It rained. It rained and rained and my eyes stung and it felt a bit like crying because the tears were there against my will and made me think I should feel melancholy, but I don’t. Or maybe I do and nature’s response was appropriate. I pulled over a few yards past the local Indian restaurant when I could no longer see and decided to get some vindaloo. “Look at that rain. Do you live here?” asked the woman at the table across from me, as she twisted in her chair to look out the wide open windows. And thus began my evening with Meg.
On account of the weather I had one of those conversations where you’re so awed by its progression that you smile stupidly as you listen and stumble over your words when it’s your turn to speak because that person has sparked a tumbling rage of thoughts interconnected only by fine threads that you’ll lose if you don’t say them quickly enough (like this). I think these conversations happen in waves for I’ve had a lot of them lately.
Meg is in her sixties, if I had to guess. She studied feminist history in the seventies and, disillusioned with the academy, embarked on a career of freelance history. I asked her what it was like studying at a time of such profound changes in historical research and social upheaval.
We chatted about the friends she’s staying with, who are working on trade union development in the Vietnamese textile industry (where striking is illegal but tolerated at times), and I discussed how biotechnology in Vietnam is clearly geared more towards industrial development than food security when the government’s overriding concern is increasing GMO cotton production to reduce the input costs in the textile business.
She asked me about my interests in environmental and agricultural history and enthusiastically asked questions about the nature of the dairy industry in southern Ontario. The enthusiasm wasn’t feigned.
This conversation couldn’t happen at a better time – when I’m writing outside an institutional grasp – for it reminds me that I am about to begin (renew?) a relationship with academia that requires ongoing interrogation. We talked about the perils of academic publishing and the dilemmas of instrumentalist grant-writing and job contracts facing freelancers like herself. We discussed the proletarianization of university labour and the dilemmas of instrumentalist grant-writing and job contracts facing PhD students and faculty.
She described how she’s recently sworn off television and print journalism and instead chooses to get her news from the people she meets on a daily basis. I told her about G20 in Toronto. She told me about protesting the Vietnam War. We talked about getting older and we spoke with ease.