Gumption sat steadfast beside her bowl. She had barely eaten anything and we were worried. For the last few weeks it seemed that she had eaten less and less and no amount of coaxing, cajoling, or trickery could get her to let up. Virtute, normally keen on eating her leftovers, had changed his tune from one of opportunism to one of concern. There were whispers around the house that Gumption was on strike. You see, Gumption has a mild stomach sensitivity to a lot of foods, and the only kibble that seems to sit perfectly well with her is an expensive “Science Diet” brand. As Virtute is wont to say, “the thing that makes that diet scientific is how unnatural the food actually is. It’s like Gummy gets to eat McDonald’s everyday.” And so given that there had been a squeeze put on us financially due to what York University termed “the labour disruption”, we had tried to scale back on our expenses, which meant mixing Gumption’s food with a cheaper (yet weirdly more nutritious brand)
Gumption, however, showed resolve and decided to go on strike. Virtute and I tried many things to convince her that eating the new food was in her best interest. Virtute said, “This is the best deal you could possibly want. You get a shiny new bag of food that is packaged in very stylish shimmering crinkly paper.” I tried to scare her into it by refusing to feed her if she didn’t finish her food within an allotted time. Jenny kept saying, “During the “labour disruption” this is the best deal you are going to get.” It was annoying for everyone in the house. We all had to deal with Gumption’s consistent meowing or her angry booty twerks each time we poured a “kibble mix” into her bowl.
But something began to change. As Gumption’s strike neared the three week mark, we began to get letters of support from her friends Remus and Ash. Radar, our stuffed raccoon friend, refused to nap with us anymore. We knew that we were fighting a losing battle. So last night, in honour of the end of the “labour disruption” at York University, we celebrated by giving Gumption a full scoop of her favourite kibble. She went to work, eating every single piece and purring the entire time.
After dinner, I asked her why she had been so stubborn, very clearly she enunciated, “Like CUPE 3903, I strike to win!”
And so a couple month-long battles resolved themselves last night. We know that there are many more to come and we know that we haven’t seen the last of Gumption’s tenaciousness, but we all learned an important lesson about commitment, determination, and solidarity.
Virtute lingered around me meowing in a very annoyed tone. It seemed so long since we last played catch with his favourite 1.5″ mylar crinkle ball. Instead he’s seen me come home ragged and tired from hours walking in circles on the picket lines, and then setting to work on writing my dissertation, editing journal articles I am sending to publication, preparing job applications, scholarship applications, and presentations for academic conferences. Beyond all these things, like many of the other folks I’m walking the picket lines with, I try to contribute to my family in meaningful ways – cooking, cleaning, caring, supporting – things that make home possible. But frankly, it’s difficult, and I have met many folks on the lines in far more precarious life situations than me.
Virtute, however, has not appreciated the lack of ball play. He confronted me the other day, “There are 16 days left until the regular season and you’re going to be out of playing shape if you don’t play catch!” He was right, of course, but I could only muster some kind of muttering about needing to meet publication deadlines. He scoffed and paced around the house before coming back to me with some advice. “It’s easy to fall into the academic-industrial-complex trap. It’s really nothing more than a pyramid scheme, where those on the top benefit from your intellectual labour while the communities that you are most connected to rarely see the fruits of your work. That’s the most important work of all. Publications in obscure academic journals that have paywalls and restrict the freedom of academic sharing aren’t a priority. Remember, the book you’ve been most proud to have published only ran one copy: Diaries of Cat Named Virtute. We co-wrote that book for the people. Not for the academy.” I suspect he’s right in his analysis. The way that York has treated us during this strike really highlights the way they see academic workers as disposable and replaceable units.
Virtute, ever the contrarian, stopped me mid-thought. “Now don’t go about feeling sorry for yourself,” he interjected. “You will have to make important life decisions over the next year and you have to make sure that those decisions include contributing in meaningful ways to the communities of struggle that have shaped your life so profoundly.”
Just then, Gumption walked by and so I asked her what she thought. “I learn lots from Virtute,” she said. “No need for school”. And that was the first A+ answer I’ve heard in a very long time.
I’ve come home every day the past two weeks drained, sore, and exhausted from being on the picket lines. As glorified as the tactic is within labour movement history, it requires a significant exertion of emotional energy and can be pretty mundane. It’s tough being away from home and away from Virtute and Gumption, but I feel as though it’s a responsibility we have as current graduate students to fight for a better deal for those who will come after us.
This morning, I spent some time in Roncesvalles picking up some Polish food items that my grandparents used to feed me when I was little. While I have been eternally grateful for the generous students, faculty, staff, and supporters who have brought delicious treats, snacks, and morale to the lines, it was important for me to take the time to prepare foods that remind me of home.
As many of you know, Virtute is a bit of a foodie, so I asked him if he had any foods that helped him through an especially emotionally draining time. He stirred from his morning sun worship and thought before responding, “Yes. Absolutely. As you know I enjoy various types of foods, I like wet canned food, dry kibble, anything that is in Gumption’s bowl, and an assortment of other strange things, but there is nothing I enjoy eating more than mama Jenny’s steamed fish with soy, ginger, green onions, and garlic. The moment I smell the fish steaming, I make my way to the kitchen to let her know how lovely it smells, and when I get a small morsel to nibble on, I feel truly a part of the family. Food helps to feed our bodies, but it also helps to nourish our souls. I always try to show my gratitude to her with fish-breath kisses.”
I told him that I picked up some Makowiec for dessert this evening and he smiled. “It will help you go back on the lines with care and love in your heart. Though your kisses might smell more like poppy seeds. The greatest struggles are won through expressions of deep love. I’m glad your grandparents’ old recipes have shown you this path.”
And so we reminisced about our favourite treats for another half hour as we watched the snow begin to melt.