.

I’m actually a narcissistic little dopamine gremlin who loves getting notifications that people like me, but I can sometimes get to a point (usually toward the end of the spring semester) where every email I receive physically hurts me.

Yesterday I wrote a long post about Patreon that began as a set of notes on how I might be able to use Patreon support my book review blog, Contemporary Japanese Literature. I’m still considering it, but the truth is that I already feel as though I’m working four or five separate jobs. There just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to take on another job without sacrificing something, and I don’t think spending more time on yet another social media platform is really worth it.

Fun with Academic Publishing

I have anxiety, and it affected my ability to submit my book manuscript about female comic creators in a very real way. I put it off and put it off and put it off for months, mostly because I was afraid of the reception the manuscript would receive. Blind peer review is notoriously cruel and awful, and people in the field of Comics Studies tend to take the subject way too seriously (the irony of this is not lost on me, by the way). There’s also the fact that the field is extremely male-dominated. This requires a lot of unpacking; but, to make a quick generalization, masculinist modes of scholarship view subjectivity and accessibility as weak and careless, and people who don’t identify as male in a male-dominated field can have a tendency to justify their presence by overcompensating and “leaning in” to masculinist modes of scholarship even more than men do.

So I was afraid of what would happen once I submitted the manuscript; but, as I continued to work on it, I realized that it was actually good and important. Even though it wasn’t perfect, I should submit it anyway. What’s the worst that could happen? The initial blind peer review reports for the prospectus were positive, and I already had an advance contract. If the press decided not to go ahead with publication, I would edit the manuscript according to the reader reports and submit it to one of the other publishers that reviewed the prospectus and offered an advance contract.

What happened is that one of the manuscript peer reviewers declined to review the manuscript. The press couldn’t find another person, so my editor sent me the report of the dreaded “Reviewer #2.” If you’re unfamiliar with the “Reviewer #2” phenomenon, it refers to an anonymous peer reviewer who has nothing good to say because they would have written the manuscript differently if they had written it, but they didn’t, and they feel bitter and threatened that someone else did. Their report is generally bracketed by two more helpful (and sane) reports, so they’re “Reviewer #2.”

Reviewer #2 had nothing good to say, of course. They picked out a few typos in a book-length manuscript in order to argue that the whole thing is garbage, said that one brief reference to the work of a controversial scholar means that my own scholarship is unbalanced, and declared that “female” is not a valid ontological category.

I read the report carefully, showed it to a few colleagues, got some quick feedback and advice, and responded to the editor within two hours to say, essentially, “That’s cool, I can work with this!”

I immediately got an automated response from the editor saying that he no longer worked for the publisher, meaning that he sent me the nasty reader report and then quit. Wow.

So now this book is up on Amazon but doesn’t have an editor, and the one reader the press could find to review it said that they’re unwilling to endorse its publication. Oh boy.

This isn’t what I imagined when I tried to think about “the worst thing that could happen.” This is actually worse, and it happened.

I’ve been trying to be more open about my experience of dealing with anxiety, and a lot of people have responded by saying something to the effect of, “But I could never tell! You seem to be doing fine!” I’m not doing fine, actually; it’s just that I don’t generally talk about things like this when they happen, despite the fact that this sort of thing happens all the time in academic publishing. I therefore think I’d like to talk openly and honestly about how broken academic publishing can be sometimes, as well as how anxiety-inducing subjecting yourself to the gauntlet of other people’s egos in the form of anonymous “critique” can be.

But you know what? I believe in this project, and I can, in fact, work with this. Maybe this doesn’t mean much coming from me, but this is a solid first book that deserves to be published! It’s unfortunate that I encountered this small hiccup with the press, but they do good work, and I’m going to stick with them. Starting tomorrow, I’m going to devote myself entirely to getting this book published, and I’m going to put more effort into communicating with the press. Lord help me, I might even call people on the phone.

I think it might be useful to document the process of getting this book published here on this blog, so stay tuned. If nothing else, I have a lot to say about this whole “‘female’ is not a valid ontological category” nonsense.

I Blame Capitalism

While it’s still fresh in my mind, I’d like to write about the department meeting. There’s a lot to unpack about what goes on in these things, and I think a lot of professors probably have similar feelings regarding the more unpleasant aspects of their own department meetings. Without trying to make any generalizations, however, I want to try to get to the heart of what I find so upsetting about my experience.

My university is an extremely neoliberal institution. What I mean by this is that everything is measured and judged according to its quantitative value. To give a concrete example, almost all classes with an enrollment of less than fifteen students are canceled, regardless of whether it’s a class that, by its very nature, should ideally have a small enrollment (such as a graduate seminar or an upper-level language class). These classes are usually canceled less than a week before they begin with no regard for the concerns or wellbeing of the students (who may need a specific course to graduate), the academic programs (who may lose majors or minors as a result of required courses not being available), or the instructors (many of whom are adjunct faculty paid by course) simply because they’re not “cost effective” in terms of numbers.

Faculty are accordingly evaluated almost entirely on how “productive” they are in terms of how many “points” they can accrue from certain activities and accomplishments listed on a spreadsheet. This results in bureaucratic inefficiency, as everyone needs to serve on a certain number of committees (to give one example), and it also results in everyone’s time and energy being spread dangerously thin across multiple competing commitments, some of which are of dubious necessity. This emphasis on “productivity” not only makes people tired and bad at their jobs, but it can also make them bitter and competitive.

Relying on “positive” discourses of “productivity” in order to make workers so exhausted that they’re unable to find the resources to free themselves from the mentality of being chained to their jobs is a major part of the ideology of neoliberal capitalism, which relies on an authoritarian cult mentality to perpetuate itself. You must devote the entirety of your life to the cult, and there is no room for diversity, difference, or disagreement. People in administrative positions literally go to “retreats” to learn how to better serve the institution, and they come back with an almost religious fervor.

What I find so distressing about department meetings, then, is that there’s always a strong undercurrent of “you’re not doing enough.” This is especially upsetting to me because I feel like I work all the time, even if what I’m doing – like preparing lectures for classes, giving productive feedback on assignments, and meeting with students to talk about their career goals, for example – can’t be quantified on a spreadsheet. And don’t even get me started on how many emails I have to write over the course of any given day.

So, when I already feel stretched way too thin, it’s just about the worst thing in the world to walk into a meeting where the underlying message is “you should be doing even more.” It’s like, haven’t I already sacrificed enough of my life for this job? I’m already pushing myself way beyond a healthy work/life balance, and I’ve been doing it nonstop for years, and it’s still not good enough?

Basically, a department meeting is a highly concentrated collection of external confirmations regarding many of the most common intrusive thoughts stemming from anxiety: You’re not good enough. Your best is not good enough. You will never be good enough. Your work is without value. You don’t deserve to be here. You don’t deserve the privileges you’ve been given. You haven’t accomplished anything, and you never will. Everyone knows this, and everyone hates you. Everyone is judging you. You’re just causing trouble for other people, and they resent you.

What I mean by “external confirmation” is that this is literally what is being said in these department meetings. It’s probably best to leave that discussion for another day, though, because OH MAN it’s not fun to talk about any of this.

I really wish that more powerful and experienced people in academia were willing to talk about this sort of thing in a way that transcends useless corporate HR pablum and the hand-wringing “academia is broken now and forever” clickbait that people always seem to be sharing on social media. I wish I could do something myself, but I’m just as mired in the tenure-track swamp as anyone else. It’s like, Sure, I’ll fight neoliberal capitalism, right after I work on my article and my book chapter and respond to some emails and prepare a lecture and put together a handout and go teach two classes and sit in traffic and come home and then respond to more emails and update the course websites and maybe do some grading. Right after all that’s finished, I’ll get right on it.

Just for the record, however, I do want to say that I love my job.

My colleagues are all good people, and it’s nice to be paid a comfortable salary to read and write. I don’t particularly care the for the administrative aspects of teaching, but I have a lot of fun in class. This semester, for instance, I’m teaching an actual college course that counts for actual college credit about The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and it’s magical. Every day is an adventure.

I could do without the panic attacks, but anxiety is what it is, and we’re all doing the best we can.

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone

Since the start of the year I’ve been ordering a lot of zines from Etsy, and they’ve been a great source of solidarity for mental health issues. I’ve been suffering from severe anxiety since around 2016 or so, and I’m thinking that it might be good to talk about it.

It’s hard, though. So maybe I can discuss it bit by bit?

Okay, here goes.

My department has a meeting every month during the school year. These meetings are generally terrible for multiple reasons, and I hate them. During the fall semester, when I was in a truly dark place, I stopped attending altogether (meaning, in concrete terms, that I skipped the meetings for October, November, and December). It’s not strictly necessary for me to go to these meetings, but it’s expected that I be there as one of the tenure-line faculty members. It reflects poorly on me if I don’t go, and the rest of the faculty notices.

Our spring semester doesn’t start until the last week of January, so our first department meeting of the year was in February. I bit the bullet and went, but it was so awful that I had to leave after an hour so that I could have a panic attack in the privacy of my own car. I’ll be honest, there was a lot of self-harm involved. It was intense.

The next meeting is this afternoon, and I am not looking forward to it. Thankfully, I have a friend who has agreed to drive me to the university, park in one of the “15 minutes only” spaces outside the building, walk me up to the department office, find a regular parking space, and then stand outside the meeting room and wait for me to come out. There will probably still be tears, but hopefully there will be significantly less self-harm this time around.

Dealing with anxiety is difficult, but I’m lucky to have friends who are willing to be there for me.