I’m going to be honest. I struggled to write my post this month. It might have been the long to-do list leading into Spring Break (next week!), or the other writing projects that have taken most of my attention. Actually, if I’m being really honest, I wrote an entire post and decided it was the wrong topic at the wrong time. So, maybe inspiration hit, but it missed.
In the Q&A of the keynote address at a conference I attended this weekend, a student asked Brontez Purnell how he responds to writer’s block. First, he answered that he doesn’t really have that problem but the opposite, “writer’s vomit.” (Purnell was the recipient of the 2018 Whiting Award, so we’re not all that surprised that he’s amazing and doesn’t struggle with writer’s block.) But then he shared that leaving your writing project for an hour and writing about what is directly in front of you, like that 5×5 square of wall before your eyes, can help to release the tension while still exercising the writing muscle. So, I am going to take his advice. Sort of. I’m breaking from my traditional, more-focused post to share some general updates and things that are on my mind.
Speaking of the conference, it was a wonderful event. Not only did I get to screen print my own t-shirt, but I got to bond with––and learn from––Fisk students and allies of the LGBTQI+ community. After their panel on LGBTQI+ life at HBCUs, we chatted about future plans, a student shared his poetry with me, and I began to feel a real affinity for our students. Then, I ended up eating lunch with another panel attendee, someone who I had just met from the Vanderbilt Divinity school (such ventures with new acquaintances are very unlike me). Over lunch, we had a deep conversation about theology, feminism, and orthodoxy. To be honest, the day felt a little like a dream. A good one. And it left me very excited to continue working with our LGBTQI+ student organization at Fisk, while also questioning how I can contribute meaningfully and mindfully to this community as a white, cisgender ally and temporary professor. As a first step, I’ve started work on a Gender Studies film series that will feature student-led Q&A discussions. But more on that later…
And more good news: I just found out that I was awarded a grant that I applied for with some colleagues at Vanderbilt. Through the Mellon Partners in Humanities Education program, we applied for funds to host a documentary screening and Q&A with the producer and co-director, followed by a student panel. Details on this are still being settled, so I can’t divulge too much, but I am very excited about the cross-campus conversations that we hope to foster on representations of black womanhood in France and the US.
Could there be more good news still? Yes! Two weeks ago, I got notification that an academic journal wanted to publish my article. This is a first for me. And it was affirmation that I needed. This news gave me the energy to move forward with the book project. And now that I have submitted the minor revisions requested by the journal, I can move forward with more force on the bigger project.
I’m realizing that this semester is feeling like a bit of a win. While last semester was stimulating with the new digital project connected to the Rosenwald collection, I started to lose steam, I think, because I was not really in touch with students. This semester, I am actually getting to know the student population––through my courses, my work with the student organization, and my collaboration with a brilliant undergraduate who is helping me develop the Rosenwald digital exhibit–and generating Gender Studies programming for both undergraduates and faculty. I was working on my research last semester, but the missing link seems to have been student contact (and being connected to a campus community in general). This postdoc has given me both the opportunity to work with undergraduate students in a much broader way than I ever have before, and the chance to realize how this work––paired with a stimulating research agenda that overlaps with my coursework––really energizes me.
So, maybe I didn’t need inspiration to hit in order to write this post. I just needed to allow writing to happen so that I could realize how inspiring this semester has already been and how my experiences in 2019 might inform my future career choices. On that note, I’ll wrap things up, and send encouragement for all of us to reflect mid-semester on our successes, to not be too overwhelmed by our failures…and to take the time to sit down and write, even when inspiration doesn’t hit.