Notes on a Holiday Break

So much has happened over the past few weeks, that I barely know where to start.  I’ll just jump right in and if this point seems disjointed and random, that’s probably because that is what my life feels like right now.

First, the good news: The semester ended well and I’ll be teaching Intro to LGBT Studies in the spring and LGBTQ Identities in Popular Culture this summer. I’m excited about both courses and I’m itching to put my Black lesbian feminist spin on both of these topics.

My daughter graduated from college on December 9th, and the whole family celebrated the occasion for at least a week. She was also offered a job (albeit part-time), where she completed her internship, so she’s now an assistant editor at a pretty posh little magazine in the South. I had her sign her first issue ’cause I know she’s going to be famous someday!

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After spending three weeks with the fam, I met up with T. in Chattanooga to meet my new “in-laws” for the first time. I was a bit nervous at first, but I had the best time with them and they welcomed me with open arms. Literally. EVERYBODY I met hugged me. I got to tell you, that’s one of the things I love about being in the South with Black people, we aren’t afraid to show you that we love you.

On to the bad news: My mom fell ill while I was home, and after she was admitted to the hospital with possible pneumonia, we found out that she had had a minor heart attack. How the heck did she have a heart attack and no one knew??? She said she probably passed it off as indigestion and I believe her, but she also had a stroke last year with hardly any symptoms.  We’ve got to keep a better eye on her, and she’s got to tell us when something hurts! I won’t theorize here about Black women being “strong” and keeping our pain to ourselves (you can look it up for yourself), but I do believe this is part and parcel why she kept so quiet about not feeling good.

My mini-vacation to Edmonton with T. was cancelled due to the weather (I missed my flight) and her flight was delayed for two days.  This wasn’t such a bad thing, but I probably won’t get back out there until mid-March.

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Finally, I’m in a love/hate relationship with my dissertation right now. This probably deserves its own post, but I’ll just say that I’ve struggled this past semester in ways that I had not thought imaginable. I’m nearly done with the chapter I’m currently working on, but just couldn’t seem to break through my writing fog until today. I don’t know if it’s the dismal job market, current ennui with my topic, or the current state of academia writ large, but I’ve been rethinking this whole Ph.D. thing for a few months now.  I came into this thing fully aware of the risks, but since I’ve been in academia I’ve seen what seems to be a full-scale assault on academic freedom/dissent, the adjunctification of academic labor, as well as come to realize that not everybody working in Women’s/LGBT Studies is as feminist as they claim. Still, I absolutely adore my home discipline of American Studies, even as it comes under fire for its correct decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

I’m no baby (no offense to the babies out there), but I started this thing at 40, having enjoyed a decent career in corporate America. However, academic in-fighting and posturing, arm-chair activism, and the never-ending hierarchies sometimes leave me wondering if I made the right choice.  In other words, if another person tells me I’m “just a grad student” one more time, I’m going to punch them in the throat. I’m 44 years old, I’m not “just” anything. Only in academia are you expected to give up life and limb for paltry pay and the privilege of being at the bottom of the academic heap. The undergraduates are treated with more respect. I have not experienced this in my home discipline, but I most certainly have in other areas of the institution with which I am currently affiliated.

But on the other hand, I have the extreme privilege of watching my students “come to consciousness” and knowing that when they leave my classroom, they are better equipped to deal with the issues they will most certainly face in the real world, and that I’ve helped them to think more critically about their role in maintaining or disrupting the race, class, gender, and sexual systems of oppression that impact all of us. On more than one occasion I’ve been blessed with a hug or a kind note of appreciation from a student.

I also love my research project, even though there are days when I want to toss it across the ocean and never look back.  I’ve finally finished transcribing an important interview, and I feel ready to move forward. I received good feedback on this chapter draft from a trusted colleague, and I feel like I’m headed back toward the land of productivity.

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I’m still mad at academia right now, but not because I feel cheated or because I might not get the job I think l I’m entitled to. It’s because I think we can and must do better, and I’m not sure that we will. In this digital age, why are we still holding on to peer review processes that take upwards of 18 months to complete? Why are we still admitting students into graduate programs for which we know there will be no jobs? Why have we allowed contingent labor to become the primary means by which we educate our students? Have we decided that the only way to hold on to whatever semblance of privilege we have is at the cost of educating our students? I know that as a 44-year old Black lesbian, I am not supposed to be here. That I am is in itself an act of resistance and an affront to all those who wish to silence me, and evidence that the work that I am doing is valuable and necessary.

So I must press on. Weary but determined to get what I came for.

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WAR EAGLE!!! Or, the Best Thanksgiving Break EVAR

So, this post is going to get real silly, but bear with me people, it’s that time of semester. First things first: My first attempt at AcWriMo was a partial success. Ok. it was a big fat FAIL. Although I reached two of my goals (finishing the conference paper and working on my current chapter), I didn’t finish the chapter, nor did I start the next one. I have to admit that things started off well; I was reading and writing like a BOSS! However, right around the middle of November, (NWSA time), things started to slow down and I was never able to regain traction. I’ll try again next year, and I’ll make sure take into account the conferencing and job hunting I know I’ll be doing again.

Now, the good stuff! Me and T. had a wonderful Thanksgiving break together. We spent most of the time at a bougie hotel in Indy,  where we had easy access to shopping and good food. It was also our anniversary week, and T. surprised me with gifts several days in a row. The first little gift was like 12 pair of awesome socks. Let me explain, I LOVE cute colorful socks and I’m always complaining that I need more. So the first night we are in Indy she gives me like 12 pair, seriously. It was so cute and you know I was wearing them the rest of the week.

And then this happened:

IMG_0729‘Cause you know, I needed a brown purse. 0_0   I also received a new office chair, (mine had a permanent “lean” which would on occasion have me on the floor), a beautiful sapphire ring with matching earrings and pendant, and other goodies.  I got her two pair of headphones (one kinda fancy, the other not so much), and her other “big” gift is on the way.  I’ll be so glad when I’m able to do as much for her as she does for me. We both like nice things and like to give, but I tend to be on the receiving end more often than not these days. I work three jobs, but you know it’s still hard out here for a grad student. That will change soon, and I’m looking forward to it!

The only downside to last week was that she caught a nasty cold. But you know I’m Nurse Ratchet, so she was on the mend in no time.  My mom says I’m a terrible nurse, but I don’t think so. As long as you do what I tell you, we’re fine. 🙂 T. didn’t care for my no nonsense style of treatment either, but she definitely felt better sooner than she thought she would. I’m now taking that same hard line with myself, since of course, I caught the cold as soon as I returned from break.

The most exciting part of our break was the amazing Iron Bowl that we were able to watch together (we sometimes have to stream the games on our computers because she can’t get all of the channels we have here in the U.S.), and it was the best football game I’ve ever seen in my life! Y’all know I’m a basketball girl, but I’m also an Auburn graduate, so SEC football is a part of my DNA, like it or not. We took Alabama DOWN, with one second to go. In case you missed it, here’s a clip:

We had so much fun watching the game and celebrating after, and you can best believe that I was giving my Alabama friends hell for the rest of the night. I believe my Facebook cover photo is still the game scorecard…

Anywhooo, back to work, sick or not. I’ve got some writing to do!

 

Working Day and Night, Grad School Edition

Y’all. The past two weeks have been the craziest EVAR. I’ve applied to ten jobs, graded 5011 papers, written two new syllabi for courses I MIGHT get to teach, attended countless meetings, written and disseminated the CFP for our conference next spring, added a few pages to the diss, watched a train wreck of a job talk (great example of what NOT to do if I get a campus interview), and I don’t even remember what else.

All that to say that I haven’t had much time to update my favorite space on the web.  🙂

I’ve got to get back to the grind, but here’s a little something to let you know what it’s been like the past couple of weeks:

 

Back to Life

So, I’m back from fall break and feeling the burn. I had a wonderful time in Edmonton with my gf, but it’s time to get back to the grind.  It’s hard. One of my academic soul sisters told told me a couple of years ago that it takes about five days to find your rhythm again after a break from the quotidian. Being the taskmaster that I am, I soundly rejected that idea, thinking I only needed a good night’s sleep and my list of things to do to get back on track.  Weeeelllll, that’s not quite how it works, at least not anymore. In other words, she was right.

While I don’t need five whole days to get myself together after a break, (and by break I mean more than three days off in a row from my regular crazy busy schedule), I do need at least two. I need one whole day just to get my body right from driving or flying, both of which now take a toll on me that I didn’t experience in years past.  I need another day to get my house in order, ’cause I don’t know about y’all, but I need my space to be just so before the magic can happen.  And by “just so” I don’t mean perfect, I just mean I need clean underwear and coffee; i.e., laundry and grocery shopping.

So, now the real craziness begins: I’m on the job market, trying to finish the diss, teaching, chairing one committee and serving on two others, as well as presenting at NWSA and participating in their WoC Leadership Program this year. Oh yeah, and my kid is GRADUATING FROM COLLEGE IN DECEMBER. Yeah, ALL that.  Even though I can’t afford to take too long to ease back into this semester, I have taken this afternoon regroup and map out my plan to get everything done for the next few weeks.

Sooo, back to life for me, and here’s a little aural inspiration to get this work party started:

All in a Day’s Work

And I am queen of the world today! I cranked out 1471 words on the diss, finished up discussions on one online class and got to a good stopping point on the other, attended a boring online faculty development training, started a faculty certification module, (side gig stuff, don’t trip, we all got ’em), made an appointment with one of my chairs to discuss job apps, engaged in meaningful chats with the girlfriend AND the kid, washed my hair and dried it, and now I’m about to break for an early dinner. Later I am grading the LGBT class papers, folding up clothes, having ice cream and cookies with a friend, (I baked them yesterday, from scratch of course!), and reading for an hour.

Oh, and updated this blog.

So while none of this is actually blogworthy, I’m feeling a little full of myself today since I was out for the count with a nasty virus for most of late last week and the weekend. I feel like I’m finally back to myself, and my productivity level is up again. It also helps that I like to get up really early in the morning.

Also, a bit of motivation from the cranky co-chair as well as the cheerleader co-chair helped me to come up a good deadline for this chapter. Oh wait, I haven’t told them that yet, it’ll be a surprise. 🙂 October 15th it is people; imma need y’all to keep me accountable.

Back to the grind.

S.O.

A Day in the Life, or This Diss Ain’t Gonna Write Itself

Today has been a whirlwind of dissertation writing, online course setups, and grad student housekeeping. This morning, I  added two pages to the diss. I know that doesn’t seem like much, and it isn’t, but they are two GOOD pages. After being unable to produce anything substantial for the past few weeks, I feel good about this progress, and I’m starting to think that my mojo is coming back. I’m actually excited about the section I’m working on, and I can’t wait to pick up the books I ordered to see where they might fit in this part of my research. Those of you who are academics know that scholarly writing is HARD, and I won’t rehash the myriad of reasons why, or the fact that there are days when I can barely pick up a book to skim, or look at a draft of the chapter I’m working on. All of this is par for the course for most academics, and I’m no exception.

Still, this last writing desert felt different; I was seriously beginning to question whether or not I really wanted a spot in the Ivory Tower, or if the Ph.D. is truly a means to any end other than itself.  I’m not frantic or overly paranoid about job market melodrama or the “crisis in the humanities;” I came into this program at 40 years old knowing full well the risks involved. I’ve always had a back-up plan or two or three, so that’s not my issue. I won’t feel like a supreme failure if an academic job doesn’t pan out; I’ll take my Ph.D. and move on with my life. However, there are aspects of academia that I find rather distasteful, and I’m kind of “over” being underpaid, over-worked, and under-appreciated. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize the extreme privilege of my status as a highly educated Black woman, but I’m also keenly aware of the fact that these days, that might not count for much.

To counter a bit of the negativity that is threatening to take root in this blog entry, I want to share that I absolutely love teaching. Every semester I’ve had students come up to me and give me hugs, telling me how much they miss my class. I’m also one of only three people on my campus that can teach the new Intro to LGBT Studies course that we are offering, and how cool is that? I’m on track to finish the Ph.D. in five years, which is well above the national average of nine or ten for folks in certain humanities fields.  I love my project, and I have an extremely supportive and generous dissertation committee. I also have a really smart and dedicated group of friends who keep me grounded and expect me to get the thing done.

To be perfectly honest with you, my life is pretty golden right now, and I guess writing a little of this down has helped me to get off my pity pot.  I think that pity pots are ok for a few minutes of self-reflection and general gnashing of the teeth and ripping of the garments. However, to languish on the pot too long is certain death, figurative, if not literal. I’ve seen what death in a graduate program looks like: it looks like the folks who are still thinking about going on the  job market “next year” after ten years in a Ph.D. program. Or the folks who can regurgitate Lacan or Butler or Kant at the drop of a dime, but who have no original ideas. If this is the life they’ve chosen for themselves, so be it, but I promised myself when I came into this program that I would not become one of those people. As a 44 year-old Black woman, I can’t afford to be. I’ve also decided that when I’m dean (don’t you like how I’ve gone from cranky Ph.D. student to dean in a few sentences?), that I won’t allow this kind of tom-foolery in any of the programs that I’m responsible for.

So, enough with the pontificating, let’s get this party started. This diss ain’t gonna write itself.