Interviews with the COPIM team about their experiences of working remotely while building major pieces of infrastructure together over the last three years.
Eileen A. Fradenburg Joy, a member of Work Package 2 and Work Package 4, is interviewed about her experience working remotely while building major pieces of infrastructure at the COPIM project over the last three years.
The COPIM team talks with Eileen A. Fradenburg Joy, a member of Work Package 2 and Work Package 4, and her experience working remotely while building major pieces of infrastructure over the last three years.
Where are you based? How did you become involved with the COPIM Project?
I am based in Santa Barbara, California, one of the most beautiful places in the world but also one of the most vulnerable vis a vis climate change, especially with the forest fires that rage through the state very year. I have been evacuated twice over the past 8 years.
I got involved with the COPIM project because my press, punctum books, was one of the founding members of ScholarLed, a collective of scholar-led open access presses that work collaboratively with each other to share knowledge, skills, and resources and to tackle some of the big infrastructural hurdles facing the flourishing of open access books. And it was the member presses of ScholarLed that created the COPIM project. But more so, I became involved because I like to help tackle big problems with like-minded friends and colleagues across the world.
What are the three most important things that have enabled you to work remotely on COPIM?
The way I answer this question is that ever since 2011, I have worked remotely. punctum books’s operations, starting in 2011, was simply me at a desk, or a kitchen table, or a dining room table, doing everything remotely. I once lived in a closet in a friend’s house in Edwardsville, Illinois for 2012-2013 (it was a large closet, don’t worry) and I did all punctum work at my friend’s kitchen table on my laptop. She used to say, “if only people knew punctum was just one woman sitting at a kitchen table.” Of course, I didn’t want anyone to know this. Early on I was a bit broke, because I had resigned my professorship, and I stayed in a lot of friends’ houses and worked in their houses, usually at kitchen or dining room tables. I also worked in coffee shops and bars and restaurants when I wanted to feel a buzz of people around me who were also working, but also socializing. Again, I didn’t want anyone to know this at the time. Isn’t that funny? No one would care now, but maybe then? But also, maybe now too? A press that operates in a bar and it’s just one person?!? Work “at home,” in my opinion, has historically been denigrated as unprofessional (it is often associated with women’s labor), but it became a necessity during COVID and it changed everyone’s lives, for bad and good and everything in between. But I thought it was kind of shameful to work remotely at first and I would conceal where I really was, even though corporations have been doing remote work for a long time, so what’s the shame? But somehow it’s different when it’s just you. I used to pretend there were staff who didn’t even exist. Now people want to “get back to work,” meaning go back to the brick and mortar office, and I kind of don’t blame them: I miss the kinetic energy of other people sometimes when I’m working at home, alone. But it was always me in a house or a shared public place running punctum. I actually edited several books in a favorite wine bar in Saint Louis and they kept the books, when published, behind the bar. I also wrote scholarship there (I would wear headphones, and yes, drink wine). And now that wine bar no longer exists and that mini-library of books is god knows where.
When my co-director Vincent van Gerven Oei joined punctum in 2015, remote work continued, partly because Vincent lives in Europe and I am in the US, but we’ve never really wanted it otherwise. Vincent moves all over Europe working on so many projects and he wants to be mobile. I like being “at home” and I have worked in my dining room here in Santa Barbara since 2014. University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) Library set aside “office space” for punctum and we never use it (which I feel guilty about). But Vincent and I do value intimate in-person friendship and connection, and we also think of punctum, and our partners, as a queer family, so twice a year, Vincent comes to Santa Barbara for 2 months each time, and we work alongside each other and this is also when we do strategic planning, and we take leisure time together. We couldn’t do this during COVID and it was very sad for us but it didn’t hamper the work we do with punctum at all. More recently, Vincent is coming to visit again and we’re doing in-person conferences together. So we kind of combine remote work with both of us being in the same place at the same time for certain times of the year, but in essence, working remotely for COPIM wasn’t new for me. It was natural and for years I’ve thought about having physical office space for punctum, but what’s the point? I will say this though: at times it can feel very isolating, but that’s what text messages are for! Vincent and I text back and forth all day. I only go on about all of this because I think thinking about what “remote” and “not remote” working means is really rich and complex. Personally, for me, in-person time has to be part of the equation somehow, but let’s think about it in ways that have less of an impact on the environment while not giving up in/with-person working.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of this way of working?
See above (hahahahaha).
Has remote working resulted in anything unexpected, or that wouldn’t have happened without it?
Again, I’ve always worked remotely but with running a press, at least for me, group meetings did not really happen, except maybe when an author or a couple of editors wanted to Skype with me. There were essentially no “meetings,” for me, before COVID, partly because, from 2011 forward, I simply withdrew from all institutions and groups I used to work with as a professor and researcher. All I cared about was punctum. So I was used to everything that typically obtains with remote working, but during COVID the ubiquity of the Zoom meeting was an adjustment for me. I hated it so much at first: I felt like I was slipping into some sort of cognitive quicksand I couldn’t get out of. I felt like I was trapped in some sort of simulacrum of “being together.” My partner and I have a weekly get-together with 2 close friends and during COVID we did Zoom meetings instead. Every week I just wanted to kill myself because I hated it so much and I couldn’t wait for the Zoom to end. I always believed you could have meaningful relationships and good working relationships one to one via electronic media, whether phone, Skype, whatever, but I just didn’t believe you could have, for example, a productive workshop by Zoom. I didn’t think you could have 10, or 15, or 20 people, or even 4 (!) on a Zoom call and accomplish anything productive. I was wrong and that was a revelation for me. It felt weird at first, disorienting, and then it just felt natural. It worked, finally, after a period of adjustment. I also did not think attending seminars and conferences online would be at all interesting, or that giving presentations in Zoom meetings to groups of people could have any positive effect, and I was wrong. But you also have to practice a bit with how you do these things remotely because every mode of communication media requires different structures of address and exchange and also induces modes of comfort or lack of comfort, physically and psychically. I will say that attending a large conference, though, that is virtual, feels very weird and affectively estranging and lacking in life, somehow. You can hear some great presentations but there is no kinetic connection with other people’s minds as there is in more embodied conference spaces. I honestly can’t stand them and I’m traveling quite a bit over the next 2 months specifically because I want to be with other people in embodied dialogue and conversation, at conferences and other events. I realize this makes me a bad person with regard to the carbon footprint, but I have to admit, even though remote work has been my default for over 10 years now, I actually do really crave being with other people in embodied real time.
Has it prevented you from doing anything important? How did you work around that?
NOPE. Every single thing that can be done in person can be done virtually-remotely, even a family funeral. Or a wedding. Or a bedside vigil. Or a graduation. Or a family reunion. I could go on and on. These are all real examples of what happened during the pandemic and they are all things that would have been considered wrong and lacking in substance before COVID, which taught us otherwise. My fondest COVID memory is when my neighbors organized a weekly event when everyone would come out on their upper floor balconies and sing and play music for each other. And I read many stories about this happening all over the world. This was also “remote” but also “intimate” within a land-based geographical space. COVID spurred a gorgeous inventiveness for community and relational formation across the world, and this is what catastrophe (such as war) always teaches even as it also destroys environments, dwellings, and relations. And we should celebrate that even as we find ourselves wishing everything could all be “in person” again. Turns out, it always was.