When inspiration doesn’t hit, write.

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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. Continue reading “When inspiration doesn’t hit, write.”

From Dissertation to Book

After my defense—at 11:30AM on the day of the solar eclipse in 2017—, I felt a change in the cosmos. Not just because we were actually going to experience total blackout that day in Nashville, TN, but because I was liberated from this document that had been dictating my life. Or at least, that’s what it felt like. The topic I had once been in love with had started to feel less exhilarating and more like a weight. Post-defense, I needed time to reassess, to pursue other projects, and most of all, to go have fun. 

Now I realize that it is typical for such a huge project to lose steam. Especially when the author has difficulty maintaining a healthy relationship to writing and letting the project breathe. Dissertators are not great at establishing either.

Given the arduous writing process, some people walk away indefinitely from the dissertation. Others go on to publish a series of articles based on the research. And then others find a gem of an argument in those hundreds of pages and completely restructure their diss to craft it into a publishable book.

So, the question is, how in the world do you begin to approach this process?

Like other forms of academic writing, the process of flipping the diss into a book seems to be shrouded in mystery. After some searching, I stumbled upon a longer-form piece, From Dissertation to Book by William Germano (once high in the ranks at Columbia UP and then Routledge and is currently a Professor of English at Cooper Union). Germano covers everything from re-reading the dissertation and deciding whether to move forward with articles or a book project to specific suggestions for chapter style and length. 

It is invaluable to hear an editor’s point of view. But I also value hearing from scholars’ personal experiences—especially from those who are in my field. So, I reached out to two scholars who do research in contemporary French and Francophone Studies and feminist theory: Régine Michelle Jean-Charles and Annabel L. Kim. Continue reading “From Dissertation to Book”

A SmartWomen’s Year in Review: Transition (Part IV)

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Thank goodness for this obligation opportunity to reflect. And it really is an opportunity. Because meditating on your experiences and coming up with a narrative about your progress (or lack thereof) can lead to an unexpected diagnosis or even generate a much-needed sense of accomplishment.

Reading through my co-bloggers’ posts on their year-in-writing has stirred up feelings of relief, empathy, joy, and excitement. Our relationship to writing is constantly in flux, and we are paying attention to that. We are thing-searchers, as Lynn says, and we respond to that impulse. At least we try to.

Of course we don’t always meet our writing or professional goals, and sometimes we read this as a failure (especially when we set *really* high goals for ourselves—and when we have full time jobs, loved ones, and other passions to attend to!). I met some of my goals in 2018, but not all of them. Who ever does?

I’ve been in transition this year, which has meant a lot of writing for committees (translation: I’ve written all the statements). But what else have I put on paper?  Continue reading “A SmartWomen’s Year in Review: Transition (Part IV)”

Relationality: Intermingling at Academic Conferences

Thanksgiving is upon us. Hopefully, for all of us, this will be a week of good cheer, warm reunions, and full stomachs. Besides spending a little time with my digital project and syllabus for the Spring semester, I plan on carving out a few days of relaxation with my partner to cook, bake, and do NOTHING (have you heard of that?).

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Last weekend, however, I stepped out of my comfort zone. I attended an academic conference. Even though I’m in academia, attending and presenting at conferences is not my favorite thing. They require public speaking, constant performance, inconceivable amounts of intellectual attention, and self-interested networking. 

Some senior scholars claim that it’s not worth it to go to conferences at all; they take up precious time during the semester, the feedback isn’t always valuable, and then there’s the fear of intellectual plagiarism, or conversely, wasting your time listening to too many half-baked ideas (a full professor in my graduate department once said that the only way to attend a conference is to go to your own panel and ditch the rest … and others have confessed to the same habit). And yet, while few scholars actually enjoy conferences, most (especially early-career scholars) must “endure” them to expand their professional network. Some have written on ways to attend conferences “strategically” and not exhaust yourself. But let’s face it: For many of us, it’s still just-a-little-too taxing to try and strike up conversations with 5 to 10 random people in a day, especially when we’re thinking in the economical, self-interested terms of: “what might this person do for me, now or in the future?”

Most of the time, we do not talk about how uncomfortable and fatiguing this part of academia can be. So, to “fill that gap,” here’s a review of my most recent experience at the 2018 PAMLA conference that I attended last weekend in Bellingham, WA. I applied specifically to this conference because there was a call for papers from an organization to which I belong, Women in French, asking for submissions related to “the theme of food in literature.” To my excitement, there ended up being three panels at the conference on the topic, which meant lots of food for thought (haha) and suggestions for further reading. On the second day of the conference, at 8AM (!), I read my paper, “Consumption of the Flesh in Marie NDiaye’s La Cheffe: roman d’une cuisinère,” in which I thought about how Jacques Derrida’s maxim on ethical consumption, “Il faut bien manger” (“one must eat well” OR “one must eat, of course”), structured the female protagonist’s culinary practices. Fortunately, I got a couple questions in the Q&A that helped me to think about how to move forward and flip the piece into an article. Continue reading “Relationality: Intermingling at Academic Conferences”

Finding Seeds of Hope in Your Work

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Pee Dee Rosenwald School, Marion County, South Carolina, c. 1935. (Public Domain image from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History)

When it seems like the world around me is falling apart, sometimes I just feel like throwing my hands up in the air and giving up on humanity. I have always had the conviction that humans are inherently good, but there is also a lot of harrowing evidence that points to the contrary. As if you need the details, I’m thinking about the government’s terrifying attempt to erase transgender people, their condoning of sexual misconduct, the separation of immigrant families, and ongoing police brutality.  When faced with such injustices, we can protest in the streets, go to the voting booth, donate money, be allies, call senators. As Angela recently reminded us, we can pursue paths of self-care and be kind to ourselves. In this same vein, we can also make an active effort to show kindness to those who cross our paths. To counteract the hate spread by certain populations with limited mindsets, we can make a point to be attentive to the people in our lives. We can listen closely to our friends’ concerns rather than just waiting our turn to speak, sit down with our colleagues to share experience and counsel, smile at those who pass us on the sidewalk (alas, as long as it doesn’t compromise our safety), and take the time to share with our loved ones how we feel about them. 

Everyone reacts to tragic situations differently depending on their personal convictions, constraints, and resources.  In recent months, I have also realized that putting more energy into meaningful work can be another response to despairing times. (I realize however that this, too, may be less of an option depending on your workplace and work community.) This can mean bringing more intention to projects that you deeply value or that might be inspiring. For me, this has often meant highlighting marginalized narratives in my teaching and writing. Lately, though, it has meant investing more creative energy into my digital project at Fisk. Through this project, I am able to underline racial and sexual injustices of the past but also spotlight more encouraging historical narratives. This work has also given me the opportunity to educate myself on African American history and to consider how I can utilize my skills and resources to amplify voices in the archive that have been historically marginalized. Continue reading “Finding Seeds of Hope in Your Work”

Lessons from Smart Women Writers: Overcoming Writing Stalls

“Writing is to academia what sex was to nineteenth-century Vienna: everybody does it and nobody talks about it.” (Wendy Laura Belcher)

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This is the first sentence of Wendy Laura Belcher’s workbook, Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks. And it’s right on. Continue reading “Lessons from Smart Women Writers: Overcoming Writing Stalls”

A Career Shift, A New Project

I recently read an article on taking time to mourn during career transitions. When your identity is so deeply tied to work and to the relationships that have been fostered at your workplace, leaving can be hard.

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That wasn’t the case for me. Though, I’m in a bit of a different situation. I am a recent PhD leaving my grad school department for a postdoc at another institution located in the same city. And to boot, I am still a Visiting Scholar in the department where I received the PhD. So, I’m not quite leaving, which puts me in the interesting position of existing between two institutions of higher ed.

My official title is Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Fisk University. This is a welcome and exciting change. I am thrilled to learn from new people at a new place and to use my training to enrich the intellectual life of campus. Continue reading “A Career Shift, A New Project”