Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Doctor Will See You Now

Let's begin at the end...
Friday 20 October at 430p, I was told by my director that the committee had decided to pass me, with revisions.
I have until 15 November to complete my revisions, submit them to my director, then the graduate student office, for graduation.

The nature of the revisions are to sharpen and define earlier, and in more detail, some of the terms I use. In particular, how I define the political devil. In some cases, to expand the scope of what I'm talking about, the political aftermath of texts. One note was that in the dissertation, I draw clear lines between the common understanding of the dissertation and the "counter narrative" of the political devil. It was pointed out that there's more slippage here than the writing currently shows, and counter is not the best word, complicates, or non conformist, something like that might be better. I need to show it's not an either or, but a blending. The chapter that had the biggest notes were the Milton chapter, sharpening how Satan is an English devil, how it's nationalist, and to signpost more clearly the equivocation and rhetoric. One note was that a previous edit of the chapter had clearer language. One note was to not focus so much on "Devil" as "devil signifiers in the texts." The introduction does spend a lot of time describing the traditional devil, and then the diss looks at the non-traditional devil, which I think is important-- if I'm going to talk about how the political devil is different from the traditional, I think I need to spend time showing what the traditional is, but I need to be clearer that is how I'm framing it.
They'll be sending me their drafts with notes for reference.

The defense itself did not really go like I thought.
To prep, I reread the dissertation, corrected typos, horrified there still WERE typos, and marking bits I thought would come up. None of them did.
For the most part, I did not need my copy at all. No one said, on page X can you talk more about this. But certainly having read through the whole thing made me feel more confident.
To prep, I created several documents. The first one I created was a chart that I created based on concerns, pet peeves, notes from committee members, that I pulled from previous drafts and emails. I then went through the diss and formulated answers, page numbers where I put the answer, explanations, etc. I created a short Google Slide presentation to go with my written presentation. Originally I wrote my presentation as an outline, but decided the Sunday before defense I really wanted to write it out so if I was nervous, and needed it, I had it written word for word to read off of. It turns out this was a good choice, my best friend who came, said that I was clearly nervous at first, but as I read, it was clear I became more confident. Last weekend, my director recommended I make a handout for my committee, focusing on the major arguments of the texts, so I did. Earlier this week, I thought that methodology might be something I was asked about, so I made a cheat sheet of the major theory in the diss. At the end of my presentation I also had a list of questions that I pulled from reading different articles and advice blogs about common defense questions and my answer. Things like what the biggest problems were, how I came up with the research question, what came next. I emailed the presentation, and handout out to everyone.

The weekend before, I printed all this stuff out, I tested my presentation clicker, I packed my Post-Its, highlighter, pens, and flags.
I packed my professional bag with all these things, my crocheted devil (a gift from a friend and the dissertation mascot the last year), my copy of Grace Period, and the stormtrooper pen case another friend had given me. I packed and unpacked, and packed again the bag double and triple checking I had everything. Then the bag just sat in my office all week. It was one less thing I had to worry about because I knew I had everything I needed and it was all set to go.

I also mailed my thank you gift to one long term committee member, a thank you card to another, and packed/wrapped the two gifts for my committee members I'd see. And then I set them aside until Friday.

The night before, I pulled out my laptop, made sure Skype was up to date (I was Skyping in two committee members). I had also never Skyped two people in, so I looked up on the Internet how to do it, then enlisted two Twitter friends to let me try it out. They both warned about the wonkiness of Skype and recommended using Google Hangouts. So I set up the video call event, sent an email to all to have this as a backup. I also, on their advice, included my phone number. This was the only glitch in the defense- one committee member was in Hangouts, the other texted that there were too many plugins to load, so we went to have them in Skype. But turns out you can't run both programs at the same time. So Hangouts professor switched over to Skype. It was like a five minute delay in starting. So not major.

After I picked up my best friend at the airport Thursday we had dinner, caught up, and to keep me from chasing my own tail, we made devil cupcakes.
I had ordered the edible devil masks from the UK the week before, and bought the mix and stuff. It did exactly what I wanted it to do. It was impossible to make myself a stress ball when catching up with my best friend and making cupcakes.
We took some to defense the next day and handed them out to office staff later.

The defense focused totally on asking me why I made the arguments I did, asking me to justify arguments and choices. No one made a reference to the handout. There were no questions about the methodology. And there wasn't a single question that was anything close to my question list.

I ended up with three pages of notes, and my best friend videoed the defense, which looking at snippets I'm happy about, because as I go to work on revisions, I can listen to it, to make sure I'm on the right track.

My revisions only have to be approved by my director, so this week I plan on drafting an email about the steps to approaching these revisions-- for this comment, my approach was going to be X, for that one, Y. Just to make sure I am on the right track.

I feel fine about the revisions asked of me. And I don't think I'll have any problems completing them by the 15 November deadline. I will say, I've not worked on them at all this weekend. In fact, I only looked at my notes when I sat down to write this post. My best friend flew in from LA Thursday night, I took all day Friday off from my high school teaching job, and we've had a pretty chill weekend. Of course, on a personal note, this week was rough for reasons totally unrelated to the dissertation defense.
Nehi's had what looked like a laceration on her paw pad of the toe that was amputated years ago because she had a tumor. We've been in and out of the vet's office the last month about this-- it's healing, it's not healing, give her twice daily epsom salt baths to draw out the whatever, no walkies, some walks, on and on. Last Saturday was the last vet visit, and vet (not our vet) said it looked fine. But she took a picture of it to show our vet. Who promptly looked at it Monday, decided he didn't want to take chances after a month, and so scheduled a biopsy.
For Friday morning.
So I got up Friday, dropped Nehi off at 745 in the morning. I went back home, and tried to chill before the defense.
I showed my best friend some of the articles/chapters I'd written, and we watched The Nightmare of Elm Street reboot was 2010.
A couple hours later, just as I'm getting ready to get ready for the defense, the vet calls and says that now that Nehi is sedated and he can look at the paw pad without her biting him, it looks much worse, and given the tumor history, he wants to be aggressive and take the whole rest of the toe, not just the biopsy. So I stood in the shower sobbing that my baby was going to be taken from me, and wondering how the hell I was going to get it together to do my defense.
Just before we got ready to walk out the door, they called to say that Nehi came through surgery and was okay, I could pick her up after the defense. It'll be a week of so before we get the results back, but I was able at least to pull it together for my defense.

None of my professors I've had during my time here came to my defense. One graduate student came. So it was just me, my best friend, my director, one in person committee member, and the two who Skyped in. It was a small room, and honestly, this has all been such an ordeal, if it didn't go well, I didn't want witnesses, so that was fine by me. Kind of. I waffled between feeling that, and feeling like no one was celebrating me, which didn't just apply to school, but my family as well, but that's just the reality. It was the same room I defended my prospectus in, so I was familiar with the layout, so I wasn't nervous about any of that.

The defense itself is a bit of a blur. So I'm glad I have my notes and the video for reference. I can say I don't feel like there were any questions I didn't think I could answer, or that I didn't answer, or had a hard time with. Although in several instances I did get the feeling committee members were not satisfied with my answers, but just decided to stop pressing. That may just be my perception.

I think part of why defenses are hard is we don't have a sphere of reference. The format of mine, which my director had explained last weekend, was my presentation, one round of 15 minute questions, then if people wanted, another round of 5 minutes of follow up. My presentation was about 15 minutes. We did an hour of first round of questions, then the follow up round of roughly 20 minutes. Then my best friend, the one graduate student who came, and me, were asked to leave the room, and we stepped outside.

We made small talk, about what I couldn't tell you.

Then my director popped her head out and told us that we could come back in, I sat down, and she told me they had decided to pass me with revisions. She started to go over them, and one of my committee members interrupted her and said, "doctor" which I thought was sweet. My director finished going over the list of revision notes, I took notes. I honestly don't remember what else happened. She asked me if I wanted to add anything, so I thanked everyone, we logged off Skype, those of us there chatted for a while later, then my friend and I left. I called my godmother to tell her the good news sitting in my truck in the parking garage. She squealed, and we promised to Skype later this week to catch up in detail. The first place we stopped was to see my tattoo artist, to tell him the good news. I gave the guys the rest of the cupcakes, and told him I'd see him next Saturday (we've continuing the armbands, Old English script from Genesis B for one arm, Christ and Satan for the other, both the text that describes Satan's fall).

Then we stopped at the vet, picked up Nehi, the staff (especially my vet) made a big deal of calling doctor, made sure they changed it in their system so it came up, and we came home. I texted my step-dad and sister. I emailed my aunts and uncles. I called my grandfather and left a message.
We had dinner, watched X-Files, and I felt bad because Nehi was still all wonky from the anesthesia.
I was asleep by 8p.

Then it was up early yesterday because I had Saturday school to teach.

Daily life goes on.

In many ways, nothing seems different and everything does. I was telling my best friend that much of grad school is like this- you pass one milestone, and there's a beat to celebrate, but then there's something else to do, to keep moving forward. So, I am happy the defense is done, but there are still revisions to do, and then there will be graduation. It doesn't quite seem real that this is the last set of hurdles, that once I complete the revisions, and graduate, this is all done. I am touched my director offered to sit through the three hour university ceremony to hood me. I had not originally planned on going, but since she offered, I am now. Because I've earned this. No one will come, it will just be us, but I deserve to have some pomp and circumstance, and to wear my funny little hat.

It was fun changing my email signature to Dr.
I was overwhelmed and touched at the waves of support all weekend from my Twitter friends. The celebratory gifs in my feed has made me giggle and laugh.
I was touched an older professor, the one who first encouraged me to pursue my doctorate, announced me as doctor to all of Facebook.

My students who came to Saturday school yesterday asked if I passed the defense, and told me congratulations, which was cool.

I feel good about just taking this weekend with my friend. We just hung out yesterday at the house after Saturday school. His mom called me, and told me how proud she was of me. And I cried. Because my mom would have loved this. Oh man, she would have been over the moon. She would have BRAGGED. She would have called me the morning of to buoy me up, she would have sent me a care package to get me through. She would have been insufferable. And I would have loved it. But she's not here. So to have my best friend's mom tell me I was one of her kids, and she couldn't be prouder really meant a lot.
Another friend posted on Facebook how proud she was of me, and she knew my mom would be too. 
I've thought of Mom a lot these last few weeks. I always miss her, but it was particularly sharp these weeks.
My best friend treated me to dinner last night, we're going to go see Blade Runner 2049 today, and he flies home tonight. The revisions, job applications, and my day job will all be there tomorrow, life goes back to normal. I mean, I'm totally going to make people call me doctor, and I totally redid the sign for outside my classroom:
Immediately I can't imagine things will be any different. Once the revisions are done, and submitted, I do wonder what that will feel like, not having that stress constantly on my shoulders. The freedom to realize that what comes next is totally up to me and the type of life I want to live.

I've been thinking a lot about that. I have always moved and chased jobs, my actions dictated by what I needed to do. I have never sat and thought about what I wanted my life to be, where I wanted to live, and had the freedom to make decisions based on that. So I'm excited.

But I do not know what comes next. Where I'll be in a year, or after. But for now, this all seems enough.
I worked incredibly hard to get here. I did it with little help. I did it with no personal support system except Nehi and my tattoo artist. I did it despite overwhelming, soul-crushing obstacles.
I am proud of myself, because earned this.
To all who helped along the way...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

News and Thank Yous

I was not going to write this post.
I was not going to tell people.

Because I have been here before.
A little over a year ago I asked people for defense advice. I asked for recommendations about committee gifts.
I went with cute little mugs for each area.
With the dissertation hashtag of course.
I got thank you cards made.

I prepped my presentation. I got advice.
I went and got the university's graduation photos made. With Nehi. They were adorable.




Then my world crashed down.
So to say I'm a bit gun shy this time around is an understatement. At first, I only told my best friend, Dion, who is flying out. I am not putting flyers up in my department. If Dion and my two face to face committee members are the only ones who come, I am fine with that.

But we're now at 11 days and counting. It's real. So far my entire committee is on board. This is real. It is happening. I have a super supportive director.

So- I have a defense date.
I've announced it.
I've filed my paperwork.
I have proposed questions the committee might ask, and even better, I have answers!
I have an outline for my talk.
I've printed out the final draft, got it bound, and started to reread it.
I am horrified at typos that made it this far.

So far, fairly normal defense prep.

I don't know what will happen on 20 October at 2p.
I hope a normal defense. I am excited about talking about my dissertation. I want to be excited. I want to celebrate all the hard work I've done, how far I've come. But I find I am waffling between excitement and not trusting the process.

So I've not told people. I've been scared. I've not shared this.

But today, I decided, I will not be robbed of this.
I have busted my ASS to get here. I have written not one, but two, dissertations. I have learned a ridiculous amount. I have cried, and suffered, and gotten through.

I will be excited to see what comes next.
So to all of you who have helped, encouraged, and followed the entire #DevilDiss process these last four years, thank you.

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.