Archive for May, 2008

May 27, 2008

got muses?

by la rebelde

An amiga recently shared with me her experience attending a creative writing workshop. Like me, she is an academic whose field of study continually recreates an investment in different kinds of objectivity—quite different from the kind of poetry and flower talk that her fellow participants discussed. They had to share poems with each other. It made me think, gosh, I’ve never written poetry—in fact, my version would probably be to write a narrative and then press the return-button at different points that looked…nice. I struggle with creativity in my writing. Creativity is not part of the standard historian training package. But how to find my own voice in my academic writing, or any writing?

My advisers have recently critiqued me for “letting historiography overpower my own voice”—as in, relying on established scholars to say what I want to say for me. I get that I should do that. In fact, I didn’t want to do that in the first place, but I thought I had to. Anyway, I’m working on developing my writing voice. I mean, I have lots of ideas that I can speak about for hours, but writing it is a different story.

At amiga’s workshop, some folks discussed how they lost their muses. According to wikipedia, in Greek mythology, muses are

“a sisterhood of goddesses or spirits, their number set at nine by Classical times, who embody the arts and inspire the creation process with their graces through remembered and improvised song and stage, writing, traditional music, and dance.”

But, in my world, is it a person, place or thing? If not a person, does it have a personality? (For some reason it conjures up memories of some movie with Sharon Stone or some other blonde actress who was supposed to be a sexy muse….but I digress.) Would a muse help one with creativity in writing—even a historian? I’m just not sure I ever had one (or many). And if I didn’t know I had one in the first place, maybe I’ve lost mine without my knowing it. And if I didn’t know I lost my muse, it may have been gone for a long, long time.

***

“I’d rather work on my dissertation, than work on this conference paper,” I told another amiga a couple weeks ago. I wasn’t kidding. I’d reached a point where I felt that writing my dissertation would somehow be easier—because there wouldn’t be the pressure of writing a concise and interesting narrative in 10 pages or less. Or maybe it was because I kept psyching myself out by focusing on the larger project instead of focusing on the 10 pages. Either way, it was not a good situation.

Later on, a third amiga popped up on my gchat to see how my paper had gone and whether I’d submitted it in to the commenter. I had. “How do you feel about it?” she asked. “It’s not my best work…but then again, maybe it is—and that’s the scary thing.”

The thing about being in the dissertation stage is that I know a whole heck of a lot of stuff. I also know good writing when I see it. The process of making my writing good? That’s a whole other story—yet to be realized. At the same time, I know my thinking is so much sharper than it was in years past—I’ve worked hard at that I’m pretty sure that my writing has improved too. But because now it’s my turn to write new stuff, this process has become a bit overwhelming.

***

The last few weeks have been a writing disaster. But not for lack of inspiration–I like my dissertation topic. For that reason, luckily, I have not stopped writing. And I have not become paralyzed by the academic banter—I refuse to. But I have potentially, unknowingly lost my muse. And if this is the case, then I need to find one (or more than one). So, queridos readers, do you have a muse? Have you ever lost your muse? How did you find it again or keep it from leaving?

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May 9, 2008

not from Los Angeles.

by la rebelde

Whenever I meet new people, they inevitably ask me if I’m from Los Angeles. Of course, I am not. I tend to think that fact is fairly obvious, but maybe I’m wrong.

Most of the time people figure out that I’m not from Los Angeles because they begin the conversation assuming that I am. They want to know where in LA I grew up (they always assume it’s east of the river). That’s when I have to explain that I’m actually from Albuquerque. It may be hard to believe, but there are a lot of nuevomexicanos in Southern California. We’ve been migrating out here for centuries and the migration pattern goes the opposite direction too. My grampa talks about this all the time. Not all of us who look like Mexicans and call ourselves Mexicans historically came from the region that is now Mexico. I’m just saying.

Just a few months ago, a new acquaintance was so surprised when I said I am not from Los Angeles that she sputtered, “but you have that LA Latina look.” I remember thinking, Dang, already? I hadn’t even lived here for a year at that point! It must be your impeccable eyeliner, my amiga joked later. Very funny, funny girl, I’d responded. “What is the LA Latina look?” I asked. “Well, you know, all the LA Latinas have a little look,” the woman went on. “All the black girls in LA have a little look and all the Asian girls have a little look.” Hmm…I decided not to out myself as Chinese Am too—that might have thrown her for a loop. In case you were wondering, she was “Latina.”

In academic circles, people assume I’m from LA for three reasons: First–because where else would a Chinese American/Chicana be from? Second–because I study the histories of Chinese and Mexican people in Los Angeles. And third—because if you go to school in Tejas or the Midwest, why else would you study LA (as opposed to some city in the Midwest or Tejas)? But the truth is, I came to my project by asking a series of questions about the interrelatedness of Asian American and Chicana/o histories and how those stories took place in the context of overlapping processes of conquest/empire, questions that I have been asking since I was in college (and that was a long time ago). Those questions (and the railroad tracks) led me from Nuevo México to El Paso to Chicago to Tucson to San Diego (briefly) and finally to Los Angeles. Contrary to what some might think, I did not come here because I idealize Los Angeles’ multiracial populations or because I believe in the kind of LA/SoCal/Bay-area exceptionalism that I read about in the books and hear about time and time again in the voices of Cali brown folks who just miss their home.

I suppose it’s good for me to be able to articulate how I came to my project and my relationship to this here ciudad. Funny, when I lived in New York City, no one thought I was a (real) “New Yorker” and my mom grew up there!

May 6, 2008

on business.

by la rebelde

I’ve been away from Los Angeles for a while. All “on business” as they say. My favorite part about traveling “on business” is that I get to reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in a long time. (Obviously, “business” is not the central thing.) I’d forgotten what it was like to be around amigas/os constantly. When I was in small-midwestern-college-town, I was almost a social butterfly! I say almost because I wasn’t trying to be social—I just enjoyed hanging out with friends. It was a work-hard-play-hard kind of lifestyle—studying until 11 or 12 and hitting up my favorite lounge bar for a tequila gimlet (my favorite drink, in case you were wondering) before going home. Very different from the life I lead in LA, where amigas/os are harder to come by. Now, back in my apartment, I’m reminded of what it’s like to be alone again.

Well, I’m not completely alone, actually. My good amiga has been crashing in my study while she completes her comprehensive exams, which she has a week to do. It’s nice to know someone else is around, even if just for a few days. And just like several of my LA friends before her, she’ll be moving up north, to the bay area, in a couple weeks. I’m happy for her, but sad to see her go.

I spent this last semester exceedingly worried about my funding situation for the next school year (which also meant I put unnecessary stress on myself to write faster, but that’s another post altogether). I poured over fellowship and grant applications, hoping that I’d get one so that I could stay in Los Angeles. So that I wouldn’t have to go back to small-midwestern-college-town where white liberals abound and where I too easily fall into the (un)comfortable space of invisibility—privileged invisibility. So that I could feel more settled and postpone the inevitable academic process of uprooting my home and my life just one more year. So that I could continue getting to know the spaces and, more importantly, the communities who live in the legacy of the histories that I’m trying to learn about.

After much thought and agony—and a pile of rejection letters—I decided it would be worth taking out loans and possibly teaching so that I could stay in LA. And then I got one! I haven’t gotten the official letter yet, but I got a fellowship that will pay for my food and shelter for one more year. I should be happier than I am, because, hell, I’m a privileged-ass person in this world. But I’m anxious about what lies in store for the next year—whether I’ll find new friends and a larger community. And whether I’ll be able to bust out this pinche dissertation, so I can (hopefully?) move on to a post-doc or a job situation. I guess time will tell. In the meantime, I shall write.