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July 5, 2007

another great academic gathering

The Writing Center Technology Summit in Texas A&M last month was a pretty remarkable gathering of academics. And now I've been part of another uncommon academic event. The Critical Hmong Studies Workshop convened on Monday and Tuesday of this week. Nine of us spend two full days together, and I am, again, really amazed at what academics can actually do when they come together in a spirit of collaboration and conversation (rather than posturing and puffing). It was a very stimulating, if exhausting, environment. I think we all felt our specific papers were improved by the rich and careful feedback and that we discovered generous and loyal colleagues for life. It was profound.

The feedback on my Alphabet Wars chapter from the workshop will help inform some of the changes I make in presenting that chapter at the SHARP conference next week. This is the first time that I am able to make a conference presentation where I feel like I am actually presenting a longer work. Since I have actually written much of this chapter, I think I will be able to say things like, "In the introduction to this chapter, I lay out framework X," without having to take the time to actually lay framework X out. I think that will save me a lot of time so I can talk about specific examples (which I assume will be of greatest interest to my audience), and it will save me from spending all of my time on the introduction and framing (which is my tendency). So this is a unique experience for me in preparing/presenting a conference paper. I'm excited.

All of this slows down the work on my Generation(s) of Diaspora chapter. I have a few movies to watch and write about. I think I am starting to migrate towards an emphasis—at least a partial one—on romantic melodrama/comedy. Those movies are abundant and popular. I think a genre has emerged and evolved that reveals an important progression in diasporic community and diasporic thinking. Get the popcorn.

June 19, 2007

What I've missed...

...while slogging through graduate school is one of the fundamental motivations for entering in the first place to write the dissertation I've been thinking about for years, namely the pleasure of person-to-person conversation.

As I have been researching my Generation(s) of Diaspora chapter on Hmong video over thirty years and over three generations of refugees/immigrants, I have been able to do the research that is most satisfying and pleasurable to me. I walk into a Hmong video rental store and start talking to the owner, asking questions about the inventory, asking about a particular old movie I've heard about, looking for insight into the video scene. Everyday conversations offer profound satisfaction and enjoyment.

As my schedule has generally kept me on campus, I have felt frustrated trying to research in the "usual" way of library and internet. It doesn't work for me or for my dissertation. And I knew that long ago when I chose my topic. And I was actually excited because I knew that I wouldn't be stuck in an archive or a library, but that I had to be out and communicating with people. It's what I like best.

So four or five video stores later, I've met some remarkable people and come across videos and filmmakers and ideas that never would have presented themselves in isolation—or in more formal interviews. There is probably a description of this methodology that is circulating, but I'm not aware of it. Certainly, there is something ethnographic about it, but it feels quite distinct from an anthropologist's approach. In any case, I don't much care about what it could be called or what a literature review on it would be called. I'm content that it supplies a tremendous amount of energy to me as a researcher and a dissertation writer and it makes me feel more—not less—connected with humanity in an otherwise isolating pursuit of higher education.

June 5, 2007

done and double booked

I pulled a Mitch. I agreed to meeting on Tuesday mornings despite the fact that I have a standing meeting at the Center for Writing on Tuesday mornings throughout the summer. I'm done at noon, but that may be too late for Elizabeth (and this message may come too late for anyone to adjust their schedule or plans for coming to campus). I am sorry to screw up again, but I'd like for you to go ahead and meet. I have posted some of my progress and concerns on our blog, so you know where I have been.

And I submitted this really really really really rough draft to the critical Hmong studies workshop group, in which I feel I have put my entire ego on the line. The thing is SUCH a mess. I would never ordinarily let anyone read something in this condition, but I'm really trusting in the collegiality of the group AND in the fact that 1) I have been pushed to get a lot more done than I otherwise would have and 2) that feedback from this group will be exceptionally productive at this stage.

So, I accomplished my big goal.

I'm setting aside "Alphabetic Wars" for now (I'll return to it off and on before the July 2-3 workshop) and turning my attention to "Generation(s) of Diaspora," the chapter about narrative films over 3 generations/30 years that is my GRPP project with Jigna Desai. I meet with her on Wednesday to inaugurate our weekly meetings throughout the summer. I'm very eager to start a new chapter and to be able to work so closely with Jigna.

That's my update from here. Again, I'm sorry to blow our meeting tomorrow/today. I'm good for anything after noon on Tuesdays going forward for the rest of the summer.

June 4, 2007

the iceberg cometh

I'm working on getting this draft off today/tonight. I'm not really worried about it because I am thinking about it as a very early draft, and I am simply glad to have gotten some momentum (finally!). And I am eager for the feedback that I'll get next month.

But only just now do I realize how much more there is for me to know. Sara talks about identifying articles and books that seem to demand to be read. I keep coming across orthographies I was previously unaware of, and then I find there are people to meet and to talk with. I have a list of six men that I need to meet to talk about the history and meaning of their working in devising alternative writing systems. There is so much here, I wonder if this can be contained to a single chapter. This could easily become a dissertation unto itself. That thought is stunning. And it makes me wonder how to continue to approach my project.

A lot of my difficulties relate to methodologies. I need some, but I've barely been given any. Living resources tend to be the most important in my work, which is no surprise to me, but I didn't realize the unique challenge trying to work with and organize that kind of data would be. Some days I'd rather just have a pile of paper and books to read through. On other days I'm really glad that my research necessitates these human interactions. It is the research I'd rather do, but it seems more difficult at the same time.

So, as I realize I am just dealing with the tip of this massive iceberg, and as I charge forward into the pitch of night towards that iceberg and any others that may be lurking in dark waters, I wonder what's in store for me. Discovery? Or disaster?

So I just keep writing...

May 29, 2007

something got done

Hail the magical mystery of the blog! It soothes. It eases. It comforts. And it consoles. If only it would do laundry, make coffee, and calm screaming toddlers awoken by night terrors, it would really be magical.

Sara speaks very comforting and wise words. I agree with your analysis of the self struggle that is the dissertation. And maybe it is exacerbated by who we are (our present and persistent selves)—that is, people of reflection, complication, and poignancy who are drawn to the humanities. I think we all have very active inner lives where we struggle with our fraught world (past, present, and future) and our fraught selves (past, present, and future). It is a good reminder that this can be more about exterior matters than interior ones.

And I feel better this evening knowing that I sat down this afternoon and pounded out a single-spaced page and I was able to enjoy the writing and the thinking it invited whereas I have been so stuck by the thinking and the writing it foreclosed. I have some juice left in me, and if they boys can stay sleeping while Christa is at a movie, I can get some more writing done.

Tomorrow I'll be at Concordia in the archive were I can channel the spirit of dusty artifacts and lay hands on concrete objects. That's always exciting, refreshing, and enjoyable.

Thanks, Sara, for so many words of encouragement. Thanks, blog, for whatever it is that you do, too.

fear and loathing...and hope?

I've procrastinated to the point of pain.

I was really pinched by this PFF class during the semester, so drafting my second chapter about literacy primers was constantly crowded out. And I have always loved fresh starts and new beginnings, to the point that if I haven't started off strong, I wait for something to mark a fresh start to try again. And during the waiting time nothing happens.

So, I have very little to show for the spring semester. And now my chapter is due on Monday, June 4. I am submitting it to the Critical Perspectives in Hmong Studies conference/workshop, where the draft will be read by each of the other nine participants from around the country, and where there will be an hour of discussion dedicated to my piece. That is a really great opportunity, but I'm a little bit concerned that I won't have something substantial or polished or even complete. That concerns me for several reasons. 1) how embarrassing will this be, among my highly respected peers and one of the most important groups of scholars working in Hmong studies? 2) will I waste the exceptional opportunity for careful and expert feedback because my chapter is not developed far enough to benefit from their input? 3) have I put myself even further behind in trying to get this dissertation written? I only have a half-draft from the fall semester. When do I expect to write this thing? Do I think it is just going to magically happen?

I had wanted to use the three weeks after the semester ended to get all of this work done—and I think it would have easily been possible with that much time—but I took a really long time grading in the first week, and the I had a bunch of random other stuff that I was overdue on doing last week. I have really struggled to sit down and work. I started hitting this slump in week 13 of the semester, and I haven't recovered yet.

I'm very frustrated with myself. And I'm afraid of failure. And it's already Tuesday (I conveniently overlooked Monday's holiday as reducing how much time I would have to work on research and writing). But confessing all of this stuff here actually helps to calm me down. It's a good catharsis. And maybe I feel a little bit bolstered that I can sit down and crank out what I need over the next week. And maybe what I produce won't suck too bad.

One can only hope. And work.

May 15, 2007

It begins...

In all its glory, here is our ¡Defenestrate! blog. We are all PhD candidates in the English Department at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. Although we each research in vastly different areas, we come together to support and uphold each other in a process that can be both isolating and overwhelming.

Beginning in the fall of 2006, ¡Defenestrate! has met weekly for about an hour to talk about our goals—big and small—as we work towards completing our dissertations. This blog is a sort of experiment to augment less frequent meetings during the summer of 2007. Here we shall post the progress we have made, as well as the problems we have encountered, and document our regular goals and their achievement.

Open the window, or you risk broken glass. ¡Defenestrate! has entered the cybersphere.