Archive for March, 2007

March 27, 2007

ramblings on being a.b.d.

by la rebelde

You know that dicho, “never put off until tomorrow what you can do today?” Wasn’t it some famous ole dead white dude, like Ben Franklin or someone, who said that? I just looked it up in The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, and all it says is, “don’t procrastinate.” Well, duh. Guess you don’t have to historicize a damn thing to be “culturally literate.” Sheesh.

I am the biggest procrastinator ever. I mean, ever! And I’ve always known this, but I’ve been realizing it in a deeper way over the last few months, since I’ve become…dmm dmm doommmm…what academics masochistically call “ABD.” All but dissertation. It’s the final step. The only thing you have left to do before being hooded. (It’s so medieval, really. Like getting knighted! Too bad they don’t give out those fancy shmancy pens anymore like on A Beautiful Mind, because I like school supplies a lot. But maybe the pens are only reserved the truly brilliant whose intelligence is recognized by the ivories.) It was very exciting when I first reached this very official status in my grad program, several months ago. But now all it means is that I am on my own to research this enormous project, travel to tons of archives to look at dusty old papers, read every book available on any topic remotely related, and write my own freakin’ book about it so I can get a job or, in the very least, the satisfaction that I completed a PhD. (Honestly? I’m aiming for the job. The satisfaction is just icing on the cake. And I’m not a fan of icing unless it’s whipped cream based. I need to pay off some damn loans, that nasty credit card debt and buy a car designed so I can see over the freakin dash. I need to feel like an adult, gosh darn it!)

Along the road toward the PhD, these are things the profes have told me I need to do, in no particular order:

  • You must do original work.
  • You must keep a regular schedule.
  • You must write a little bit every day.
  • You must join a writing group for support.
  • Don’t hang out too much with people who are preparing for exams because they’re boring, stressed out and won’t be very helpful right now. (Huh? What if they’re my homies?)
  • You must also work on turning your Master’s thesis into an article submission—do this during the evenings because you’ll be working on the dissertation in the daytime. (Because there really are that many hours in the day? What was I thinking?)
  • Go to the gym so you can have human contact every day (This one I wrote about before).
  • You must go to conferences, present your work and network with other scholars. (This one’s contradictory because they say you must stake your claim to your original work by making yourself known, but since knowledge is collectively produced, networking is supposed to build community. What?)
  • You must cherish this time because it’s the last time you’ll focus only on your dissertation. (And I thought it could only get better!)
  • You must not take too long, because no one should take too long, but also because you’ve been in grad school for too long. (I have been in grad school for a long time, but not “too long” even according to their standards.)
  • And my all-time favorite: you must make “progress” (mind you, these are people who do not believe in linear narratives and who like to deconstruct the state and notions of modernity, so I find their use of “progress” to be fraught with irony).

Okay, so that’s a lot to juggle, I think. And of course, there’s plenty more that I’m probably forgetting at the moment.

Anyway, lately, I’ve been struggling with the idea of “original work.” I don’t believe that anything is truly “original.” I also don’t believe that any one person can “own” knowledge or the production of it (because the idea of ownership of knowledge is a colonialist and capitalist construct, and we are still fighting against colonialism!) Still, every time I read about something that is remotely similar to my work, I have small panicy feelings deep in my gut. And I know better. I know not to focus on that stuff and to just keep on with my own work and to focus on “what YOU want to work on” as profe JC Brown (friend, not committee member) says. But even if I think about all these things, I can’t seem to shake the panic or the sinking feeling I get whenever I read secondary sources written by historians (which is not often enough, believe me).

And the panic makes me want to avoid…everything, not even just my pinche dissertation. Yes friends, I’m in procrastination MODE. Oh yes, it has become a way of life, a cultural practice of living! For example, I’ve been putting off my taxes, but must do them by tomorrow because I’m going out of town to a conference (more on the conference in a later post). I also put off applying for a passport, so this morning I waited 2 entire hours at the post office and paid $160 for an expedited application so that I can go with mis manitos and mis primos to México in a few weeks. And I put off looking at those history syllabi that I’m supposed to be evaluating for official approval on behalf of the testing serpents. Now I should be working on my dissertation, but all I want to do is take a nap. For realz.

I know I’m not the only one who feels overwhelmed by this process or similar ones. And while I do think it is hard work, it’s a pretty cushy deal to be an academic. So why isn’t it easier to just get to working? Is it about getting over one’s self? Is it just a transition period? Will the panic ever go away? How do you work through the contradictions of being a radical academic? Or a brown woman academic? Or both? What are your stories?

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March 22, 2007

support young women with breast cancer! (and by extension, mi tocaya)

by la rebelde

Young Survival Coalition

Dear blog readers and fellow blogger@s,

A very good friend of mine, mi tocaya (her nickname is also Isa), whose inspiring training for the Boston Marathon I wrote about a few weeks ago, is raising money for the Young Survival Coalition, a great non-profit that supports action, advocacy and awareness about issues particular to young women who have breast cancer. This is a cause that she is very committed to. And, if she raises enough money, the cost of her entry in the Boston Marathon will be paid for.

Click here to donate.

Below is an excerpt about the Young Survival Coalition that Isa wrote in her blog, where she has a much longer description of the YSC. There you will also find that she keeps a running log of her experiences with the training process, complete with photos, little stories about the folks she passes on her runs and her exploration of Boston, and really cool maps (which show that she runs crazy far distances!). Please join me in supporting a wonderful cause and an amazing mujer!

Muchas gracias,
la rebelde.

women of all ages can and DO get breast cancer. More than 250,000 women under 40 will be living with breast cancer this year.

But without proper screening tools for young women they are being diagnosed late, often, devastating consequences follow.

There is also little research about fertility, pregnancy, hormonal impact, mortality rate and long-term survivorship issues for young women with cancer. And research that focuses on young Latinas and African-American women is almost non-existent.

Young Survival Coalition is the only international, non-profit network of breast cancer survivors and supporters dedicated to the concerns and issues unique to young women. Their motto, “Action, Advocacy, Awareness” has helped educate the medical, research and legislative community and persuade them to address these important issues.

They YSC is also a point of contact for young women living with breast cancer.

March 21, 2007

things that make you smile real big.

by la rebelde

Great day already today. And I want to share the goodness.

After staying up late last night working on the paper for an impending conference (and talking on the phone), I got up early and drove downtown for my weekly one-on-one Spanish lesson. As I through the mercadito de La Calle Olvera and over the bridge that crosses the 101, it started to hail and the temperature dropped suddenly. How’s that for the last day of winter? Brrrr! For sure, this day is not off to a good start, I thought as I ran across the street and ice pelted me from the heavens, and now I have to concentrate on speaking only Spanish for the next 90 minutes! Speaking Spanish has been difficult for me. Not because of outside pressure, but more because of my own anxieties about not being fluent in a language that I expect myself to be able to speak well, seeing as how I am nuevomexicana, and grew up in nuevo méxico around Spanish-speaking people and all. Well, I know most of my generation at home is in the same boat, but still. When I first sat down, my teacher asked me what I had done last week and I told her I’d been writing a paper presentation. And of course, she wanted to know what my paper was about, so then I had to explain it—analysis and all—in Spanish. Phew! But I felt good afterward, if only because I survived the explanation. Good thing I couldn’t hear myself from outside my own body…

On the way home from running errands, I decided to grab a bowl of pho at a restaurant near my apartment. I’ve had a hankering for pho for several days now–make that weeks–since my favorite pho place has been closed for the last month or so. And when my radio alarm clock sounded this morning, they were talking about pho on NPR. Now I really had to get some. And since I haven’t had anyone to with, I finally went by myself, which is something I don’t do terribly often since I moved to LA. I just don’t see many women eating alone in restaurants, so I feel conspicuous. But to hell with that, because the pho was yuuuuumy! And I treated myself to my favorite almond milk grean tea (iced, no boba) to sip while writing my paper at home. Lucky me, there was a “rainy day discount”–25% off–at my tea spot.

And if I wasn’t already feeling pretty good, my homie DJ Fuzzylogic, IM’d me this link. So cute. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will!

The link DJ FuzzyL sent me is much better and doesn’t have the annoying news anchor personalities, so definitely watch this and not only the one in the youtube box above. Sorry my webskills are too limited to figure out how to put this better one in the video box thingy on the blog.
Okay, back to writing.

March 18, 2007

life lessons.

by la rebelde

It’s a beautiful sunny Saturday. I have a paper that is due to my commentator in approximately 48 hours. The conference is in 2 ½ weeks. And I’m sitting in front of my computer procrastinating (as usual) when I’d rather be outside enjoying the weather. Luckily, though, the paper is relevant to my dissertation. If I do it right, I can kill two birds with one stone…so to speak.

Outside the window in my study area, the little boy who lives in the apartment above mine, who likes to run in circles as soon as he gets up at 7am every morning, is teaching himself to skateboard. He starts at the higher part of the sidewalk, carefully steadies himself on the board, and slowly rolls a few feet down the hill. Then, with a look of determined concentration on his face, he picks up the board, goes back to the original starting point and does the whole thing over again. After trying that dozens of times, he finally decides to just sit on the board and pedal with his hands, as if on a boat.

That’s totally how I would do it. But I would have fallen on my face a couple of times before figuring out the sitting thing. That’s why I don’t know how to ride a bicycle. (no joke.)

Maybe it’s a lesson on how to write this paper. Or maybe it’s a larger life lesson:
Get up early and with lots of energy. And when beginning something new, start slowly and carefully, but on your ass so you don’t fall and hurt yourself.
Kids can be so wise. :)

March 14, 2007

crossing state borders.

by la rebelde

You know those welcome signs that they post over freeways when you drive across state lines? Like, “Welcome to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia!” (Okay, so that’s not the WV state slogan anymore because it was derogatory, but you get what I’m talking about.) I had a friend in college who used to take pictures of all of those. So whenever we drove to the conferences of the East Coast Chicana/o Student Forum, he’d bust out his camara and snap as our car sped under the sign. I never did that, but there are many moments when state-border-crossing was quite memorable.

create your own personalized map of the USA
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Last August, as mi manito and I drove along I-40 from Burque to Los Angeles, we passed a sign indicating that we’d have to stop at a check point in about 5 miles at the California border. We, of course, thought it was a border patrol check point. Even though I was born in the states, the border patrol just freaks me out. As papá used to say when I was a kid, “They can deport you just for the color of your skin, or your last name.” Well if that’s not enough to strike fear in a child’s heart, I don’t know what is. So we turned down the music, stopped singing along with the playlist at the top of our lungs, and mentally prepared for the stop, both of us more serious than before. In the passenger seat, I put on my chanclas, which I had taken off over the course of the drive. We pulled up to the stop and this blonde white lady came to our window and cheerfully said with a slight twang, “Hi there! Are you traveling with any animals or plants, fruits or vegetables?” Say what? Manito was stunned. “No,” we said solemnly.

Manito said it took him a moment to realize she was speaking in English because all the other times he’s been stopped, the border patrol dude (and it had always been a dude, not a chick) was Mexican and only spoke to him in Spanish in order to get him (my brother) to respond only in Spanish. Well that’s just a dirty rotten trick, I tell you! But I digress… After driving on for about a mile, we both burst into uncontrollable laughter, manito poking fun of me about putting on my chanclas. (Actually, manito says “champlas” instead of “chanclas,” but I have no idea where the heck he got that from.) “What were you going to do if it HAD been the border patrol? Run away in your champlas?” he teased. Pues, of course! My first instinct is to run, and running in chanclas through the desert seemed better than running barefoot. (And hopefully they wouldn’t shoot me down with their guns.) Just another day in the militarized borderlandias…except this was just the California-Arizona border, not the U.S.-Mexico border.

Anyway, that was a really long way of saying that I got this map thing from Kisha, and I think it’s kinda fun!

It reminds me of those silly get-to-know-each-other games I make my students play at the start of the new semester. They’re annoying, but if they’re done right, they can be really useful introductions to the course. I always begin with the game, “2 truths and a lie,” which I make into an exercise about the interpretation of primary documents and so-called “objectivity.” I always go last and list the same 3 points. One of my “truths” is always that I’ve lived in 6 states and it’s the one that my students always think is my “lie.” (Truth be told, I never give a “lie.” If I ever teach enough in the same school, they might figure it out. But the mechanics of the exercise and its pedagogical uses is an entirely different post all together.)

Now that I moved to El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, I’ve lived in 7 states! So with all that moving around, I’ve visited a lot of places in the U.S. And no, I did not count the states that I only drove through–just the ones I actually visited.

March 11, 2007

random weather-related complaining.

by la rebelde

Most people who know me, know that I can be obsessive about the weather. When I was a little girl, my mom used to let me check the weather forcast every morning by calling the local AM radio station. I still check weather forcasts regularly–on the internet, on t.v., and most often on my cell phone.

The weather has been ridiculously warm lately. Tomorrow is predicted to be 95 degrees in “the valleys.” Warm…no, wait, hot weather like this—that comes in February or March—always throws me off a bit. It makes me apprehensive about the impending summertime heat, especially now that I do not have a/c. It reminds me of how much I love the springtime, when it happens… In case anyone was wondering, this is not springtime.

With this too-warm weather, I’ve come down with a bizarre sickness. It may be allergies. It may have begun with allergies. Anyway, my sore throat and stuffy nose left me apartment-bound for the last few days. I have done no research. I have not started on the paper that I’m presenting at a conference in less than three weeks, and which I owe to my commentator in one. Instead, I have a new love-hate relationship with my couch. And I’ve become well-acquainted with new internet-available prime time t.v. shows–most recently, Friday Night Lights. (They’re new to me anyway. Well, semi-new now that I’ve watched every episode to date.) I’ve also realized that open windows in clustered apartments means you can hear everything in range. I can especially hear the conversations of the adolescent boys who like to hang out on my stoop, right outside my living room window. (At least their spot is not underneath my bedroom window.) Right now they are talking about the pros and cons of fighting someone at school. Not that I’m evesdropping, but there is a silent break in the online-t.v.-watching every time the show reloads. Who knew teenage boys had such deep conversations.

And of course, being sick always makes me miss my mom. Yea, it was that kind of day today. But I’m sure I’ll feel better tomorrow if I think positive thoughts!

March 3, 2007

run, tocaya, run!

by la rebelde

One of my very good friends, mi tocaya, who I’ve known since the first semester of our first year in college, is training to run the Boston Marathon in just a few short weeks. She will be the second of my friends to run a full marathon in recent months. I’ve had other friends who’ve run smaller versions like the ½ or the 5K. I think all of them are incredibly impressive. And after reading mi tocaya’s blog which has, as of late, been focusing on her training experiences, I decided it was time to put on my running sneakers again.

I have not been to the gym in weeks, weeks I tell you! But it is always good to get back on the workout tip, if for no other reason than to avoid that pinche dissertation, but also for reasons which I have outlined earlier. So yesterday, rather than rushing to UCLA to do research in archives that I don’t like anyway, I put on my sneakers and trekked out of my apartment—away from my ‘puter and far, far away from los archivos—to the park just one mile from my apartment.

my sneakers. they’re bouncy and they don’t hurt my feet, my back or my legs. yes, i am a nike fan. no, this is not an ad for nike. and yes, i do know that they’re constructed with sweatshop labor, which, of course, is very, very bad.

After warming up with the walk to the park, I began my run (actually more of a jog, but I like to say “run” because it makes me feel more hip and fit), past small children chasing ducks around the pond, old Chinese people doing Tai Chi, and middle-age Mexican couples walking briskly around the park, chat chat chatting. For the first few minutes I feel great. I’m jogging at a good pace. I’m thinking about how perfect the weather is for running outside. I’m feeling the cool air rush past me. I’m soaking in the rays. I’m feeling good. But after one lap, my nose is running, my chest starts burning and I can’t stop wheezing. And yet, I decide to jog another lap. Because even though I have not been running regularly for the last few weeks, this has never happened to me, not even when I first started running. Or maybe it was because I’m masochistic. But I know I’m not THAT out of shape. I’m thinking I have weird l.a.-related allergies, ones I have not known before, ones that have to do with strange vegetation and smog.

In any case, I ran only about one mile and walked about 2.5. Pretty good for now I think–just as long as I keep putting on those sneakers. I’m not planning to train for a marathon any time soon. I just wanna get fit and maybe not look like I sit on my ass all day in front of a computer and some old dusty papers. But I do tip my cowgirl sombrero to my girls who’ve actually trained for a run or been consistent with running in any way. And I look forward to seeing the photos of mi tocaya when she crosses the finish line in chilly Boston next month. Thinking about the amazing mujeres in my life sometimes just makes me smile real big!

March 1, 2007

lunar new year on la placita.

by la rebelde

It is now the year of the pig (or I guess, the boar) and good things are supposed to come this year. I have never done the requisite cleaning of my living spaces in preparation for the new year. Usually, I give a quick vacuum to the main spaces without moving the furniture around to take care of hidden dust balls, vacuuming just like any other weekend. I normally don’t use the special vacuum cleaner attachment that gets in the nooks and crannies, the corners where fuzz collects in cheap, worn apartment carpet. But in years past, I have done a lot of thinking about metaphorical cleaning and organizing of my life, who I am, who I want to be, and how to become that incarnation of myself. This year is no different, but I am, I think, a slightly different person. (More on that in later posts.)

Thinking about the new year reminds me of family members, especiall
y on my Chinese American side, who I never got to know, whose stories I have pulled together from tidbits of information gathered here and there in conversations with my mother. My mom’s silence about her history is glaring to me as a historian, but her uneasy relationship with history is what makes her who she is, what makes her the strong woman she is. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that all of our relationships with histories are uneasy, whether or not you tell the stories over and over again.

Lunar New Year lanturns hung at the placita by Chinese Amerian Museum.

I missed the neighborhood celebrations of lunar new year this year because I was driving northward with M through California farmlands past unending cherry trees with fluffy pink blossoms and rows of itsy-bitsy green lettuce plants, all the while singing along with my new groovin’ playlist. I spent that time shuffling through dusty paper collections of the Immigration and Housing Records of California, straining to read the pencil-written field notes that sociologist Paul Taylor wrote in the 1920s-30s, trying to pull together the bits and pieces of stories of people who lived at the turn-of-the-20th century. If only I could travel through time and be a fly on the wall
! But time was not only spent with los archivos–there were reunions with good friends from college and grad school, friends who I only get to see rarely, who live in the bay, so close to LA but so very far away.

Upon return from our archival adventure (it’s always better to think of it as an adventure otherwise it’s just plain boring), I went with M to the plaza in downtown LA—to the area that was, a century ago, the home of the Chinese and Mexican people whose stories I am learning about. The plaza was alive with celebration like I had not seen before. On other visits, I have seen amazing (or semi-amazing) singers—mostly men—standing in the gazebo, singing mariachis at the top of their lungs. But this weekend, an indigenous Mexican dance group performed for a large gathering underneath colorful lanterns hung in celebration of the year of the pig. I pushed through the crowd to get a good view, ducking under elbows and around big dudes who could clearly see over me. This kind of thing only happened to me once before—when I was about 8 years old and my mom took us to the Moon Festival in downtown Alburquerque. We had red bean buns and watched puppet shows with rabbits in them.

When we got back to my apartment after an afternoon at the plaza, I attem
pted to make the bean thread dish that my makes every time I visit her at her house. And for the first time, since circa 1996, it came out almost as good as hers. That’s a lucky thing because the leftovers will surely last for several days. Good thing my friends can stomach my cooking!

So it does look like the pig is going to usher in the goodness, even if I didn’t dust between the books on the shelves and under cositas on my altar. Happy lunar new year y’all!