Notes from an Accidental Scholar

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Posts filed under ‘1000 Words’

Who’s the Master?

November 30, 2011

When I was 8-years old, Berry Gordy’s Bruce Lee homage The Last Dragon was my favorite movie. I was so in love with this movie that I took kung fu classes, I did fly­ing kicks off my sofa, and I watched Bruce Lee movies with my dad so I could get the references.

This bit of Amer­i­can nos­tal­gia is brought to you by the last day of Aca­d­e­mic Book Writ­ing Month. I first read about AcBoW­riMo on Novem­ber 1 and decided right then and there to par­tic­i­pate. I did it because the dis­ser­ta­tion kicked my ass all over like Sho-Nuff and it was time to declare that I was the mas­ter, not my diss. Now if only I could get that sweet glow while sit­ting at my desk.

As you can see on my counter over there, I only made it to about 1/3 of my whack­adoo 30,000 word goal. But the glass half full ver­sion of this story is that in just one incred­i­bly busy month I have nearly two new chap­ters of my dissertation.

Some responses to this past month address­ing some of the AcBoW­riMo guide­lines:

  1. To Word Count or Not to Word Count? In AcBoW­riMo, there was some dis­sent regard­ing the word count goal. In jest: Leave it to aca­d­e­mics to find con­tro­versy in any­thing. I decided to do the word count as a loose bench­mark for me to mea­sure my progress. But I had other bench­marks as well. After talk­ing with a friend about dis­ser­ta­tion goals and progress, she sug­gested a con­cept goal. She works until she gets three ideas or expla­na­tions down on paper. Seem vague? Well, I’m a human­i­ties major so yeah, it’s a lit­tle vague, but it’s also highly ada­p­at­able. I also set time for edit­ing, that way I don’t have pages of word diar­rhea at the end of the month.

  2. Com­mu­nity Sup­port. It isn’t hyper­bole when I say I would be NOWHERE with­out the amaz­ing Twit­ter and Google Plus com­mu­nity of schol­ars, writ­ers, par­ents, nerds, activists, et al. My morn­ing rou­tine now includes read­ing the (#AcBoW­riMo) hash­tag on Twit­ter over my cof­fee. Know­ing that I’m not alone in what is often an incon­sis­tent, fit­ful writ­ing process is an incred­i­ble moti­va­tor. So to you all, I do hope you keep the posts com­ing under the new hash­tag #acwri. In addi­tion to read­ing oth­ers’ suc­cesses and slumps, I was account­able to the great wide inter­net. I don’t know about you, but promis­ing a giant word count to hun­dreds of strangers was more moti­va­tion that any­thing my com­mit­tee, hus­band, or brain could ever give me. You all made slack­ing impos­si­ble and you should all get a badge or the Medal of Free­dom or something.

  3. Plan. Plan. Plan. This doesn’t mean a minute by minute script of what you should do for the next hour/day/week/month/year. But I found it use­ful to end my writ­ing day with some bul­let points of what to do that day and the next. Also, I use the Pomodoro Tech­nique and the Pomodairo app (Mac and PC) which allows me to label my pomodoros, so I always know where to put my focus for that 30 minutes.

  4. Pick­ing up where you left off. I had two dif­fer­ent sets of house­guests this month, a week-long trip to Wash­ing­ton, DC, Thanks­giv­ing, protests, and the flu. These are all some legit rea­sons to aban­don #AcBoW­riMo because I fell behind and my per­fect month of work was sud­denly imper­fect. I learned that all months are imper­fect. Hell, min­utes are imper­fect. But you just deal and then pick up where you left off. I made sure to set aside time to write when my house­guests were here, I worked in DC, and I took time to be sick rather than “pow­er­ing through it” and pro­long­ing the ill­ness until the Spring. If you’re deal­ing with the heav­i­est that life can hurl at you, I highly rec­om­mend Char­lotte Frosts post about work­ing through tragedy.

  5. Keep the count. Even though there’s only an hour or so left of AcBoW­riMo here on the east coast, I can say hap­pily that it was awe­some. I plan to keep my word counter over there because I do even­tu­ally need to get to 30,000 words if I’m going to fin­ish my dis­ser­ta­tion. And I love com­ing to my blog and adding to the bar, it’s another moti­va­tor when I’m in the writ­ing muck. I’m also pleased that #acbow­rimo is now #acwri because I want to keep this going, I want to check in with you and I want to read how you’re all doing so long as I can lean on you from time to time.

Thank you so much to Char­lotte Frost and every­one who par­tic­i­pated. This was my best writ­ing month ever, now on to the next one.

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AcBoWriMo or WrEvDaDaMo?

November 13, 2011

It’s day 12 of AcBoW­riMo and if you’ve fol­lowed along, you’ll notice the progress bar over there is sloooooowly inch­ing toward my goal — “picome­ter­ing” is more like it. While I have steadily worked on my diss, I have not writ­ten much con­tent. In the first days I wrote up a storm, then I found research holes and my writ­ing is in a hold­ing pat­tern while I research.

Maybe I should think of this as WrEvDaDaMo, that is, Write Every Damn Day Month. I like what Mar­tin Eve had to say about AcBoW­riMo. As a per­son on the receiv­ing end of the rush to fin­ish from my dis­ser­ta­tion advi­sor, the whole fin­ish a book/dissertation by the end of the month holds the poten­tial to feed into that cycle of speed for the sake of speed in doc­toral research. He offers a sound cri­tique of the costs and ben­e­fits of AcBoW­riMo, namely that non schol­ars (say, school admin­is­tra­tors) will look at the results of AcBoW­riMo and think that it must be easy to write good schol­arly research in a short amount of time, leav­ing the slower writ­ers out of the run­ning for fel­low­ships, book con­tracts, and well, jobs.

But I enjoy hav­ing to write every day, because to fin­ish the dis­ser­ta­tion in any sort of rea­son­able time­line (not 15 years) I should write every day. Mar­tin also men­tioned in the com­ments that he lim­its his writ­ing to 600 words per day. Maybe I’ll give that a try.

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It’s On.

November 1, 2011

Today marks the start of NaNoW­riMo — National Novel Writer’s Month. Char­lotte Frost and the other fine folks at Phd2Published cre­ated AcBoW­riMo for Aca­d­e­mic Book Writ­ing and I like the idea. But don’t say it out loud, it’s a mouth­ful. Any­way, since I’m work­ing on my dis­ser­ta­tion draft, I’m going to par­tic­i­pate in AcBoW­riMo (more like DiDraW­riMo). That’s right: I’m going to write a com­plete draft of my dis­ser­ta­tion by the end of this month.

Let me say that again: I’m going to write a com­plete draft of my dis­ser­ta­tion by Decem­ber 1.

I’ve been nudg­ing, read­ing, and anno­tat­ing long enough. It’s time to close the books and just fuck­ing write already. This doesn’t have to be a good draft, in fact, the point is to remove judg­ment alto­gether. I’m aim­ing for a com­plete, and imper­fect draft. If some­one offered me a mil­lion dol­lars, a cure for my control-freaky anx­i­ety, and a tenure track job at UCLA to hand over a dis­ser­ta­tion draft by Decem­ber 1, hell yes I would do it. It doesn’t have to be pol­ished, you say? There’s room for revi­sion, you say? Awe­some, I’m in.

Since chances are I won’t have a mil­lion dol­lars or a tenure track job or an instant anx­i­ety cure (that doesn’t involve booze) by the end of the month, what I can have is a dis­ser­ta­tion draft.

So join me on this descent into mad­ness. Make bets, even. But I’m doing this, oh yes, It’s fuck­ing on.

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Dispatches from the Archive

July 8, 2011

The fam­ily unit went to Los Ange­les late last month and I spent a few days in the Hunt­ing­ton Research Library. For any of you British and Amer­i­can his­to­ri­ans out there who look at the past 1000 years of his­tory, you should check out the Hunt­ing­ton. Their man­u­script and rare books col­lec­tion is impres­sive, to say the least.

My work looks at eigh­teenth to nine­teenth cen­tury car­i­ca­ture and race. For my first chap­ter, I dis­cuss the link between phys­iog­nomy, race, and pol­i­tics and how polit­i­cal life was racial­ized as a result of ques­tions about con­tin­u­ing the slave trade, the influx of black poor into Lon­don, and the Hait­ian Rev­o­lu­tion. Diana Don­ald, author of the fan­tas­ti­cally com­pre­hen­sive 1996 mono­graph The Age of Car­i­ca­ture, dis­cusses the role of phys­iog­nomy, the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of a person’s bod­ily and facial fea­tures, ges­tures, and expres­sions as a means to mea­sure their per­son­al­ity traits and moral for­ti­tude, on early “how-to” guides to car­i­ca­ture. I wanted to see these guides for myself and much to my sur­prise, the first guide, *An His­tor­i­cal Sketch of the Art of Car­i­ca­tur­ing with Graphic Illus­tra­tions” (1813) by James Peller Mal­colm, opens with a dis­cus­sion of race, inher­i­tance, and the sub­lime beauty of Quakers.

For Mal­colm, graphic car­i­ca­ture was a truth-seeking exer­cise. That the most beau­ti­ful fea­tures demon­strate sup­pressed feel­ings and that women, in par­tic­u­lar, should “not mix in the usual amuse­ments of the world [so as not to be] liable to those acci­dents which would cause car­i­ca­tured lin­ea­ments in their off­spring.” (empha­sis added) This quote made me stop in my tracks. Malcolm’s car­i­ca­ture is about deco­rum and the dan­gers of a kind of moral mis­ce­gena­tion as a result of “mix­ing” emo­tion with deco­rum. He goes on to warn par­ents that “fre­quent and exces­sive laugh­ter must con­tribute to derange the fea­tures” so they should be wary of pro­duc­ing in their chil­dren an exag­ger­a­tion of their own worst, but sup­pressed attributes.

What led to this tweet exchange was Malcolm’s dis­cus­sion of the “sav­age car­i­ca­tur­ist.” He described “sav­age” peo­ples from the South Seas who can only cre­ate grotesque car­i­ca­ture art because they are, “car­i­ca­tures in nature.” Their art­work is a result of their own “dis­or­dered imag­i­na­tion” and the British car­i­ca­ture artist can learn from this innate sav­agery. He goes on to talk about the “despised and offen­sive hot­ten­tot” and how even if she had the “favoured pro­por­tions” of the Euro­pean, her com­plex­ion lends her to be a nat­u­rally occur­ring caricature.

I still haven’t gen­er­ated the link to the slave trade pre­cisely, but I feel so close to a break­through that it’s prob­a­bly star­ing me right in the face.

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