Archive for August, 2007

August 29, 2007

a new low.

by la rebelde
typing snoopy is from snoopy.com.


When writing, you know you’ve truly hit a low when your method of procrastination is browsing JSTOR for 4-5 hours. Before you know it, you’ve downloaded half a dozen articles. And you’ve read none of them (only glanced at the first few pages). And you probably won’t ever really read them, unless you’re forced to for writing, researching or teaching purposes.

It sounds a lot better than watching t.v. or window-shopping on the internet all day. But it just means I’m really avoiding writing by pretending to be productive.

I have a bad habit of putting off the nitty-gritty of my writing process until the last possible minute. Like I am now. I have a deadline in less than a week. And I’m only now really getting going, despite the long hours I’ve put in working on revising this piece.

What do you do to procrastinate and how do you avoid it? What do you do to get motivated?

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August 25, 2007

tofu.

by la rebelde


This weekend I went to the annual Tofu Festival in Little Tokyo with an old college friend. I’d heard so much about it that I just couldn’t miss it. And once I found out another friend of mine was in the promotional tofu-eating contest that aired on the evening news, I just had to go. When we got there, they stamped our hands with the word tofu! (too bad it doesn’t show up well in the photo or I would’ve posted it here. Tofu Festival is also on myspace.)

Armed with sunscreen, sunglasses and food tickets, we strolled among the booths, trying all kinds of different dishes. Mis amigas liked the tofu tostadas the best—but I just thought it was pico de gallo with chopped tofu mixed in. It was good, but I wasn’t as impressed as they were. It’s amazing how much better fresh tofu is than that packaged kind. I stuffed myself with fried tofu, dipped in peanut sauce with sriracha. Yum! I could have gone for some tofutti too, but the booths started closing before I could think of it. Luckily I got to the blacklava booth before they shut down for the weekend and I bought this fabulous t-shirt.

When I saw it on the wall, I couldn’t resist! Asiaphiles irk me so! And Blacklava is awesome. I think my next purchase will be the brown sweatshirt with JUSTICE on it. But I’ll have to wait for my fellowship check to come in.

That evening I spoke with my mom on the phone. She said she can’t help but feel a little envious that I live in a place where all these foods are so accessible. “You should enjoy it while you can.” She said. “When you leave, you’ll miss it more than if you never had it.” Huh, I hadn’t been thinking about the fact that I probably won’t live in LA forever. I love how my mom likes to state the obvious things that you don’t want to think about in the moment.

But she is right, there aren’t any tofu festivals in small-midwestern-college-town or any of those other midwestern/appalachian places where I’ve lived. When I lived in NYC, my supervisor, who’s also Chinese Am, had been in California visiting family and returned to our office with tales of the amazing selection at Ranch 99 market. It became legendary amongst the APIAs in our office, since none of us had ever experienced this kind of Asian superstore. We wanted to see this “isle of nothing but ramenfor ourselves.

But when I first moved to LA, I had trouble getting acclimated to the suburban Chinatown thing, of which markets like Ranch 99 are exemplary. I knew how to shop in Chinatown NY, but this whole strip-mall-grocery-store thing, where you have to drive, park and go inside was a different story. If you decide they don’t quite have what you want, you can’t just walk to the next store and see what they have. You have to get in the car and brave the traffic again. What a drag! And you can’t buy less than like 5 pounds of baby bokchoy or 10 bulbs of garlic or a giant sack of ginger root at once. Not good for the single person. It all took some getting used to. And to be honest, I’m not sure I’m used to it yet.

But I am inspired to make a run to the Ranch 99 for some fresh tofu this weekend. Hmmm. It’s good to live in LA.

August 21, 2007

a skirmish in my head.

by la rebelde

I’m sitting in my favorite tea shop, wracking my brain, attempting to write and trying to ignore the people around me. For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on turning my MA thesis into an article submission. It has been much harder than I thought. I’ve narrowed my argument, since I’m only allowed 10,000 words (including footnotes). Actually, I’ve changed my argument because a) I was juggling too many arguments at once, b) my old argument raises a major question about my archival research—one that I cannot answer, but don’t actually think is that important, even though I recognize it’s a weakness of my discussion, and c) I decided to focus on the themes that are related to how I want to define myself as a historian. (kisha helped me work through this–thank goodness for my fabulous grad student homegirls!)

This change makes me feel a bit like I’m venturing into unfamiliar territory. It is not the same argument I wrote in my thesis—well, it sort of is, but not quite. The themes will be more relevant to my dissertation. Even so, it’s a scary thing to change the focus now—four years later—when I spent so much time and energy on the old argument. I feel stuck and stumped, like I can’t work myself out of the place where I was when I originally wrote the thesis. I know I’m a different historian now, a more well-read one with more well-developed analytical tools. But it’s like a skirmish in my head—part wants to move on and develop these arguments with all the stuff I’ve learned in the last few years, and the other part wants to stay where I was. The former part wants to pull the latter out of the rut, but there is resistance.

The other frustrating thing is that this article is not going to be a part of my dissertation. So whenever I sit down to work on it, I feel like I should be working on my dissertation. Even though I know that this article will help me in the end…if it gets accepted somewhere. But you know, I really want to finish…and soon!

So I’m sitting in my favorite tea shop, trying to work through all of this, when in walks a straight teenage couple dressed head-to-toe in well-thought-out punky grunge. They sit directly in my line of vision and proceed to make out in between bites of fruity icy dessert dish. If my gaze wanders away from my computer screen, as it often does when I’m thinkin’ hard, I have no where else to look but at them. I can’t stop myself from glaring, I mean, straight-up mad-doggin’. I’m not totally against p.d.a., but seriously, c’mon. It’s really easy to displace my frustration with the writing process on other, unknown people. But I really just want them to go somewhere else, have some safer sex and stop making out in front of me while I’m trying to get my write on.

Back to the skirmish…I mean, the writing.

August 8, 2007

what are you?

by la rebelde

Mi manito took my 8-year-old Sobrino to the movies, during fiesta time in northern nuevo méxico. At the theater they ran into young girl from a nearby town, still decked out in her dress and crown, clearly proud to have been named queen this year. (btw-fiesta queens are usually seniors in high school—17 or 18 years old.) Manito introduced Sobrino who was standing next to him.

“So what, did you have jungle-fever?” she asked Manito.

“You did not just say that to me in front of my son!” he responded, making his annoyance clear.

“What are you?” she asked, turning to Sobrino.

“I’m Mexican!” he stated defiantly.

She was taken aback by his confidence. “Oh yea? Well, what’s your mom?”

Sobrino looked up at Manito, unsure about how to respond. “It’s okay. Be proud of who you are. Tell her about your mom.”

“My mom is black,” he said.

“See, I was right!” she exclaimed, self-satisfied.

This was the story Manito relayed to me a couple weeks ago. He was real pissed. As was I, upon hearing the story. This was, after all, a fiesta queen. And if we understand correctly, she was chosen by her peers and her community to represent her town as queen. She must have good grades and speak well in front of a crowd. To paraphrase Manito, that’s a bullshit way to represent. Oh, and also freakin’ racist. Yea dude.


When I was a kid, I always hated the “what are you?” question. And hearing about Sobrino’s experience makes me more angry than I felt when it has happened to me. Actually, the “what are you?” question bothers me less now than it did then, but that may be because these kinds of questions tended to surface only when my classmates saw my mom. Otherwise it probably didn’t occur to them that I’m Chinese Am too—until I started going to Chinese School (which only lasted for a year) or when they saw my middle name. I didn’t know how to respond to it. Even now, it surprises me—making me take a brief moment of stunned silence before I respond. And I usually have to decide whether the person is actually ignorant, an asshole, or just careless with his/her words. I see the multiracial issue taking shape in other ways in my life, but not so much in these overt ways anymore.

Manito and I discussed the pros and cons of different responses to the “What are you?” question. And whether stating the obvious—“I’m a human being”—can be misunderstood to mean that you are not proud of who you are. Or if asking the same question back—“what are YOU?”—does any good. Because if the person is pendej@ enough to ask it in the first place, they probably are too pendej@ to understand how fucked up it is.

The fact is, the “what are you?” question denies your humanity. It is more a statement than a question. Most of the time there’s an underlying judgement of sex that mixture implies. And after that, it depends on how the conversation goes. Maybe it’s the half-this-half-that thing which I HATE with a loathing indescribable. Or maybe it’s the oh-mixed-people-are-so-beautiful thing (which I tend to think is true, but that’s probably also linked to some kind of arrogant, leo-ish sorta thing–and then again, who isn’t mixed anyhow?). Or maybe it’s the oh-what-an-interesting-mix or the aren’t-you-just-a-model-of-the-American-melting-pot bullshit. Whichever way the conversation goes, it will most likely make you out to be only partially human (and therefore either an animal or not of this earth), and will probably mathematically divvy up your body parts across the globe, reifying all those socially constructed, geopolitical boundaries.

Funny. That fiesta queen (who’s probably related to us in some way because everyone from that area is) didn’t ask Manito the “what are you?” question. And Sobrino didn’t say anything about being Chinese too. The thing is, when the “what are you?” question comes up, it’s only a moment–but it’s a moment with strong ripple effects.

So, how to prepare mi sobrino to respond to this question and questions like it. It will surely come up in his life again. And you’d think that his papá and his tía, being multiracial people who have thought a lot about this sort of thing, would have an answer. But we don’t. Manito’s response, not because Sobrino is multiracial, but because he is brown (meaning not white), is to foster a sense of pride. He wants Sobrino to know and love his familia, to understand our histories and cultures, to feel as comfortable with himself as possible, so that he can confront other obstacles. Maybe that’s all we can strive for.

August 4, 2007

check marks.

by la rebelde

I’ve gotten some great responses on my previous post about commenting on student papers. And I’ve been thinking more about check marks and whether or not they are useful.

Despite the disdain I expressed in the post, I have to admit that I’ve used check marks on my students’ papers before. But I am always clear with the students, when I return their papers, that check marks mean I’ve read that portion of their papers, that I am following what they are saying. This is not ideal of course, but it is what graduate student teaching assistants must do when they are grading…oh, 50-200 essays over a week or two. I am usually guilty of writing too many comments, of spending too much time on giving feedback and trying to synthesize their arguments, at the expense of my own work while grading. I know that sometimes I just have to get through the essays, but I often feel badly when I can’t give more meaningful feedback. Except with final exams, because I know they will most likely not pick them up.

When I was working on my MA thesis several years ago, I had a profe who provided no analytical feedback, but only wrote check marks and circled punctuation mistakes in my citations (despite my note informing him of a glitch in my Endnote program, which I would certainly fix by the time I submitted the final draft). His most substantial comment was that I needed to beef up my footnotes, so that I could prove to him that I knew the literature–that I had done my homework and could demonstrate that I was a historian, not someone in American Studies. Pretty ridiculous, I know. I asked him, point-blank, if he had any suggestions for my analysis or my argument. He sidestepped the question. I remember feeling that his red markings on my pages were only condescending and patronizing. (This was also because of some horribly mean and sexist remarks he made about my ability to finish on time–which I didn’t and he made sure of that. But that’s another post that I may or may not ever write.) Luckily, I don’t have anyone like that on my committee now.

Four years later, I am much more confident and knowledgeable about my work. At this point, check marks, along with words like “yuck,” only mean that the reader is not engaging with me, my ideas, or my writing. And maybe it’s a matter of differing approaches to mentorship or pedagogy. Perhaps, just because I would give more substantial feedback for my students and colleagues, doesn’t mean I should expect everyone to give the same. I’m still thinking about that one.

I guess what I am wondering about is the usefulness of check marks on graduate student work–particularly work that is done at the a.b.d. stage. Isn’t the purpose of feedback at that time supposed to address questions of engagement with the field, structures of arguments, rigor of analysis? Or is this a bigger question of mentorship? If being a good mentor–in whatever capacity–is one’s goal, how does one approach feedback on papers? And to take that one step further, if it is part of one’s political convictions that creating mentorship relationships is a necessary process for building community in an academic setting (and beyond), especially for people from marginalized groups, what is our responsibility to our students and peers when it comes to giving feedback on writing? What do you think?

August 3, 2007

yuck.

by la rebelde

I think the word “yuck”–and other words like it–should be banned from professor comments on student writing.

Seeing this word scrawled across my writing brings on a series of thoughts: “Say whaaaat? You said yuck because… You don’t like my word choice? I need to explain more? I should scrap that whole sentence? Aw hell, I got no damn clue!”

So should check marks. They are even more meaningless. It’s not constructive criticism, nor is it useful.

Dang! I can’t read anyone’s mind–I wasn’t blessed with that gift.

I’m just saying.

August 2, 2007

personality.

by la rebelde

I saw this over on anastasia’s blog and then later on kisha’s too. This explains why I hate the library so much! I’m really not meant to work in isolation. I don’t actually think of myself as that extraverted, but then again, I am a Leo–I have a fierce roar but I don’t bite unless it’s called for. Eh hem.

Click to view my Personality Profile page

Here’s what the description says:

ENFPs are introspective, values-oriented, inspiring, social and extremely expressive. They actively send their thoughts and ideas out into the world as a way to bring attention to what they feel to be important, which often has to do with ethics and current events. ENFPs are natural advocates, attracting people to themselves and their cause with excellent people skills, warmth, energy and positivity. ENFPs are described as creative, resourceful, assertive, spontaneous, life-loving, charismatic, passionate and experimental.

It makes me think that being a historian is not in my personality type. You’d think my students would listen to me more. After all, the fictional character known as the Fresh Prince of Bel Aire has the same reading. It reminds me of the first time I paid a visit to my (now) favorite hairstylist. She gave me this CRAZY cut–short and spiky all over. She also gave me red/pink highlights, which I loved more than I expected. When she asked what I thought, I remember telling her, “you know I’m a historian.” And she said, “so what, you trying to be funky?” That’s it–funky historiadora. Doesn’t seem like it bodes well for getting lots of disciplined work done. But maybe it’ll help me tell a good story!