Archive for May, 2009

May 27, 2009

on finishing.

by la rebelde

So…I’ve been dealing with a pretty difficult and stressful decision over the last few weeks:   whether or not to leave Los Angeles and move back to small-midwestern-college-town at the end of the summer.  And I think I’m about 90% decided on moving.  Why would you leave sunshine and brown people, you ask?  I need to finish up this pinche dissertation and finally get my Ph.D. on.

I need to make a final decision very soon, if only to stop stressing about it and make some plans.  And also, so I can stop bugging my lovely amigas about it.  Sigh.

Here they are, some of the messy and sometimes contradictory pros and cons of it all, in no particular order.

Pros:

  • two super close friends who are also trying to finish up, who will likely stick it out with me for many hours at the coffeeshops when we write and then celebrate the little victories with me over tequila gimlets
  • academic community who I will inevitably run into daily on the street, in the hallways and in the cafes
  • regular access to my committee profes
  • library privileges at one of the best university libraries in the country (sorry UCLA and Spiffyton, you don’t compare)
  • workshops and resources for the impending job market in the fall
  • less time may pass before my unconscious body would be found, should I accidentally slip in the shower and knock myself out on the edge of the tub (that may sound ridiculous and morbid, but hey, since I don’t get to see LA friends very often, it’s something I think about from time to time)

Cons:

  • the 3 dark months, which will be horrifyingly cold and wet (and which will inevitably turn my skin back to that weird putrid gray color from lack of sunlight)
  • lots and lots of white liberals (hey, you gotta love them sometimes, but they can be exhausting) and very few brown people (and by brown I mean not white), which also has the unfortunate side-effect of vastly limiting my dating pool (not that I date a lot in LA, but I’m just saying)
  • fewer options to enjoy the nourishing food of my peoples and much less fresh produce at the mercado
  • little access to my archivos
  • very far familia in nuevo méxico (although, closer to my mama)
  • another expensive and time-consuming relocation (I would not even break even on the lower rental costs in small-town, and it would take away about a month of writing time.  But on the flip-side, I might be able to write more productively from over there.)
  • the possibility that I could get stuck in small-midwestern-college-town for more than a year, should I not finish and/or not get a gig for Fall 2010  (this is the BIGGEST CON and is possibly the one that is holding onto that last 10%)

The hard part about this decision is that there are no guarantees.  I could write from LA and fly back to small-town for a handful of 2-week trips.  Or I could write from small-town and fly back to LA for a quick archival visit if I need to.  What it comes down to, it seems, is lifestyle…and which place will provide a situation that will be good for me in the long run.  As one of my amigas says, “you will be fine no matter where you decide to be.”  And I know she is right.

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May 22, 2009

embracing solitude.

by la rebelde

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I spent a couple days this week at the Spiffy-ton library–not researching in los archivos like before.  Just writing.  My colegas recommend that I write there because in the “reading room” you are not alone.  You are not alone.  There are many others hunched over in the darkness, typing away. The only light, it seems, comes from the brass desk lamps–one at each desk–that shine on books and documents propped up under them.  The lamps and the eery blue-ish glow of laptop screens reflecting on pale faces adorned with spectacles.  I am often the youngest one there–or at least one of the only ones without a head of white hair.  The room has that old library feel like those old ivy schools back east.  All four walls are two stories high, covered floor-to-ceiling with books. There are no windows and no skylights.  It feels like a dungeon to me.

At 11:45 most folks begin to trickle out for lunch, meeting up with other scholars who frequent the Spiffy, most of whom have come to town for an intense visit to look at all that old dusty stuff they keep in the basement vaults somewhere beneath where we sit.  A couple of times, I have had pleasant conversations with well-established visiting scholars, who, like me, have no one else to eat lunch with.  We talk about the beautiful botanical gardens, our research, our home institutions.

It is a nice place to get lots of work done, but I can’t seem to get on board with the gushing excitement everyone else seems to feel about working there.  It may be real pretty, but it is, after all, a private and very exclusive library that requires an extensive process to prove one’s scholarly business in order to enter the building.  Nothing demonstrates exclusion like 10-foot-high iron fencing stretching a few miles around the perimeter.  And as a young-looking brown woman, I have been chased down the hallway while entering with a group of white scholars because the receptionist didn’t get a good look at my research badge.  Once I was turned away at the gate when the grounds were closed to the public (even though the library was open) because I didn’t look like a scholar to the guard (even though I showed him my research badge, he said it was closed that day–and when I inquired the following day at the library, it turned out that the library actually had been open).  I heard once that they leave a little gate open on the side of the grounds for 30 min every morning so that the Latina/o staff–gardening and custodial workers–don’t have to walk the extra mile around to the main gate.  These workers have been the most friendly to me.  I may be a good historian.  Heck, I may even be great one day.  But I don’t think I will ever feel comfortable at the Spiffy.  Not that the university setting is much better, but somehow it’s different.

You may not be alone while writing at the Spiffy, but writing is a lonely process regardless.  My mom, who just finished her Ph.D. last fall, keeps telling me that I need to embrace my solitude.  “I know you are a social person, but you don’t really need a social life right now.  You just need to write,” she’d said on the phone last week.  A few days later, a mentor-friend told me that writing a dissertation is not a human(izing) process, thereby confirming my barely-suppressed feelings of anxiety about isolation and lack of community.  A lot of academics tend toward the hermit-ish, but I have never been one of them.  And so, I am trying to embrace my solitude.  And I am deciding whether or not to move back to small-midwestern-college-town for what better be my final year of dissertation-writing.  And in the meantime I will keep going to the Spiffy.  And hopefully some days my brown colegas will be there.  And I will keep going to my favorite coffee shops (despite the hipsters).  And I will keep writing.

May 3, 2009

misunderstandings.

by la rebelde

“this morning

the people hanging out

by the coffee shop

laugh and languish

their carefree tourist manner void of history, of memory

neither attachment nor sentiment to time and place

no scars as enduring testaments

to the questions posed, the answers given”

–Leo Romero, “One Last Cruise: Taos Plaza”

Over the last couple months, my tío has been sending me email letters once a week, updating me on familia and sharing his writing. He’s been writing stories of his childhood and stories he remembers from the elders. It’s his latest post-retirement project. Clearly story-telling runs in the familia. But more on that later…

Last week, when an amiga shared with me the work of nuevomexicano poet, Leo Romero, I wanted to pass it along. I enjoy many of them, but this poem about Taos Plaza was especially striking to me because it tells the story of how the plaza has changed with the influx of large numbers of white hippie types and artists. Back in the day, local people—and by local people I mean, mexicano (no they don’t generally call themselves that in NM, but I do) and native people whose familias go way, WAY back on that tierra—used the plaza for everyday life, like groceries and sodas, passing time together, community events and meeting primos (if you’re from northern nuevomexico, you know that calling someone primo is not only about cousins, but is often a term of endearment and confianza). Back then, the plaza was not for perusing pastel-colored objectifying tourist-oriented artwork. And not for searching for cheap imported kitschy fake southwestern crap like teeny clear plastic boxes of “Mexican jumping beans,” tacky t-shirts and mass produced pottery, like it is today. But I digress.

I emailed the poem to mis manitos, prima and primo, like I usually do, and this time I included my tío. The next day, my tío wrote back very excitedly: Congratulations! I guess we will be planning a trip to small-midwestern-college-town to see you graduate! When I read your email, my heart leaped with joy about your accomplishments! He’d seen my “professional” signature, which says I’m a “Doctoral Candidate” and mistook it for an announcement on having completed the degree.

His email was so warm and so genuine, that I almost didn’t have the heart to write back and tell him that I’m not done, that it will be at least another year before I can even think about a graduation, that this has been a rough year and I’ve fallen so far behind with my pinche dissertation. But I did write back—within three minutes of his message—clarifying that I’m not graduating…not yet.

Then this morning my papá called to tell me that my tío had been over to visit, had informed my papá and my abuela of my news, and that abuelita “had better start packing her suitcases, because we have a graduation to attend!” Papá was worried that I’d told my tío before telling him. Primo called too, just to clarify, and asked if I was going to break the news to my tío or if I wanted him to.  Who knows what more is left of the fallout.

Even though I knew it already (well… sorta), it’s heartening to know how much my tío supports my efforts at this Ph.D. thing.  And even though we haven’t talked about it much, I know that we share the commitment toward story-telling, toward recognizing the importance of time and place in (re)creating histories and living memories.