I went to Copenhagen some years ago to give a paper about mermaids. This was made all the more magical because I gave this paper in the city of everyone’s favorite mermaid, surrounded by other people interested in mermaids (such as the amazing Megan Dunn), with the gray Danish sea set against a backdrop of glowing hygge cheer. It was magical. Here in the depths of Covid isolation I miss eating fishy Smørrebrød in the rain, knowing it is possible I won’t travel again for longer than any of us thought.
Anway, even though I was there for mermaids (and I wrote the paper, and published it, and it is pretty great: https://sallycampbellsilverman.com/uncategorized/mermaids/) I found much more (which is what travel is for, after all). In my long walks around the city (one of my favorite things to do anywhere I go) I found a museum about sailors and learned that their tattoos had specific meanings. In particular I was drawn to the common knuckle tattoo — HOLD FAST.
HOLD FAST. As in, hold on tight. How many times, and how tightly had I held on in the wild ride as a student feeling terribly, terribly out of my depth at my prestigious prep school, liberal arts college and finally PhD program. I knew I wasn’t just doing the academic work like everyone else, but also the wrenching work of holding fast. Holding fast was difficult, but the drop was deadly. It’s true in lots of places, then and now, and not just in the academy; But do look around and if you really look you will see lots of people holding fast with all they’ve got– in addition to just doing the tasks at hand. Like me, they need all the luck they can get.
I was mesmerized by this idea, the idea of holding onto the middle spaces when the academy, like so much of of the world, constituted a middle space for me and yet another realm of trying and failing to fit in. And just like the ship at sea, the water was full of dangerous and sharp-toothed creatures ready to feast on those who fall.
So, when QI did a call for works on transnationalism and the flawed idea of “home” in academia, I jumped at the chance to participate. They were able to publish this comic-based piece about home and away, danger and safety, friends and enemies, and– best of all– sustaining magic. Rabbit in the moon reminds us of who we are, tattoos on our knuckles give us the strength to hold on, and paper bags hide the faces and heads of Scylla and Charybdis. Don’t forget to clap twice at the torii gate. And whatever you do, don’t let go.
You can find the whole article here:https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/10778004211002764?journalCode=qixa
(Psst! Here’s the abstract:
In the world of maritime lore and practice, tattoos were both commemorative and magical. Sailors frequently tattooed the words H-OL- D F-A-S-T onto the skin above each knuckle in the hopes of strengthening their grasp on the ship’s rigging. It gave sailors an edge at saving their own lives when the winds would howl and the ship tossed wildly on the waves, and they must hold fast or be thrown into the dark cold sea. This illustrated autoethnographic work will draw on the metaphor of the ship in transit, the slippery rigging, storied magic and the dangers of the chasm below, to interrogate the idea of the academy as literal and figurative home for transnational academics. In it, I will combine words and pictures to tell two stories of being. The piece concludes with problematizing the notion of “home” as a desirable construct in the context of the academy.)