Archive for ‘writing’

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.

May 17, 2011

what was missing.

by la rebelde

I have been thinking a lot lately about whether and how to come back to blogging. I stopped blogging regularly because I got caught up with my pinche dissertation. It was a rough time, rougher than I ever expected. The last year of grad school was the roughest year in my life, in fact. Not that I expected it to be a walk in the park, but really, I was put through the wringer in a way one of my mentors called “unprecedented.” Back when I slumped on blog posts, a good friend reminded me that my dissertation should not take away the joy of writing and the importance of putting words on the page about things that matter. That was over two years ago.

The other day I had a writing meeting with a friend/camarada who is finishing up her own pinche dissertation. We exchanged intros to our pieces and then had a trans-pacific video chat. (Thank goodness for the internets!) She pointed out that I need to trust my story-telling voice, because it’s good. “You know, the one you write with on your blog,” she said — another reminder that story-telling is the reason I started doing this history work in the first place. I didn’t go to grad school just because I thought history is “interesting.”  I went because I believed — I still believe — that telling/knowing our stories and exposing the functions and consequences of power and imperialism are necessary for liberation.

This is where I have to begin from now on — to write from my heart, from my gut.  What was missing during the last nine months of dissertation writing was me. It’s definitely time for a comeback. Maybe here, maybe somewhere else. But it’s long overdue.

By the way, I’m glad to see that some of my favorite bloggers are still around. If any of you are still following me, know that I have kept up with your blogs even if I haven’t commented very often.

peace + love.

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

August 2, 2009

all in a day.

by la rebelde

Home. I’m home for a week or so. Haven’t been home since my abuelo left us. His physical absence is everywhere. My grandma is having a hard time. I wish there was something I could do to ease the pain that brings the tears to sting her eyes. “There’s days worse than others,” she told me just minutes ago. When my grandpa became very ill, she stopped paying attention to her own body–only focused on caring for his.  Now she focuses on hers. Tomorrow we take her to have a cataract removed. The other eye will be done in a few weeks.  On the way to the casino, for her daily dose of bingo, she walks faster than I do.  And tonight we sat together in front of my computer with Manito D and youtubed her favorite mariachi songs.  I am grateful for her health.

Niños. Manito D has a way with the children. Over the last few weeks, he has been building a patio/porch from his own design. And he has been doing most of the work by himself. Well, almost by himself–the neighborhood boys from his block, about 13-14 years old, have all been coming over everyday to help out. Why? Because Manito D is “so cool!” This is what they have testified. I’d have to agree. Yesterday he helped them each make their own picnic table/bench to take home for their familias. Five minutes ago, he was up on the rooftop with two of the kids. They tap, tap, tap, nails into shingles to keep the rain and the snow out. Grandma pulled out a 5 dollar bill, “Go buy them a box of ice cream!” The patio is going to be beautiful…even more so, because it became a community project. Photos of the patio in-progress to come soon.

Writing. There’s always writing to do.  And writing I did…well, at least for a couple hours.  In between the rooftop banging, cleaning the bathroom, getting groceries and making dinner.

Sopa. This morning after I took my grandma to mass, we all had breakfast at García’s. They have a new dessert menu. Yum! We didn’t try any of the new items because, well, sopaipillas come with. I had the refried special: 1 egg, scrambled. frijolitos. papitas. chile, red. y una tortilla. I didn’t eat the sopa. My papa and I discussed how, for us, “sopa” means both breadpudding and a nickname for sopaipilla (not soup for us!) Then we couldn’t remember what other people call breadpudding. Took us at least 10 minutes before my papa asked one of the meseras, who is from México. Capirotada!

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.

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.

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?

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.