Archive for ‘small-midwestern-college-town’

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: / 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.


  • 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)


  • 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.

April 23, 2008

so what?

by la rebelde

It’s been a crazy week. Between meeting with committee profes in small-midwestern college-town, attending a conference in Chicago and catching up with amig@s, I’m mentally and physically exhausted. And I didn’t even present at the conference! It’s funny how all the thinking—especially when it’s tied to professionalization, academic schmoozing and, well, your future—can just wear a homegirl down.


A few weeks ago I turned in a chapter draft to my main profa. She read it right away and suggested that I revisit my prospectus and reorganize my entire dissertation. The draft, she said, was unorganized and…well…not a historical study. Okay, she didn’t use those exact terms, but that’s what she meant. And she’s right. After spending weeks and weeks on this draft, I needed to start over. The truth is, I had no idea how to start writing a dissertation chapter, so I just picked out some of the old stuff I found in los archivos and dove right in. I forgot to tell the story, which is unusual for me because I do nothing but tell stories.

I’d relied on the advice other folks gave me which suggested that I “begin with the documents” and just start writing. Turns out, that’s not very useful advice. At least not for a historian, I guess. I have never been one to outline, so “just start writing” to me meant literally to just start writing. After all, that’s what I did for my undergrad and master’s theses. But a dissertation is an entirely different project. So I rewrote the outline with more specific prose about what each chapter is going to do and what it would discuss.


So yesterday my other co-chair helped map out the how-to’s of writing a history dissertation based on questions and articulation of my “analytical payoff.” I was pumped to get started right away. Then today I met with my newest committee member—someone I’d never worked with before, never even really talked with, but who does work in one of my main subfields. So I had no idea what her mentorship style was like. She also focused on my “analytical payoff” except she phrased it as the “so what?” question—as in, what is the methodological contribution my work will make to the field(s)? Same question as co-chair profe, but I was suddenly overwhelmed. So much so that I flaked and went to the wrong Starbucks for my next profe meeting, missing him all together.

One day—excited to write. Next day—totally freaked out and missing meetings. It’s like I’m on an emotional roller coaster with this dissertation thing, operating sometimes in crisis mode and sometimes just chill. I need to be just chill—as in, working diligently but calmly. I used to be that mujer. I can bring her back. Now off for some sangria before my flight to LA tomorrow!

November 9, 2007

on youth, small-college-towns and growing up.

by la rebelde

I’ve been working on a fellowship application that asks lots of questions about the kinds of courses you would like to develop for undergrads at small liberal arts schools and how you would teach them. I only have two course descriptions so far. I’m worried that all of my ideas are more suitable for upper-division students, and not for first- and second-years.

I went to a SLAC and I admit that sometimes I tend to think that my undergrad classes were much more challenging than most of the ones I’ve taught as a grad student at big state universities. Maybe it was the culture of debate at my campus. We definitely learned to articulate ourselves—I mean OVER-articulate—and all the time. I assume there are pockets of this kind of culture in large state schools, but it seems fewer and further between. Anyway, I went online to browse the course catalogs of my alma mater–to remind myself what the courses generally look like. (When I was in college, the catalogs were not online, so I can’t even look at the course descriptions for classes I actually took!)

And for a moment, looking at the catalog and the website, I felt a little nostalgic. As I’ve written in this blog before, I hate libraries. Still I have fond memories of laying on those colorful couches under the sky-lights, with my books scattered all around, flirting with silly boys/my then-boyfriend, discussing topics that, at the time, seemed SOOO important and life-defining.

There’s something about these teeny schools. They’re super privileged and really white and really rich. And except for professors and administrators, you rarely interact with people outside the 18-22 year old range. I remember it as a more carefree time, when I was more innocent, more optimistic, and very dramatic. Ooooh, I do not miss the drama. But I miss being excited about learning new things—everything seemed new then. I miss my less cynical self, who was more open to discussing ideas, to exploration, to love. I had struggled before. I had felt pain. But I hadn’t yet been crushed.

Of course, things can sometimes seem rosier in retrospect.
And I’m a grown-ass woman now.

I’m applying to these teaching fellowships because I need to eat next year. And because I like to teach—that’s why I went to grad school in the first place. But I’m anxious about the possibility that I might end up in a small, white, rural town with nothing else but the college. I’ve seen single/separated young women of color faculty end up in those places. They were amazing teachers and scholars, but they seemed lonely, isolated, and I’m wondering if they went more than a little stir-crazy. If I feel at all like that in LA, where brown people abound, how will I feel if I end up teaching in a small college town?

It’s all very daunting. I never imagined that I might one day be a faculty-type person. And who knows if I’ll even get an offer. But the whole thing has made the twitch in my left eyelid come back. It hasn’t been around since I was grading finals while preparing for comprehensive exams!

December 22, 2006

desert snow.

by la rebelde

As I was preparing for my trip to small-midwestern-college-town, I realized that I was very anxious about the cold. Actually, I was more anxious about the shock of the cold, than the cold itself. But as I packed my suitcase, I was reminded about how much I love winter accessories. When I lived in Tejas, I hardly used them and had been so excited about the cooler weather in the upper Midwest that I went crazy buying funky hats and colorful scarves and fabulous coats. Last week in my LA apartment, I stuffed my cream colored down jacket into my duffle bag, along with my rosey scarf and JLo knit hat. Turns out, I brought the warmth from LA with me and was overheated every time I ventured outdoors. What a disappointment! Well, at least I looked cute, even if my attire was weather inappropriate.

Lucky me, the last few days in Burque have been mad snowy! Blizzards. Blizzards, I tell you! And I love it. There’s nothing like desert snow that reminds me of childhood. Even when I was a kid, I was into winter accessories. My grandmother in NYC used to send boxes of clothing for me. Stuff that she would make with the scraps from the sweatshop where she worked. The memory of those Chinese drawstring pants is what I recall the best. But there was a caramel brown wool coat that I loved and which I was only allowed to wear on the coldest of days or on special days—like for church. Hanging in my grandparents’ house is a foto of me in the coat standing in the snow next to a new-born spring calf at my grandparents meadow down the street from their house. Winter in Nuevo Mexico reminds me of ice fishing with my grandpa at Eagle Nest or standing on the bridge at the beginning of my grandparents’ driveway looking down at the icy cold water of Rio Lucero rushing underneath us. Now that I’m pushing 30, and live far away from mis abuelos, I cling to the small things of wintertime that remind me of them. Winter accessories are like snow gently piled on the blades of yucca next to illuminated farolitos…makes ya feel all warm inside!

December 21, 2006

a top-shelf tequila gimlet kinda week.

by la rebelde

Last week I traveled to small-midwestern-college-town to defend my dissertation prospectus. Nevermind the defense…the best part about being in town was chillin with my homies! Over the last three years, my small-midwestern-college-town friends had become my community—a family away from family. And they still are. Half of them have now moved on to bigger and better things, so it wasn’t quite the same as before I left. But it was great to spend time with the ones who are still struggling through the bitter cold winters and long dark months. I am SO lucky to have such great friends—in small-midwestern-college-town and elsewhere. In my many years of schooling and many, many moves after high school, I have friends scattered all over the country. A diaspora of friends maybe? Perhaps that’s really arrogant of me—to assume that I would be the homeland… Maybe I’m part of a number of diasporas of friends. Whatever, the important thing is that I have great friends who I love dearly. I just wish more of them lived near me. * sigh *

And of course, I spent some time in my favorite coffee shop spots—okay, well, only one—Eastern Accents. The name is (unfortunately) not made up and, as the name would suggest, there are a number of asiaphiles and liberal white women with adopted Asian (American) children who frequent the place. But its owned and operated by a great Korean family and I think it’s the best spot in town—internet, no undergrads, square tables, good food and good coffee—what more can you ask for as a grad student? And even though I can have Chinese baked goods whenever I want in LA, I had to savor some bi bim bop and ginger tea in the Midwest. Of course, I also had to be sure to get the best tequila gimlet in town, which is at a bar that I usually can’t afford to frequent. Small-midwestern-college-town is home to an unusually large number of asiaphiles and my girl and I were reminded of this annoying fact as we sat at the bar on a busy Saturday night. White dude who had tried to strike up a conversation earlier in the evening came back to invite us to accompany him to another bar. “Let me guess,” he said. “You’re Filipino and you’re Japanese.” Uhhh…wrong and wrong. And why the hell do white dudes feel so self-assured in their ability to “guess” brown women’s ethnicities? “Sure,” I said. What the hell is the point of engaging an ignoramous like that? Of course, maybe it was wrong not to just call his ass out–because then he proceeded to tell us how he loves Tokyo and his father’s nurse was “the nicest Filipino nurse.” Ugh. He finally got the hint when my girl didn’t take her cell phone out to get his number. He was icky. Aside from tofu-skinned white boy, we had a good time. And anyway, it was a top shelf tequila gimlet kinda week. That’s my drink, by the way!

Oh, so about the defense…My anxiety came in waves over the few days prior, but as soon as I started talking, of course, I realized I had spent unnecessary energy worrying. I didn’t even need the little intro speech I prepared because my profes just jumped right in with comments and suggestions. They seem excited about my project, which made me realize that I am too. It seems I had forgotten. A few months ago, when I first moved to LA, I kept telling friends and family that I was never going to move again—that if I didn’t get a job in LA, I’d quit the academic life and find something else to do. I’m good at other things. But what this prospectus/defense process made me realize is that I’m committed to telling the story. I’m invested in telling the story. So who knows what my future holds now–I still don’t want to move to another city again, but maybe I’ll change my mind by the time I finish in two or three or four years.

At a small dinner party thrown in honor of my girl, M, who also defended last week, I had to shmooze with a bunch of professors, and I didn’t even get nervous this time. My friend, P, has said that I have “academic game” meaning I can turn on the intellectual charm when I want to–I never believed him. I admit to getting a little star-struck from time to time, even around profs who I know well. Maybe it was the wine, but I finally felt like I was becoming an academic grown-up. Geez, its about time!

December 9, 2006

asian and "ethnic" hair.

by la rebelde

After letting my hair grow rampantly for the last six months, I finally dragged myself to the salon school a block away from my apartment. By a stroke of luck, they had a new customer deal—hair cut and a facial for $25! Of course, you can’t beat that. And since I live in a community that is mostly Chinese and Mexican (along with other ethnic Asians), I figured it was worth a try. I was assigned to a Korean American student stylist, who did a great job even if it did take a full 90 minutes.

How many white girls have I gone to, who butchered my locks? Countless, I tell you! And quite frankly, I have refused to have my hair cut by white people since circa 2000. Not that white people cannot also cut hair well, the ones who have approached my head just never know which way my hair is going to fall. They don’t understand that my hair is Chinese slick and Mexican wavy and really fine (well, the fine part is from the Spaniards who raped and pillaged back in the day—their legacy is marked on my body, particularly in my hair. Damn that colonialism!).

The last time I got a good cut for a comparably low price was when I lived in NYC. I used to go to this great Japanese hair salon in the east village. Everything in New York was so convenient! When I moved to Tejas, it took me a while to find a great hair stylist—she was hapa and she was great, but then she moved and I was again stuck with randoms. In small-midwestern-college-town, I came across a salon that had the following pasted on their door: “We specialize in Asian and Ethnic hair.” The salon owner was a fabulous Dominican woman from NYC who specialized in cutting curly hair. My hair is clearly (and unfortunately) not curly. She even said, “Gosh, you don’t even have ethnic hair!” Whaaaaat? “I am ‘ethnic’ so therefore I have ‘ethnic’ hair,” I responded. That was a weird interaction—as if having straightish/Asian hair means you aren’t “ethnic,” which I assumed meant brown as in not white. What does “ethnic” mean anyhow? But the cut was amazing and it grew out so well. She is quite the miracle worker. Every time I got my hair cut, I walked out of the salon looking like a rock star. During my first visit to her, she was cutting my hair mad crazy-like. “Don’t you know I’m a historian?” I asked. “So what…you trying to be funky?” she responded. “Actually, I’m cutting your bangs like Halle Berry,” she went on. Well, sheeeeit. If she could make me look like Halle Berry (mind you, I never asked to look like Halle Berry), I was never going to get my hair done anywhere else! And for three years, I didn’t. (I also didn’t look like Halle, but that’s hardly the point.) And I didn’t even really mind that she insisted on calling me “Elisa” (not my name) despite several corrections on my part. That’s how much a good hairstylist is worth.

So I must admit that I was secretly (well, as my friends know, it was not-so-secretly) holding out until I visit small-midwestern-college-town again. But alas, I had to come to terms with the fact that I live in LA now. And there must be people who can work with my hair here. And while this weekend’s cut is not nearly as good as it would have been had I held out for small-midwestern-college-town, its probably the best I could get for $25.