Archive for ‘pinche dissertation’

August 30, 2011

one year ago.

by la rebelde

On this day, one year ago, I filed my pinche dissertation.  Over the last month I have thinking a lot about where I was, spiritually, this time last year.  My soul had been bruised deeply, but still I kept writing, kept reading, kept thinking, kept feeling.  Read. Write. Read. Write.  Everyday.  Make the deadline.  Cite the right books, articles, and arguments.  Prove you are worthy of their approval.

Be the scholar they say you can’t be.
Be the activist-scholar they don’t want you to be.
Be the love you imagine it possible and necessary to be.

On my birthday last year, my friends pleaded with me to take a short break.  “Even just two hours to celebrate over brunch!” I finally gave in.  “But only for 2 hours!” I’d said.  Manito C came to keep me company for a couple days.  He read novels while I wrote.  Friends who live far away called to check in on me, read my writing, helped me hold on to what I had earned.  They are phenomenal.

All you need is a signature.  The only way I finished was to write from the heart.  I’m still learning how to do that.

On this day, one year ago, I became a Doctor.  It was confirmed with the small, but not-so-small, email  from my U, attached to which was a .pdf of a certificate saying I’d completed all the steps, jumped through all the hoops, checked off all the boxes big and small, to attain the degree.  It was the most anti-climactic moment of my entire educational experience.

And then I slept for three weeks.

Today my friend and I were making small talk with a woman at a coffeeshop.  She asked if I was a college student.  Before I could reply, my friend said, no she’s a professor!  Sometimes my friends are more excited about it than I am.  I still feel weird saying I’m a professor.  But I am one.  The woman said I look “too young to be a professor.”  Funny, my abuela said that to my profesora a few years ago. I guess professors are supposed to be stuffy white-haired old men with tweed, instead of spunky 30-something brown women in mini-skirt, hoop earrings and purple nail polish.

Healing is a long process.  Along the way, I realized the process is as much about the events of the last year as it is the historia of my Self, and the recasting of my spirit from a stronger place, a place of love and community.  I’m glad to be here, no longer there, moving toward where I want to be, and creating new stories.

June 20, 2011

all of us.

by la rebelde

That’s me and Manito D in the photo.  Last weekend, my abuelita threw a giant graduation party for my prim@s, Manito D and I in Taos.  She invited 250 of our closest relatives and friends to celebrate at the Taoseño.  The Taoseño is an important building in our family because back in the day, it was a bowling alley, and my abuelit@s owned it for a short time during the 1950s.  Now it’s a favorite gathering place for family functions because the bar area (where the bowling lanes used to be) is big enough to host large parties.  They also have pretty tasty enchiladas.  Can’t go wrong there!

Anyway, I hadn’t had a chance to *really* celebrate finishing the pinche ph.d.  I’d gone out for drinks after my defense, and friends treated me to nice dinners here and there, which was great!  And I love them — I have great friends.  But I pretty much spent the next few months mulling over the mean things some profes said about me and my work.  Critique on your work is one thing, but critique on your integrity is another.  Yeah, still getting over that.

So the celebration was soul lifting because it was my family, my elders, who told me over and over how proud of me they are, how big an achievement it is for me, for us.  I definitely could not have done it without the hard work of those who came before me, or without the love and support of friends and family.  The degree isn’t about me, it’s about all of us.

Until a couple days ago, I hadn’t had a chance to read all of the beautiful cards I received that day.  Two, in particular, got me all teary-eyed.  One was from my older primo David, who is a healer.  At the party he came up to me, hugged me and told me that my grandpa is proud of me and watching down from heaven.  And he gave me a bendición.  I wish I had been able to talk to him more that day.  The other was from my good, good amiga, Nicole. She has an amazing gift for words that I can only hope to emulate:

“What I wish for you on this day of family celebration is that the difficulties lift for a moment so you can truly see/feel, as I do, just how much you have accomplished, how your life and work honors your family, your elders, your community.  Be proud of yourself, and everything you have done to get to this place.  You lift all of us with you.”

I will be forever thankful.

April 5, 2011

starting place.

by la rebelde

So, I have a presentation coming up.  Not the usual dry academic kind where one often begins with a good story and ends up trailing off into an abyss of monotony, but monotony about really important things like, you know, social justice, and the creativity and strength of those who came before us in the face of imperialism.  This time I have to talk about my academic “journey” to a group of aspiring academics at my small-midwestern-college alma mater–undergraduate seniors who have been placed on the Ph.D. track, like I was.  The administrators of the program said they chose me because I’m “real” and “NOT boring.”  Ha!  I guess I should take that as a compliment.

I know they want me to be an example of someone who “made it,” to demonstrate that it is possible to get all the way through a doctoral program and come out a model of academic achievement and still be “real.”  On paper, I have been one of the lucky privileged ones.  I did finish the program at an elite institution.  I got a fancy postdoc in a location where I want to live, during an incredibly tight market.  But the costs were extremely high. (And I’m not just referring to my student loans!)  During the last year of my dissertation-writing, I experienced one of the worst soul-crushing emotional traumas ever in my life.  To be honest, I’m not sure it was all worth it.

The only way I got through the last bit, was to remind myself that I decided to go to graduate school for good reasons–reasons that I believed in, reasons that people who had greatest power over my future and, at that moment my livelihood, did not share.  And fortunately I had incredibly supportive friends and family who believed in me and checked in on me.  I am still healing, but I am stronger.

I know I’m not alone in struggling with the contradictions of being part of, and resisting, the academic industrial complex.  For this presentation and in most other instances, my story, my work, and my knowledge are commodities that are supposed to make advisers and institutions look good.  And so, I don’t think I can give the kind of celebratory pro-grad school presentation that they expect of me.  I can’t say “hooray academia!” when I’m really thinking, “fuck that crazy shit and go do something else that will make you happy!”  But, there are many lessons learned.  And that seems a good place to start.

March 28, 2010

did you run?

by la rebelde

When I was small—maybe 7 or 8—I was fascinated by my abuelo’s story about when he came home from the war.  I don’t remember his words, but I do remember the image in my head, which had nothing to do with war, but more to do with coming home after being away for a long, long time.  I imagined him, a young man, walking with his pack, wearing those old boots he always had on and a white t-shirt, his shirt in his hand.  I imagined his route from the plaza, past Our Lady of Guadalupe, across la loma to the house where my tío has lived since before I was born, where my great grandparents lived until they died.  I remember asking him, “Did you run home because you were so excited?”  He said no—he’d worked so hard, experienced injury and illness, so his body was tired.  My child self didn’t understand.

This story has been on my mind a lot lately as I’ve been writing—or at least the idea of being so excited to reach something that running seems the only sensible thing to do.  I dreamed a few weeks ago that I am standing in the center of the plaza with my abuelo.  It is 1942—four years after my dissertation ends, and before the hippy takeover in Taos.  My laptop feels heavy in my little backpack as I trot across the road toward the church and over to la loma.  And I’m not running.

I keep wondering why I’m not typing as fast as I possibly can, to reach the pinche dissertation finish line that is an email attachment to the profes.  If there is a crisis moment to be had, now is it.  My feet are dragging, but I really want to run.

August 22, 2009

highlight of the day.

by la rebelde
fried pickle slices

fried pickle slices

I’ve got a fire under my ass.  A fire that says I must finish two chapters by the end of the first week of September or else I should not go on the market.  (No, this is not a good year to be on the market, but I’m supposed to be trying to be done, right?)  So I’ve been working steadily.  Steadily, but not quickly.  I may write for several hours each day, getting in a page here or a paragraph there.  Colegas who have finished tell me this is a good pace, but it doesn’t seem fast enough.

Unfortunately, my most “productive” writing periods happen when I have a deadline that requires me to write intensely for 2-3 days — and do little else but watch t.v., eat and sleep.  In these 2-3 days I may be able to write about 10 pages of solid—even good—work.  But in these 2-3 days I get a little squirrelly, from lack of face-to-face human contact.  And afterward my brain is so fried that I have to let it rest for a few days.  And then I go back to the slow-and-steady thing, which isn’t enough.  It’s a vicious cycle, really.  No bueno.

In an effort to get one of those chapters out of the way this weekend, an amiga and I decided to work together this afternoon.  An intense 5-hour writing session in my lovely new air-conditioned apartment with the wonderful windows, and my favorite piñon coffee.  At dinnertime we decided to have a beer and share a burger—a small reward for our hard work.  Well, we shared the burger, but we each had our own beers.  C’mon, now!

And I have to say that the highlight of the day were the fried pickles that I insisted we order to go with our meal.  I have not had fried pickles since I lived in small-midwestern-college-town.  Nearby there was another small-midwestern-college-town that had a charming little bar/restaurant on the edge of the railroad tracks (literally just a couple feet from trains zooming past) that served fried pickles.  There they used the wedge pickles, which were very tasty, but perhaps more juicy than I liked (because of the juiciness, they get really hot, but if you wait for them to cool, then the friedness isn’t as good).  But today, at this new place that opened just blocks away from my place, they used pickle SLICES.   The perfect combination of salty and juicy and greasy goodness.  Almost better than fried potatoes…and you know I love me some fried potatoes!

Ah if only I could be this excited about my chapters…

p.s. I actually have about 20 pages of each chapter drafted, so it’s possible to finish both in time, but probably not without a lot of pain.  And now back to work!

Photo by Sauce Supreme: http://www.flickr.com/photos/taste-buzz/ / CC BY 2.0

June 13, 2009

stream of consciousness.

by la rebelde

PERHAPS it was a series of events. I don’t think I realized what was going on—the number of things I was mulling over inside consciously…or maybe unconsciously. My amigas seemed to know what was going on with me before I did. They know when I’m off my game. And I am lucky to have them in my life.

MOURNING. A couple months ago, I thought to myself, I’m not sure that I even know how to mourn. The last time I was in Nuevo México, I spent all my time taking care of my abuelita and everyone else, that I didn’t have time to confront my own emotions about my abuelito having left this world for a better one. Now, I haven’t been a mass-going sister since I went away for college when I was 18, just 3 years after I decided not to be confirmed and 5 years after I finished my 9th year of Catholic schooling. But during many hours spent at church, at rosarios, at mass, the novena, with familia, I was reminded of the power of meditation, of praying in a way that I find healing. In the weeks following my abuelito’s passing, three of my amigas have lost close family members. Praying, thinking, talking in my thoughts with ancestors past. I am still learning.

AMIGAS.  Jennifer’s and Joseph’s wedding.  A four-day-long reunion with amigas I’ve known for ten years now (ten years!).  Good times catching up, sharing tasty meals and lots and lots of dancing!  Despite my exhaustion from driving all around LA and Bakersfield, it was refreshing. And a welcome follow-up to my trip to Austin just a few weeks before (a reunion, as well, minus the dancing). It’s not that I’d forgotten how amazing it is to be around good friends, it’s just that it has been a while since I spent time with more than one good friend at once. There’s so much that doesn’t need to be explained when you’re with friends you’ve known for so long.

MANITO D. He had been working the graveyard shift at the drugstore for a couple of months, to make up hours lost since my abuelito’s health took a turn for the worse. He experienced not one, but two, robberies at gunpoint within a month. The second one was really scary. I’m so thankful that he is okay and that he has some time off to heal and focus on himself. He told me the other day that between my abuelito’s passing and having his life threatened twice, he’s been thinking a lot about life, how precious it is, and how he doesn’t want to put off spending time with people he loves and on things that are really important to him. For me too, it is a reminder.

BABIES. Two of my closest amigas in the whole world are making new life in their wombs. They will be the first mothers among my close friends. It’s exciting! And I anticipate that it will mean big changes for our relationships as well, although I’m not sure yet what these changes will look like.

MOVING. I wrote my last post in the midst of all of these things. For a month I spent a lot of energy weighing the pros and cons of moving to small-midwestern-college-town versus staying in Los Angeles. I am not one to think quantitatively. And in the end, I realized that I could make many different lists (I am good at making lists!). I could see which list was longer. I could make a good argument for either place, arguments that would be in my best interest in one way or another. But some decisions cannot be based on lists. Three years ago, during the oral defense of my comprehensive exams, my profes asked me, at what kind of institution do you see yourself teaching when you finish? I told them it depended on what was going on in my life, that place is more important to me than the type of school, that academia alone is not going to make me happy. They were shocked that I’d said it out loud.

LOS ANGELES. I decided to stay here. I still cannot quite put all of these thoughts that I have collected over the last year or more into words. Perhaps I don’t need to. Who knows what the coming year will bring for me and my loved ones? But I have a good feeling about it!

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.

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.

July 23, 2008

don’t give it up in the beginning.

by la rebelde

Mi profe recently gave me the following advice: “Don’t give it all up in the beginning. Because then people won’t want to know what comes later.” No, he wasn’t talking about my love life, although it seems generally like good advice in that arena too. He was talking about my writing.

“Lead the reader through your thoughts,” he said. “I don’t want to see the words ‘I argue that…’ anywhere!” Well, shooot. That’s the way I’ve been taught to write and to think since high school—and it’s been a long-ass time since high school!

I’ve been thinking about this piece of advice for a few months now, not sure that I fully understand what he means. I’d asked him when we last sat face to face to talk about my diss. He explained. And like usual, I took notes, listened, and asked questions. But I left not knowing how to digest these new directions for writing.

The thing is, he is an amazing writer. I mean, most academics are good writers—we’ve trained for tons of years to be so. But in his writing, he is engaging in a way that stuffy academics so rarely are. My mom went to hear a talk he gave recently in her town—and she even says so. (Which obviously means it’s true.)

So today I took his book—the first one, the one that used to be a dissertation, the one that I’d read my first semester in grad school way back when—on the bus with me. I read it in spurts, between stops and while watching to make sure the viejitos had places to sit. I thought about my own writing structure as the bus winded through the area where it all happened—the stories I’m trying to tell, the people whose lives I want to know about. It happened there. Here. I contemplated how he molded his argument. And I think I might finally be on to something, I just can’t quite grasp it yet.

Now that I’m back on the dissertation tip, I’m going to have to relearn, rethink and refashion my approach to writing. Maybe this will happen as I write. Maybe it will happen while I’m on the bus. Either way, it has to happen.