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”→
I wasn’t surprised when Marie Kondo started trending on my Twitter feed. Not only did her show, “Tidying up with Marie Kondo”, recently debut on Netflix, but her approach seems to characterize what the month of January is all about: evaluation and change. I find New Year’s Eve to be annoying enough, but the rest of the month isn’t any less so. It’s filled with making room in an already crowded space, weather that space be literal or metaphorical. It’s filled with making piles: what to discard, what to pass on, what to retain, what to do with the things that fall between.
More difficult than clearing out space for things is clearing out time for self-improvement. I am not a resolutions person. I don’t like setting myself up for failure, which is usually what I associate with the pressure-filled tradition. However, as it has been in years past, I thought that maybe 2019 could be my year. What did I need to accomplish in 2019 and how would I get there? A resolution? A game plan? A promise to myself? So, while hauling some shit out of, and some shit into, my basement, I contemplated the possibility of taking part in a twitter phenomenon that I had seen off and on posted by those I follow: the goal to write (enter seemingly random number, mine would be 400) words a day.
“Yeah!” I thought to myself, while finally dumping out container after container of play-doh that had dried to crusty clumps. This will be perfect. I’ll do it, and all my writing related productivity problems would be over! On January 1st I wrote 100 words, and then promptly forgot about my resolution until January 4th. Seriously. Completely. Forgot.
This got me thinking about the nature of my resolutions and positive daily habits in general. I don’t have have many daily habits that center on my own self-care/self-improvement except for one: I run. I don’t say “I’m a runner” because that often conjures up images and personality traits that I do not assign to myself, but I do put one foot in front of the other, above an ambling pace, daily.
This is probably why I thought writing 400 words a day would be a piece of cake. As a person who runs, I have become very good at keeping myself accountable and keeping track of numbers. I have found ways to motivate myself into doing the work and logging the miles. However, what I had forgotten is that it took years of successes and failures to get to this point. Now I like it, feel good doing it, and feel the positive results of the hard work, but at the beginning it was a slog. First, it was just about getting out the door and walking around the block. When that got easier I quickened the pace or lengthened the distance. Over time, I was able to do both. It’s been an on and off relationship that has finally transformed into something beautiful and has allowed me to maintain my physical and mental health. After 12 years of serious commitment, I’ll be running my 6th marathon this year, and I’m actually looking forward to it. Although, I know when I reach mile 22 of said race I will question all the choices that have led me to attempt such a silly distance on foot because it has happened 5 times before and let’s face it, 26.2 miles is crazy and this is why humans invented cars…but I digress.
Of course during a morning run I began thinking about this journey and I questioned why I don’t approach my writing in the same way? Certainly this physical and mental endeavor is akin to running. In the same way that I don’t call myself a runner, I would never call myself a writer. I am not special. Anyone who can walk, can run, and this is not far from the assumption that anyone who can write, can, well, write. While true, it’s so much more complex than that, isn’t it? It needs to be done daily, and strengthened with proper training, equipment, and realistic goals.
Over the years I’ve read a lot of books and articles about running. Runners apparently like to write, or perhaps writers like to run? Chicken or the egg? Sure I’ve had a lot of practice, off and on, writing in my professional and personal life, but I hadn’t read a book or taken a class on writing in about 20 years. I would never attempt to run a considerable distance without training properly, why would I ever expect to spin gold when I sat down to my laptop? This is why I’m making strides to train properly as a writer and the first step I’ve taken is by reading. I am in the middle of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well and I find it’s a good omen that one of his early chapters focuses on clutter.
Rest assured, I’m going to persist. I’m not ready for 400 words per day, not yet, but I’m ready to take daily actions that will help improve my writing skills like continuing to read about writing, learning more about the craft, about creativity, pursuing writing prompts, and making healthy writing practices a priority. 2018 was the year that I began to take my writing more seriously, 2019 is the year to take it a step further. However, like my approach to running it’s not going to be a New Year’s resolution, but a lifelong endeavor that will have successes, failures, setbacks, and hopefully, personal victories.
Wishing you all your own writing victories this year!
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?).
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”→
I’ve always considered it a great failing in my education that I never had the chance to take drawing classes, or any art making classes for that matter. In middle school and high school art was an elective sacrificed if you were on a college prep track and despite my declared major of art history in undergrad, I went to such a large university that only studio art majors could take the studio classes. Thus, it has been a personal endeavor to learn the techniques used to make art objects in order to gain greater insight into the creative process of those I study. While an important part of my profession, drawing, painting, and photography have also been an important part of my self-care.
After the sage advice posted this month by Angela, Tanya, and Raquelle, I felt overdue for a break in which I could think and act creatively. I am fortunate to live outside of Washington, DC where the opportunity to pursue these activities at a low cost are readily available, which is why this weekend I found myself at The Big Draw Festival at the National Gallery of Art with my daughter and a good friend. The Big Draw is a charity that supports visual literacy and celebrates drawing as an important tool for learning and engagement. Although headquartered in England, every October partners around the globe host their own festivals. At the National Gallery in Washington, DC live models posed for the enjoyment of amateur and professional artist alike and entire galleries were given over to contemplating the movement of the human body captured by some of the most celebrated sculptors through history.
It wasn’t until the 15th century that drawing was considered an art form in its own right, though it has long been used as a means of studying various fields in a deeper way. For example, drawing has long been used in scientific fields to heighten observational and communication skills and more recently medical schools have added art classes to their curriculum. What struck me most about the latter is how art classes have helped doctors to better understand emotional expressions and cues. Drawing forces you to observe the world in order to replicate it, and observing the world leads to a deeper consideration and understanding. This is especially true when looking at people.
The friend who drew with me this weekend commented on how the exercise of sketching forced him to look, observe, analyze what might otherwise be overlooked. It was during this quiet reflection that, unbeknownst to us, shots were fired hundreds of miles away at a Synagogue in Pittsburg. Mere days earlier, two African Americans were targeted and slain in a grocery store and bombs were delivered by innocent postal carriers to leading political figures. Afterward, as I tried to digest the violence, I looked over my sketches and considered what my friend had said and remembered what I had seen. Models who had smiled and laughed when poses changed, who stretched and tended to sore muscles, and were applauded for their noticeable effort. Docents who had welcomed us with drawing materials and information. Fellow lovers of art who sat beside us sketching their own visions or who walked through galleries filled with history in visual form. My own daughter, my favorite muse, who I drew as she played video games after she’d grown bored of sitting still. What had made this such a magical day, such a memorable moment was more than just the action of drawing, but drawing together with people of all walks of life. I had tried to capture these figures of flesh and stone on paper, nameless to me, but so human, and so delicate. How is that human-ness lost to others?
The Big Draw’s claim is that “drawing changes lives”. I don’t know if that’s true, but taking the time to contemplating the world, and especially the people around us, can’t be a bad idea. While I’d always found creating art as part of taking care of myself, it wasn’t until this weekend that I considered it an important part of how I care for others, or more importantly, how I saw others.
I don’t know if my words are working together to convey what I wanted to in this post as it currently feels like a stream of consciousness. It’s all become so much to take in, but I can’t stop looking.
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”→
Despite being immensely inspired by Raquelle’s awesome post on “overcoming writing stalls”, I’ve had a difficult time being productive this week. Current events have left me angry, distracted, and anxious. I feel lucky, because many others have had it much worse: anguish, suffering, trauma. Due to my professional training, I am quick to analyze what I see and, even after listening to hours of testimony, it was the images that lingered: the setting, the people, the facial expressions.
My writing has long centered on women’s involvement in revolutionary political movements and their subsequent punishment, in visual form, for entering into the public sphere. Honestly, it’s been almost too easy to find topics because history is filled with demonized depictions of women who dared to defy societal norms and demand equal rights and an equal voice. For so long, I had naively regarded my analyses as study of a distance past. As an art historian, it’s a strange feeling when your research becomes terribly relevant and attempting to return agency and voice after centuries of vilification and erasure feels like a particularly pressing endeavor.
My attention had remained on France and their age of revolutions because, again, there was so much to study. Negative depictions of women revolutionaries abounded. However, I’ve since turned my attention to how other political imagery, ones that we often consider to be positive or laudatory, might be creating a negative impact. And I’ve turned my sights to my own country, which is how I found myself picking a fight with the Statue of Liberty.
Well, to be clear, not with the statue itself, but with the way that personification was changed by those who gave, and those who received, her body. The statue of liberty became a logical image for me given its origins. Although the most recognizable symbol of America, and the liberty and freedom (arguably) found in its republic, Bartholdi’s statue was conceived of by conservative French scholars and politicians who saw the new county as a stabilizing influence against the dangers of monarchy, as well as anarchy. Unlike what comes to mind today, Liberty (since 1792) had worn the Phrygian bonnet (an ancient symbol of the freed slave), wielded a weapon, and had functioned as the powerful, often angry, leader of popular uprising. Joan Landes’ states, in her book on women’s removal from the public sphere during the years before and after the Revolution of 1789, that “Liberty did not simply appear on the seal of the Republic, nor did she remain fixed on canvas or carved in stone. She went into the public forum…” She could be evoked by real women when they asked to be treated as equals.
I thought about this more and more as I saw photographs directly comparing the calm stoicism of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford with the overt anger and frustration of Brett Kavanaugh.
Liberty is someone/something we desire to evoke now, when the status of so many, even as humans, is being tested. (I was going to include a hyperlink, but there were just too many news stories that support this. You know what I’m talking about. Just open a newspaper and throw a dart.) However, the idealized depiction of Liberty found in New York’s harbor is a stern goddess with a rational respect for law and order. Her vagueness denies any relationship with the people who might call upon her protection. Although Linda Grasso’s book The Artistry of Anger focuses on black and white women’s literature, one can apply her theories to the visual. What emotional freedom would have been available to women and people of color when the Statue of Liberty was designed and erected? To be allowed anger is to allow a sense of self, true autonomy. “Two unstated assumptions underlie these premises: one, that the rational, righteously angry person is entitled to desire self-satisfaction, pleasure, and just treatment; and two, that the rational, righteously angry person possesses the power to make judgments about one’s own and others’ behavior. Both of these assumptions have, historically, not applied to women.” Thus, whose liberty is implied in the title of this statue? When the torch was lit rights for women, the working poor, and people of color were being squelched. The Phrygian cap’s replacement with a crown, the removal of her armament, and her composed demeanor seems poignant, to me, in this light, and much less majestic.
My research and writing has been cathartic this year, but it has also reminded me what we are up against: even the strongest visual symbol of this country and its founding ideologies has been constrained. Once celebrated for her righteous anger and willingness to cut down oppressors, she was sanitized for political reasons. While our bodies are used as symbols of enlightened and universal political ideologies, like Liberty and Justice, our voices, our emotions, and our experiences have also been suppressed.
I don’t know if I can say that I’m glad this is a writing project I’ll be working on more and more (to examine and include depictions of America, Freedom, and Lady Columbia), but it feels necessary to fully research and consider. I’ve been seeing Artemisia Gentileschi’s depictions of Judith and Holofernes making the rounds on social media. Perhaps it’s time to design a new colossal national monument…