Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Saturday, August 5, 2017

What a Difference a Year Makes

Yesterday I met with my director, a check in meeting after a month, to see where the dissertation was. I was not worried about the meeting, because she'd sent me the diss with her notes before the meeting to read. Her email included the sentence "I am very impressed by it" and "Bravo."

Her notes were minor. Like super minor. She only had one overarching comment- that in the Introduction and Chapters Three and Four I did a great job of emphasizing the rhetoric of the devil and she just wanted me to shore up that thread in Chapters One and Two. But she said it was fine to send out to my committee members and an outside expert who said they'd read it and give me feedback, and to read it with an eye of setting a defense date.

So I fixed the minor notes and just sent it all off.

After our five and half hour meeting yesterday, as I walked out of my director's house, she reminded me of where we were a year ago.

A year ago, I had the worst summer in my life. That summer began with me thinking I was defending, being told I couldn't. Not only could I not defend, but the entire dissertation had to be thrown out and I had to start again. I was unsure how to do any of this, was unsure if I needed to make changes to my director or committee. And I had no idea of how I was going to do all of this with the full time high school job I took to get me through the gap year between when I thought I was graduating and the job market year.

This last year was hard. I worked full time at my high school. I taught a large online Shakespeare class in the fall and spring for my university. I rewrote the entire dissertation from scratch during the fall semester, my new director had a draft by 1 January. And we spent spring semester refining, reshaping. This work was hard for me, because the formal writing of academia is a challenge to me. It was really with this last draft that my argument, my rhetoric, my style, met formal academic writing standards. It was hard. But I did it.

This morning I sat down with the small notes my director had and fixed them. Silly things- I'd forgotten to put inclusive pages on some entries in the Works Cited (BTW- how did people fix these things before Google Books?), a couple of spacing issues, nothing big. But that was it. I saved it, I composed emails to my committee members, and I sent it all off.

Last night, Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom) wrote a great thread on Twitter about the trauma of finishing your dissertation.

Even though I'm not defended or finished, it resonated with me. Because my entire dissertation process has been traumatic, why not expect the post-defense to be.
There's an dissertation acknowledgement I can't find now but it blames any errors in the dissertation on contact with so many demonic texts. I can relate. I have certainly felt cursed a lot of this past year. But I am also blessed. I am blessed that my director believes in me. She has supported me, she has helped me. My other committee members have known just the right questions to ask to get me where I needed to be. I have had an amazing online support network to answer questions and be cheerleaders. Last summer an online friend graciously offered me her writing group, and they have been great supporters, every week as I sat down on Saturdays to rewrite, then revise the diss, they were there for me.

I know this is not the end. Committee members will probably have notes. They may set a later defense date than I want. But my director and I had prepped the committee that we were aiming to have the entire draft to them mid-August for a mid-September defense, so I'm hoping what we end up with is close.

This may not be the end, but it's certainly in sight. Considering a year ago I never thought I'd make it here, didn't not think I had it in me to start over, rewrite it all, this is a big day.

So I've printed my Chapters One and Two to punch up the rhetoric of the devil in them, and I'll work on this while I'm waiting for notes from the committee members, which I hope to get in a timely manner. I report back to my full time teaching job Monday, but for the first time in decades, it'll be the first time I just have one job because I'm not teaching for my uni.

So I have some time, some breathing room. And we'll see what that's like.

But I believe now, in ways I didn't during a lot of this year, that I will defend. I will pass. I will graduate. I will be Dr. Karra Shimabukuro.

To all who helped me get here, who believed in me, thank you.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Medievalists Need To Do Better: Some Thoughts on How We Choose Our Conference Spaces

Medieval studies is not doing so well.
In the last year or so, as a field, we've been faced with rampant misogyny, racism, white-washing, and appropriation. And as a collective group, we have not responded well. We have been angry. We have ignored what it is pointed out to us. We have not listened. "Knee-jerk" seems to be the reaction in a lot of cases. Not thoughtful reflection. In some cases, we have denigrated and insulted colleagues and resulted in name calling on public platforms and social media.

As a graduate student, I have cringed at most of these interactions and I know from back channel conversations with other grad students that I am not alone.

I have several different responses, some are more nuanced than others, and I admit that in some instances, I am speaking outside of my field. But I think these conversations are important.

My work is on the devil. Who he is. How he is seen in literature. How he functions as a folkloric figure, the vehicle for the fears, anxieties, and desires, of a particular historical and cultural moment. In my work I have often used the phrase "demonizing Others." While I had one professor a couple of years ago suggest subaltern or altern was "becoming" the more used term, various people reading various drafts have not interrogated my use of the term, or mentioned that it was problematic. My work is not postcolonial, although I have some overlap with this, but I am not an expert. As my dissertation moved past analyzing a visually and ethnically different "Other" I thought less and less about the term, its history, and its implication.
While my current work has shifted away from this some, my work on the devil overlaps a lot with how marginalized groups are constructed as threats, dangers, adversaries, devils. I have a project I'm working on that analyzes seventeenth-century political pamphlet language  that invokes the devil, and draws comparisons to modern-day political discourse. These conversations often include colonial and post-colonial ideas and biases. I wonder what the line is between using terms as a narrative shorthand, something people will recognize, and doing modern work that is inclusive and acknowledges the situation we're all writing, researching, and presenting in.

Our entire field has become complicated by modern-day white supremacists using our work, the things we hold dear, as evidence in their hateful arguments, symbols of their hate. Grad students and scholars alike wonder where this leaves them and their work. The people I have spoken to, mostly grad students, believe that our engagement with these problematic issues- appropriation of symbols, speaking out, correcting misinterpretations of texts, images, and runes, are now part of the work our scholarship- both published and public, needs to now do.
But some of us are unsure.
Those of us with medieval images and script as tattoos, are we now running the risk of being mistaken for racists? Is our art a counter narrative or are we lumped in by association? Given the permanence of our work, there's not a lot we can do. It has become a reality that these things may cause us to be judged by others in ways never intended. Loves and interests of our youth- the symbols and languages that for many of us got us into medieval studies, are now often problematic.

But, I believe that just as the texts we teach, the online conversations we have, the blogs we post, it is part of our responsibility now to correct the record. Speak out. The Public Medievalist's series on Race and Racism in the Middle Ages is, I think, part of what this engagement and work should look like.

But it is a minefield.

Particularly for grad students, adjuncts, early career scholars, speaking out, interrogating or working with these complicated, sensitive ideas and long-held concepts can be tricky. It's easy to misstep. It's easy to have things taken out of context. Senior scholars can yell at you. Publicly. Things can get nasty.
As teachers, I'd like to think that our end goal is a better educated populace. But educating others, helping younger scholars, has not always been the tone I've seen. And vulnerable people, students or staff, can't really comment on that because of the reasons above. So it's tricky. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try, that this is not now part of the work we must do.

It seems as though much of this has solidified the last year. We've had conferences and speakers, and blog posts that have pointed out just how backwards some things still are. In part I think this is because many of academia's structures are outdated, antiquated, and slow to evolve and adapt the way we need to. Out world moves really fast now, and our field is still slow to react and change. And this is not a good thing. Of the people I know and listen to, the series of these varyingly awful events were an impetus to do better, do more.

Then came LEEDS. And the disappointing follow-up conversations. In many ways the events of LEEDS ratcheted up the awful. And unfortunately, it seems like people's reactions have also been turned up to 11. As a grad student, I look to senior scholars for guidance. How to respond, both in tone and content. The best platform, guidance on how to work through. And I admit to being disappointed in some people whose work I previously admired.
But I also learned from these conversations. As hard as some things were to hear, it made me reexamine how I used "Other" in my dissertation. I realized I was perpetuating postcolonial issues without any acknowledgement. While I thought my use of "Other" was more the in quotes that has been recommended to signal its problematic nature, I was perpetuating awful biases and presentations. So I went back through the dissertation and changed all my references, and included a note as to why. I do not want to contribute to erasure and racism. So I read, I listened, I changed.

But I also did not ask for help or clarification, or for anyone to read over a section to make sure it did what I wanted and didn't fall into pitfulls. Because I am afraid to. As a grad student, I completely understand not asking marginalized groups to do more invisible labor because others are unwilling. But as a grad student too, I have no wish to be yelled at or called names. And I realize that statement can be read as tone-policing, which I don't mean, but recognize too that intent doesn't matter.

I told you it was complicated.

As a grad student I want to learn, to do better, to understand why and how we must adapt and change, and then do that. I want to incorporate other fields, and be interdisciplinary. But there is danger in exploring outside your field. And my ability to DO that is limited when senior scholars in my field make it appear as though questions and genuine interest in doing better construct me as something I'm not.

And I worry about this. Because I don't think this is an environment to improve. Even though I understand why this is the response.

Into all of this, I read Adam Miyashiro's post on ISAS in Hawai'i this week. 
He makes great points. Given the environment we're now in, all that is going on, all the issues that have come to public surface, the placement of this conference in Hawai'i was the perfect opportunity for improvements. Real change. And it was another awful fail.
I understand conferences are scheduled and planned months in advance, but these are not new issues. I wonder how many instances, how many conferences we're going to have that are condemned, before we change anything.

I am not a POC. I am a white woman. Whose step-dad, and adopted family is Japanese by way of Hawai'i. While I am often defined by the poverty I grew up in, I have a huge amount of privilege. I do not claim any special status. But last night, after reading Miyashiro's post, I had some thoughts, as someone whose family is from Hawai'i. Which I thought I'd share. At first it was just a thread (which I've included below, with some images, and some hyperlinks not in the original in the interest of a starting point for reading).

But I kept thinking about it all. How important these issues are, particularly for those of us who are new to the field, and are deeply invested in how this field presents itself, contributes, and acts.

I hope all of these conversations continue. I hope we make things better. I hope we educate, correct, and speak up. But I also hope we do it with kindness. I hope we give role models to younger scholars coming up.

Twitter Thread
Some random thoughts but not fully formed, so perhaps forgive. My step-dad is Japanese. The family is from Okinawa. Came over in 30s. 1/
They worked plantations- pineapple and sugar in communities called camps that still exist as similar to sharecropping, bought land after 2/
My great-grandma raised six kids on own because great-grandad went back to homeland for WW II. If you know your history you'll get irony 3/
My grandpa lives in house he was raised in. Large extended family & camp members. I have never felt so white as when I visited him 4/
Everyone white person should know this feeling. Japanese & Hawai'ians are majority. And as evidenced by haole there are strong lines 5/
I'll add too, that the conflicts between the Japanese/Okinawans that came over at the beginning of the 20th century and native Hawai'ians, is also interesting history that would have made for great basis to think about medieval studies.
I was looked askance at. Treated differently UNTIL grandpa introduced me as his granddaughter. Then everything changed 6/
Another thing that struck me about all this being from tourist area was what a crock of packaged shit Hawai'i is. I mean that as positive 7/
Resorts, luaus are packaged, colonial crap. They're super smart- they realized what people wanted & they charged fortunes. Good on them 8/
Unless you have native friends or guides (and actually have them, not pay what you think this experience is) you will never know Hawai'i 9/
I mention all this because issues of how we frame our world, our scholarship, our voices, & amplify voices of others have come back up 10/
And rightly so. Our fields because of slow speed of old structures don't evolve & adapt as they should and need to. 11/
So to any & all of my friends in Hawai'i this week I challenge you to leave the resort. Read & listen to ACTUAL history not tourist crap 12/
 
Sit in a cafe, walk the streets, realize you're the minority. Think about that. Think about role of military there. 13/
Think about stolen, kidnapped queens. Lost culture. Lost sovreignty. Having to commodify culture to survive. Accept waves of foreigners in 30s. Lose more 14/
Think about what is displayed & presented. Versus what is true. Think about why this place was chosen for this conference. 15/
If it was not chosen to illustrate how ALL these things should be questions we integrate into our field, our scholarship, our teaching...16/
Then you have to face fact that it was chosen so white people could justify a resort vacation in Hawai'i. Accepting @ face value. 17/
If you go and that's what you get it's because that's what you wanted and didn't dig deeper. And will come back having learned nothing 18/
Do better. Visit sanctuary sites. Listen, don't talk. Observe. See beneath. Then reflect. And bring THAT back to you. 19/19

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Syllabus of Me

I was on Twitter way past my bedtime last night, for not great reasons.
But I am grateful for encountering this tweet:
A friend RTed it.
What an amazing idea. Not for someone to do for their field, although that would be an interesting exercise for scholars to see where they are, to see what were/are foundational texts for them, who their influencers are. I also think that given the latest controversy in medieval studies, as well as Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega @raulpacheco continued calls to examine our syllabus to see if we're being equitable in covering women, POC, other voices. 

But when I first read this initial tweet,  I thought of teachers, of new TAs, and grad students. What an amazing idea for them to do. Not for their field, although I'm sure there'd be some overlap, just for them, as people. I think this might help them "see" who they are, what they value.
The follow up tweets lay out more of what the structure could be (and continues past this...) 
So, here is my #SyllabusOfMe.
I encourage others to do this. I think it has value. Post and link on Twitter, or if you like, I'll curate and link here.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ideas for This is Not a Memoir

My MA program, despite all its bullshit, was creative. People brought guitars. Designed t-shirts. And every week we had readings- Blue Parlor in Vermont, Blue Mesa in Santa Fe. Every week people signed up to read things they'd written- poetry, short stories, whatever they had. I remember reading just about every week. It was a weekly impetus to write, to have something. It was a weekly challenge. It was great.

I have always written creatively- bad poetry. Short stories. Creative non-fiction. Since 2001 I have kept a writer's notebook. But the last couple of years I've had an idea in my head. A creative itch I can't scratch, can't get rid of, keep circling back to.

I already have the cover art all picked out:
At first, This is Not a Memoir was just an idea of writing creative non-fiction.
Then I encountered Lynda Barry's  Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor. This project jogged something loose- the drawings, the writings, the responses, they were familiar to me. My writer's notebooks are similar. I lean more towards stick figures in my drawings, as my students can attest, but my writer's notebooks are collages- print outs of pictures, color Post-Its as additional thoughts, layered pen colors as I revisit and respond to older writings.

So I started to think of a big, mixed-media project. One that similar to Barry's project, would have scans/images of my writing notebooks.
Interspersed with these pages would be other pieces- pages like this that were first thoughts, doodles, brainstorming, for later pieces. Like this one, "Not Ready To Give Up. Or Am I?"
But I don't just want this, I want to intersperse short fiction stories among these pieces. Stories that feel like true stories, but per the title, are not.

I have no idea where this would go, who would be interested.
But I think, with this next year, with decks cleared of a lot of things, I might start putting this together the way I imagine it- go through my 25 writer's notebooks, start choosing and curating pages, scan, crop, and clean up the images. Then start pulling short stories, writings, scribbles. Then write some new stuff, revisit these things, reimagine. Pull it all together, see what I have.

So what do you guys think?
Viable?

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Cost of the PhD We Don't Realize We're Paying

I flew home to NC the other weekend for one of my oldest friend's 40th birthday. It was a surprise his wife and I cooked up, and while it was a whirlwind (flew in Friday afternoon, flew out Monday morning) it was lovely.
It's been 6? 7? years since I saw them, but you couldn't have known that. It was like I saw them yesterday.
It was a weekend where not a single person asked me about what my research was. No one cared about institutional affiliation. No one cared about grad school. Everyone there was working class, maybe a bit lower. Life was defined by family and friends, not work, although many were self-employed, had their businesses. But that's not what conversation focused on. That's not what defined anyone. It was a weekend of sitting outside in the sun, talking. Some folks on phones, but no tv, just folks and catching up.
People who didn't know me didn't come to know me through my research or teaching.
They knew me because I got up at 545a to help put the pig on the barbecue. I helped prep food. Set up for the party. Helped out. Sat and talked to folks.
At one point, I don't remember what prompted it, I did say something along the lines to my friends of "I don't have any friends, I don't date." And this was the thing that mattered to my friend. He said he was sorry, he didn't know, he didn't realize how hard it was/had been for me.
I had honestly forgotten what it felt like to have friends care about me.

We talked some about the next year, what I might do. I admitted that if I didn't get a higher ed job, I was thinking about what I wanted to do, what I wanted my life to be. I can teach high school anywhere. So if I didn't get a college job, where did I want to live? My friend immediately started rattling off schools in the area. He said it'd be great to have me there, have me around, have me close. And let me tell you, that would be so easy. To just let go. To let go of trying to keep up, of dealing with pretentious people who name drop like we can't see what they're doing. To have friends. To have a life surrounded by green. To literally slow down and have a simpler life in every way.

It all gave me something to think about.
It was a great break.
But as I returned to Albuquerque and work, I realized just how detached from real life my current life is.

I returned to notes about (rightly) having to completely rewrite my Shax chapter, which I did. I copyedited the diss and made some structural changes to the Milton chapter and intro after rewriting the Shax chapter. I reached the point where while I'm sure there some tweaking left to do, I feel like the diss is done.
CH 3 (Shax) still has to be approved by my director, then sent out to the early modernists.
I still need to send the whole thing out to my outside reading and get CH 4 (Milton) approved.
But I'm in a good place.
There's been a bit of delay in this with things beyond my control. We've been aiming for the whole thing out to committee mid-August for a mid-September defense. Given the above, we may have to push this. But honestly? As long as I can defend and graduate this fall, for the job market and not have to pay another semester of tuition? I'm fine with it.
The last year has taught me not to rush.

But my return to Albuquerque also resulted in a bunch of things in a short period of time.
Last year, I cut off my waist/butt long hair.
 This past spring I went blond/white.
I went platinum because I thought it'd be fun, and because my hair was so short, if I hated out it was easy to fix. But it was expensive. And a lot of maintenance. This year I won't be teaching for UNM, so I'll have less money. Plus, I realized too that while it was a cute look, I am just not that high maintenance.
I'm not. It's exhausting.
So, in pretty typical me fashion, on a whim I cancelled the appointments I had scheduled, plunked down my $9 at the grocery store, went red to counter the blond stripping, then brown, as close as I could get to me.
When I went blond I said that I hadn't looked in the mirror and thought "there I am" in a long time. Now I wonder if it wasn't the color but the risk, the fact that I did something just for me, just to make me happy, that read more "me" to me.
It'll take a bit to grow it out so it's all my natural color, and I'm thinking there's at least a couple more $9 boxes in my future, but infinitely manageable.
What matters to me is that I'll be back to being me (and rocking a lot of silver if my undercut is any indication) by job market interviews come winter.

Another side effect once I got home, and reviewed pictures from NC, I realized I looked awful.
I am 25 pounds overweight, easily.
My nurse practitioner emailed me yesterday that my A1C is pre-diabetic. She wants me to lose weight.
Yeah, me too.

At the end of last school year, I was down to 159 pounds, my stress level was down, I was happy, I was planning for the resumption of my adult future. And then the bottom dropped out. I ate my feelings and the weight crept back up. I lacked the energy to do well just about everything. I juggled teaching high school full time, teaching for my uni, and rewriting the diss from scratch. I couldn't NOT show up for my full time job. I couldn't NOT teach my uni class. I couldn't NOT rewrite the diss. But I could certainly stop focusing on my weight. I could certainly eat mint chocolate chip ice cream a couple of times a week. My weight was the plate I stopped spinning, because it was the only one I could.

This past year, the only thing I could focus on was getting up every day to go to work and pay bills and get the diss rewritten. I just didn't make time for anything else. So the scale kept creeping up. And I stopped paying attention. 163, 167. I made excuses. I was weight training now. I had more muscle definition. Muscle weighs more than fat.
All true. But also not the only truth. In some ways I am in better shape than I ever have been. But that can be true, and I can also have put 25 pounds on top of all that. I stopped posting about it on Twitter because I got tired of getting lectured by people- well you need to do this. And this. And this.

Yeah, I KNOW. But with leaving at 630a, home by 4p, I was unwilling to recrate Nehi to go work out. And she suddenly got old this past year- our runs of 3-6 miles twice a day suddenly turned into lucky if I can get her to walk 2 miles once a day.
It made me realize that the last couple of years have been a long list of things I'm putting off until the diss is done.
I'll make friends once the diss is done.
I'll date once the diss is done.
I'll be an adult again once the diss is done.
I'll be less stressed once the diss is done.
I'll lose weight once the diss is done.

But, here's the thing that came up when I was in NC- how long do I keep putting off my life? How many things have I not done? Missed out on? I couldn't tell you the last time I felt like I made a real friend. Someone my age. Who I had things in common with. I can tell you 2009 was the last time I went out on a date.
I can also tell you that after years of giving up a life because I was taking care of Mom, then feeling broken once she died, and then relearning how to live on my own during grad school, it all just seems too big. Too overwhelming. How many different ways can a 41 year old start over before exhaustion from life sets in?

So I focus on the things I can control. Little things. "Small moves, Ellie."
I rearrange my office. Again.
I cut the undercut WAY too short for the next month of 90-100 degree heat.
None of these things really make me happy by they fill the time and feel like accomplishments.

Since it's summer, I've also been checking off doctor's appointments, ones I don't make during the school year because I can't afford to take time off (and the ridiculousness of that statement is a whole other thing...)
I had PRK surgery back in 2006 so I admit to being lazy about going to see an eye doctor. PRK surgery was HUGE for me. I couldn't see more than 6" in front of my face without glasses or contacts from fifth grade on. Probably longer. I got other kids to give me their notes because I couldn't see the board. My grandmother thought I was faking the yearly eye tests at school because the boy I liked, Christian Atwood, had glasses.
When I finally GOT my glasses, as we drove home, I remember saying "trees have leaves." So, being able to see was a big deal. 
I wore mostly contacts because the prescription was bad enough that depth perception was an issue and I worked as a theatre master electrician at heights, so that was kind of a big deal. So I saved the money (then $1995) and got the PRK. The glories of waking up, reading alarm clock, seeing, all the time. Swimming. It was a whole new world. I loved it.
But, it has been six or seven years since I saw an eye doctor, so I looked one up in my network and they had an opening yesterday so I went, expecting, well, nothing.

Noper.
Turns out when they had me cover my left eye to read the chart, I couldn't read it.
Suddenly leaning forward at my desk, squinting at the screen, the inability to focus on reading, headaches- all things that I'd chalked up to the stress of the PhD, turns out it was just because I needed glasses.
The doctor was super sweet and said that the glasses would hopefully, prevent my eyesight from getting worse. She said that driving, long distance, stuff like that I could *probably* still do without the glasses, but she did say that I might find that it was easier to wear the glasses all the time. She also added a blue screen tint because of my job, which is cool.

So, I spent yesterday afternoon picking out frames (I went with Boyd Crowder chic, my default fashion aesthetic):
I'll pick them up in about a week. And now all I can see is how bad my vision is out of my right eye.

So just to recap my week- I'm fat, I'm going back to having glasses which brings with it a whole set of ugly-girl growing up issues, and I am the poster child for how gross of a haircut can you have.

I mean- seriously- could I have been a bigger dork?
The braces = ugly girl came later...and then again as an adult (while teaching high school, which let me tell you, sucked just as much as you'd think).
It all hit me yesterday. I ended the day at Defcon- lay on the couch under a bankie and binge watched Nashville.

I cleaned the fridge out of anything tempting and sweet. I'll start trying to work out more, watch what I eat, working around the ridiculously unseasonably hot summer we're having. I have a Y membership. And that will all get easier once school is back.
My hair will grow out, I should be less gross by the time school starts in a month.
I will rock the shit out of those hillbilly-hipster glasses.

And life will go on.

But part of what my visit back to NC and the last week or so has pointed out is how easy it is to normalize crap during grad school.
The weight creeps up. I see it as friends change profile pics on social media, we all seem to get a little chubbier as we go on. God knows my cheeks get rounder, and rounder, and ROUNDER as the years have gone on. For me it was gradual, so until I see pictures of me, it's easy to ignore.
We ignore the back pain. The headaches. We assume it's the schedule, the stress. We dismiss things.
We try to ignore being tired all the time. Not having energy to do things. Being so exhausted that there's just no energy for anything. Or if there is free time, we ignore the guilt about all the other things we SHOULD be doing.

I worked in theatre, which did similar things. You internalize it all. You ignore or laugh at friends or acquaintances that have "real" lives as though you were somehow better, the glorification of busy. You look puzzled at normal people who have time for friends, and dinners, and socializing.

Sometimes, we don't notice the cost until we're 25 pounds overweight, making bad choices, and needing glasses.

Sometimes, more often than not, we don't know how to try to find our ways back to "normal" lives.

It's not going to be easy adjusting to glasses again.
Or losing the weight.
Or reacclimating to just one job. No diss work.
Normal life.
And I still don't know what my life will be like a year from now.

But I'm looking forward to trying to figure it out.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Rethinking Course Design

My high school district would not accept my seven years of teaching online, online certification, and experience designing courses in both Moodle and Blackboard. Instead, in order to be "qualified" to teach online classes for them, I had to enroll in a month long online course for them. I put it off last year because I was just juggling too much, but this summer, with just working on diss edits seemed like a better time.
I don't have great things to say about it, but one thing that has been interesting is thinking, and rethinking about why I have certain class policies, rethinking or revisiting ideas and thoughts. There are major differences between teaching online for high school, which I did for four years, and online for universities, which I've done the last two years.

Funny enough, this has all gotten me thinking about going back to teaching higher ed classes face to face.

I miss teaching face to face, and think that a lot of the perspective shifts and reflective changes I've made in teaching online the last couple of years will make for good and interesting changes the next time I teach face to face, if I get to.

So this is what I've thought of the last few days.
In my online courses I have a presentation, a close reading, a thematic paper, and a final paper. The last time I taught face to face, I had a similar amount of assignments. This last year, I tried really hard to scaffold all my assignments, and make this scaffolding, and the smaller assignments, transparent to the students.

In my online classes there are a lot of low-stakes assignments, discussion boards and practice assignments that I created in order to help me assess how well the students are doing with the information. In my face to face courses I do similar assignments, but they aren't graded because I can see their faces, I walk around in class and can "hear" from their discussions whether or not they get it.

But here's what I was thinking of this last week, a reshaping of what I would value in my class, and how the assignments could reflect this.

So, here was my thought:
  • Students would only have two assignments. A roughly mid-semester close reading, 3-4 pages, focused on their argument. A final paper/project, research based, with secondary sources.
  • I like the idea of allowing them the choice of paper or project because I've had really good responses to this.
    • I have also been reading a lot about commonplace books, and how to integrate these into the classroom. I am intrigued about  offering this as their grade, to create a list of topics/assignments, and having that as their grade. I'm not sure if I'd want it to replace the final, or both. I like the idea of a semester long reflection, project, growth. But I am not sure about the whole semester resting on one grade with no management or feedback. I need to think more about this.
  • But here are the changes I've been thinking about:
    • The exchange for only having these assignments is that they have to submit a rough draft. 
    • They get feedback, they get time to redo, because I'm thinking these would be due two weeks before the "final."
    • The final paper/project would also require a rough draft, but also this:
      • a memo plan before their rough draft that outlines their interests, their ideas, why they chose it, and some tangents.
      • then their rough draft
      • then their final that includes a reflective letter that revisits their memo plan and reflects on the process.
This means that in a 16 week course, my course would look like this:
  • Week 4, I'd like to meet or informally hear from students what they think they might want their close reading to be on, their interests, their ideas 
    • This also means I'd start class with asking them to see the readings, the course, through their interests, focusing them from the beginning.
  • Week 6 close reading rough draft due
  • Week 8 close reading final due
  • Week 11 final paper/project memo plan due
  • Week 13 final paper/project rough draft due
  • Week 15 final paper/project due 
    • If no reflective letter, it drops a letter grade
    • If no memo plan, it drops an additional letter grade
I'd still allow students to have one week to revise final for higher grade.
I acknowledge that some students will treat the rough grade as their final, and I'm fine with that. If that's how they choose to prioritize, that's a choice.
I'm hoping that this approach would allow students to focus on the process, the improvement, the learning, rather than other things. In a face to face class, the in class activities and discussions I do would give me the formative assessments I need.

I'm not sure, honestly, how this would all play out in a face to face class, but I would like to try it.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Not Ready To Give Up. Or Am I?

The other day, Kelly J. Baker's (@kelly_j_baker) latest book, Grace Period came out. I follow Baker on Twitter, and really enjoy her work, the variety, the style, and she posted about the book release so I went and bought it.
https://www.amazon.com/Grace-Period-Kelly-J-Baker-ebook/dp/B071GLR1Z9/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
 I read it in one sitting.

It is touching, and real, and authentic, and heartbreaking. While I knew some of the story, the pieces from following her and reading various bits, somehow it's a very different story when laid out all together in Grace Period. 
I wrote a review, and signal boosted online, and wished there was a paperback so I could read, reread, and dog ear, and highlight and jot notes in it. Maybe one day there will be. I also touched on the fact that because of people like Baker, and Joe Fruscione (@Joe_Fru) and David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) 
life after academia is a little less scary, the idea of leaving, doing something else. They are examples that this is not a failure of me as a person, or even as an academic. Academia is not a meritocracy. And each in their own way has shown a version of what life after academia can look like.

This gives me hope. And it's good to have models.

But several things happened yesterday that made me reflect on where I am.
The dissertation is done. Mostly. It's out to committee for final revisions. My director is confident I can finish those revisions and send the whole thing out mid-August and defend mid-September. After a year plus of purgatory, it seems like I might actually be done this time. I've Tweeted and blogged about how this feels the second time around.
As prep for this final stage, I printed out and had my uni copy center bind, the entire dissertation. While the chapters are out to committee, I plan on reading through the whole thing, as an entire dissertation, and checking for repetitions, word choice, active verbs, italics, typos, etc. Style notes mostly, nothing that will affect content, and something to keep me busy.

For those of you who have gotten here, you know this is a big deal.
I've now been here twice. I was here last March.
So, rather than celebrating this, taking a minute to understand that this was one of the last hurdles before being a Doctor, I was nervous. Because I don't believe in any of this anymore.

My director is great, and throwing the old dissertation out and starting over from scratch was not quite as hard as I thought. And this process has been great, revising and notes like I imagine this is all supposed to be. But I'm tired. And in many ways the academy has already failed me. Most than once. So I'm just tired.

If I get a defense date, despite people wanting to come, I don't think I'll invite them. Because I just couldn't take inviting them then having to explain to them oh whoops, not happening. Again. Because I've done this twice now. The same for graduation. These should be HUGE celebrations. I've worked doubly (literally, doubly) hard for all this. And I should be celebrated. But I'm tired. And at this point this is just something to be done so I can stop feeling like I'm in Limbo. Done so I can decide what I'm doing next. Done so I can stop feeling like my adult life at 41 is on pause.

I blogged the other day about ramping up for the job market season this fall. A sort of, this is what I wished I known when I went on the market a couple of years ago. Things I learned late in that season, so wanted to pass on.

One of the things I talked about was the fact that I was grateful that I had less stress going into this market season. I have my full time job teaching high school, so I'm not worried about cobbling together adjunct gigs or finding a job to pay rent. I'm also not teaching for my uni this upcoming year, so as I've written, for the first time in a really long time (so long I can't remember) I will just have the one job. So, I can have the time to focus, to dedicate, to rest. All of which are a privilege, and I acknowledge that. This was part of what I wanted when I went back to high school teaching last year, the safety net, the steady pay, the benefits.

But in the days finishing Grace Period, I've been thinking as I wrote that blog about the job market, and other things. Has part of me already given up? Have my experiences resulted in me already thinking that it won't work out, I won't get a job, I should just give up, in fact, I started wondering, have I already given up? Is it even worth it? I don't have the uni pedigree. I don't have what most people say is necessary to succeed. I've seen people with ALL the right qualifications season after season not get jobs. So if they can't, what makes me think I will?

Then yesterday, three things happened in the same afternoon.
Outside Magazine posted this job ad on Twitter:
It struck my eye because I like Outside magazine, an effect of dating a rock climber in undergrad, and because it was just north in Santa Fe. I briefly read it, thought it'd be a cool job and kept scrolling.

Then a little bit later Smithsonian Magazine posted a similar job.

And then this came up: 

And I stopped.
And I thought.
Seriously thought.
Asked some questions on Twitter.
Started thinking through the practicalities.


I have a B.F.A in technical theatre. I worked professionally in New York City, as a master electrician for the Manhattan School of Music, and The Joseph Papp Public Theatre/Shakespeare in the Park. While the ad didn't ask for this, this experience would be a real selling point in meeting the responsibilities they listed. As would my experience as a dancer as a youngin. And reading through the responsibilities I thought, I can do all of that.
But then the first qualification is a Bachelor's degree and a minimum of four years overseeing digital operations. Now, I run this blog, which I think shows my range and capability. I think too the How to Grad School While Poor Wiki and the Google Doc that started in also does that. I could probably make a real case for me. But that four plus years of editorship, that may be tricky.

But it's a job in New York City. With apartment life. And I have a 81 pound dog. Who likes her yard. And big parks. And lifestyle. She's never not had a house with a yard.

So rather than dive into THIS job, this dream job for me, that I am uniquely qualified for, I immediately sidestepped it. I started asking questions of my Twitter folks about how I could  in the next year increase experience in digital editorship, so maybe, possibly, in the future, I'd be qualified, or more qualified for this type of job. The type of job I see more and more and might be a really interesting job.
Then I started thinking, social media editor is a full time job, or at least a job that requires flexibility during the day, which teaching high school full time locks me out of. Yes, it'd be cool to try and do this for a journal or website, but I'm not a grad student anymore. I don't have that flexibility anymore. I get to school at 7a, and leave at 3p, and my day doesn't allow for sitting at the computer and curating content, no matter how much fun that sounds like.

Because one of the thoughts I've had the past year is, if I don't get a higher ed job, what do I want to do? Do I really want to stay in Albuquerque? Do I even want to stay a teacher? There's so much that goes with that. And I'm tired. And it's tempting to just leave it all behind. At 41, to just go do something else. It was the same thought I had last year when I applied to the FBI. Maybe I just wanted to walk away.
But the FBI didn't work out, and because I'm my mother's daughter, I thought, well, it just wasn't meant to be. Assigning purpose and hope is stupid and dangerous, but it's what I do.


The New York City Ballet job is a great job. A dream job. But I can't help but wonder if it's a job for another me. Not the me I am now. A me who has given up on teaching, scholarship, academia, and truly given it up, let go, and not in a "I didn't really try so I'll regret it forever" way but REALLY, TRULY gave up.
And this came on the heels of another realization.
Yes. I am tired. I am exhausted. I feel let down. Whispy. See-through.
But maybe I'm not as ready to give up as I thought.
Maybe I will be in the spring. I certainly know after the last year of limbo, I have no desire to continue this. No desire to spend three, four, five years on the market. I am 41. And I am ready to have a real, grown up life, whatever that may me. But part of me also knows that last time on the market, I didn't have Doctor in front of my name. I don't think I had great letters. I didn't have support. So part of me wants to give this a try when I'm firing on all cylinders.

Because the New York City Ballet job is a great job, a dream job, and it deserves someone who will go all in. And as much as that might be a version of me, it's not me right now.

But part of me wishes it was.