transitions, new year

I will get it done. I will get it done.

Mantra for 2012.

One chapter draft down, two more chapters to go. Difficult to feel grounded in the work as long as I’m in this city– need to get up to the Bay so I can do my research, start living and breathing it. Until then, it’s just an abstract thing that needs to happen, but the urgency isn’t there.

Birthday next week. Big party for a landmark birthday. Bittersweet (always, now) as the day following is my Lolo’s death anniversary. I think after this year, I’m moving my birthday to June.

New year, big birthday have been cause for rethinking priorities, re-evaluating relationships with everyone–family, friends, partner. Of all things, I am still amazed by the generosity of friends that I hardly see, and did not think I was close with any more. I moved around so much — as a child, as an adult– that it is hard to stay in touch and to remain close with people the same way, I imagine, it is for those that have stayed stable. I guess I live in the moment– making friendships fast with those nearby me. But, as I am reminded now and again, it’s not always the ones that are the most immediately present that are the ones to keep close. There is just something about graduate school, especially, that has lead to a lot of friendship disappointments or too-high expectations that aren’t ever quite met. It’s time to reassess and re-evaluate, I guess is all I mean to say. Cherish what is valuable, let go of what pulls down.

This post is so melancholy. Strange, because I’ve been doing pretty well. It must just be one of those mornings.

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poetry as necessary as water… thank you Barbara Jane Reyes for writing Poeta en San Francisco, for giving shape and form to the things I have been wrestling with in beginning to research and write for this dissertation. It’s a text so perfect I’m worried my committee will think I conjured it to fit my analysis. Not the truth, that it magically fell into my lap and fit there.

Right now, because of this text and others I have collected along the way (against, almost accidentally, I don’t know how it’s happening like this) I am happy and hopeful that the things I’ve been thinking/worrying/obsessing over and about these past six months are actually valid questions, may actually be worth something to someone else, and are not just in the interest of reproducing my own self-serving intellectualism. I came to academia as an entry point into expanding my work with the/my community, but over the years I’ve felt further removed (intellectually, spiritually, geographically) from the community than I did when I started… perhaps these texts are part of me finding my way back.

other languages.

I just returned from a conference where I presented my paper, a critical reading of Kim Sunee’s popular 2008 “food memoir” Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home, a one-off paper that I’m quite proud of but that didn’t get a very enthusiastic reception.

In this paper, I meditated on some of the ways that one’s racial identity (in this case, Sunee’s as a transracial Korean adoptee, raised in New Orleans) is produced not only by one’s interactions with other people, but also is shaped through one’s movements through cities, nations, and their consumption of food and the land. In this paper, I wrote about the ways that cities Sunee visits or lives in, like New Orleans and Cayenne in French Guiana, as well as their foodways are so marked by histories of slavery, colonialism, war that many people like Sunee refuse to acknowledge or romanticize. In tracing Sunee’s travels through these places, I focused on the ways that Sunee negotiates her literal and metaphorical place in these locations, as an Asian/American/female/adoptee whose own history is shaped by experiences of colonization, warfare, and US military actions in Korea. Pretty basic, no?

To completely oversimplify my argument– I used this text to think through how all of us negotiate our racial/sexual/national identities in part through our interactions with people and land, and through our consumption of food and sex. For women of color, in particular, these interactions are fraught by the multiple, material and imaginative colonizations of our land, our food, and our bodies. In order to “imagine otherwise,” or to inhabit the world ethically, we need to be attentive to ways in which we, as queer/women/of color folks, engage with these different geographies– to note and address the moments where we may ourselves be perpetuating the abjection and (neo)colonization of other’s lands and bodies, even if we often are the ones more often marginalized or abjected by dominant society. Pretty basic, no?

Needless to say, it didn’t go very well. I really think other folks in the panel, and in the audience, are working on issues of Asian American or transracial adoptee identity from a completely different angle. My focus on discussing the ways in which we traverse and inhabit geographies both materially and imaginatively, using frameworks of black feminist geography rather than legible “Asian American Studies” or “critical transracial adoption studies” scholarship, wasn’t satisfying for folks in the room. Questions kept pressing me on my reading of  Sunee’s “assimilation” into whiteness or rejection of “black people,” which is what I repeatedly said I wasn’t suggesting. There seemed to be some anxiety (anger?) over the (mis)perception that I was claming that Sunee, and by extension all transracial adoptees, are choosing their “American” identities over their “Asian” identities.

[What do those categories even mean, really? The whole point of my paper was to really have us think about what constitutes these places known as “America,” “Asia,” “Africa”– to have us break down on a smaller scale the cities that make up these nations, and the literal and metaphorical positionings of the people that live or travel through these places. The audience probably thought I was being too deconstructionist or poststructuralist about identity, when in fact I was really trying to tie us to the political economy, the real (like, almost vulgar Marxist materialist) conditions that create the places which we inhabit, travel through, and consume.]

Basically, we were speaking in different languages.

Perhaps my talk of a “food memoir” seemed too apolitically fluffy from the start. I get it- many of them there, some colleagues of mine, are themselves transracial adoptees with a real investment in changing policy and in producing ethical, social scientific research that will change the ways people view adoption. Really important issues, yes. My political, personal, or intellectual project? No. Frankly, I don’t even know why I was placed on this panel– oh, probably because the conference organizers saw the words “Korean adoptee” in the abstract and just threw me in there. And who says critical race studies scholars don’t racially lump? Riiiight…

I don’t know why I just rambled on about this. Perhaps because it’s part of a longer set of frustrations I’ve been having as I develop my dissertation project (not at all using this paper I just wrote about, though some of the very basic frameworks are similar). It’s getting harder and harder these days to find folks to dialogue with about the work I’m doing now. So often lately people have tried to lump it under “food studies” or “Asian American studies”, neither of which necessarily fits well or at all. Rather than try to describe my project, I feel like spitting out keywords so people can leave me alone:

Filipino/American labor  x  solidarity politics  x urban and rural geographies  x  gendered and racialized subjectivities x  archives and repertoires x consumption and value

Would that help clear it up? Probably not.

ABDone!

So I did it. I passed my oral qualifying exam today “with flying colors” (according to the email sent out to the department by my chair). Doesn’t really feel real, though maybe that’s the liquor talking.

I can’t wait to wake up late tomorrow, take a run (or not), and read some Love and Rockets compendiums I’ve put on hold for, like, forever. Thank god this part is over; now I can get to the business of doing the academic work necessary to complete this cursed degree! After I sleep a little, that is…

Qualin’

From the final draft of the dissertation prospectus, submitted last Monday:

Strange to see the last year of my life distilled that way. Over 100+ pages of writing all told, cut down into a 25 page final draft. Words words and more words, and so little to show for it.

I’m currently in the last throes of writing out the two essays making up the written portion of the exam; turning them into my committee on Tuesday. The following Monday, I’ll have my oral examination and that should do it. Something to be thankful for, indeed.

friendly fire

So, friendship in grad school is kind of funny. Not funny as in ha ha, but funny as in strange. I mean, I know friendships in general are convoluted, messy affairs, but there’s something particular, I think, about being thrust into such an insular environment with a small cohort of peers for at least half a decade (if not longer, ugh).

I moved around a lot as a kid, so coming up on my sixth year living here in SoCal is a bit strange– it might just break my record yet of longest time I’ve lived in one place. But being here as a grad student lends itself inherently to a feeling of permanent transience– grad students, undergrads, faculty, staff are always coming and going. As soon as you meet someone great, that you really connect with, then another person leaves, or you do first. It’s hard to feel rooted in a place when you know it’s a way-station until you find something else to do- a tenure-track job at best, or quitting and moving somewhere else at worst (well, in my worst-case scenario at least).

Which is all to say that the first 3 or so years here were really a struggle. I didn’t feel particularly connected to the folks in my incoming cohort, save a couple, and the folks I first became close to finished up their PhDs and left the area, or had other life transitions and moved on. Being in grad school together definitely makes for a different dynamic between friends- our friendships  are at once extremely intense due to the inherent intensity of our shared situation, but can also be distant, because sometimes the work is the only thing that we have in common. Friends I thought I would be close to that were around the same “year” as I was I’m no longer close with, because our “real lives” outside of the shared grad school experience are just too different– it’s been a painful set of realizations to recognize that those I wanted to be close to at one point are not necessarily the people that will be there for me when it gets tough, or that I feel invested enough in to care about, either.

I’m happy that at this point, my close friends here are folks I would actually consider “friend-friends” and not just “school friends.” I see myself being friends with them long after we leave grad school, and I look forward to working with them professionally as well as continuing our personal friendships. I know I’m pretty lucky in that I’ve found a solid group of folks that I can talk about work with one minute, and go dancing at the club with the next. I really wish I didn’t have to wait until I was this far along in the program before having that support system, but I’m happy to have found them now, nonetheless.

On another tip, I always wonder about others who I see as loners or as having only friends “on the outside.” While I definitely wish I had more friends here that weren’t absorbed by grad school minutiae as I am, I do wonder what it’s like to only be around other people that have no idea what you do all day. Just trying to explain to family a fraction of what I do is exhausting, how would I try to do it with all of my friends? Talking to many friends and family who haven’t been through a PhD program, I’m constantly being asked when I’m going to finish, as if it’s just a matter of taking a test or writing a term paper between me and my degree. When I explain that I’m busy right now because of qualifying exams, my family looks very confused– why have I spent months studying for “just one test”? I’m lucky in that for my friends here, I don’t have to do that translation work, and have support for what’s going on right now in my grad school career. At the same time, I really miss my after-work happy hour crew, or being able to take off any Friday night to sing karaoke or grabbing a fancy meal– those definitely aren’t typical moments when all of us grad students are overworked, underpaid, and just overwhelmed and unable to tear ourselves away from our work.

I’m rambling a bit, I’m sure. It’s been a long day of work, and thankfully, I’ve also done today a lot of catching up with friends I haven’t been able to see very much of during this stupid quals process. Seeing them just made me think about grad school friendship in general…

What have you all experienced, fellow academics? How’s grad school been treating you lately?

from under the bus

Still trying to qual. Don’t ask.

Missed the two Fulbright dissertation fellowship deadlines this year, but am applying for another big fellowship that would make a huge difference in my ability to do the project I want, without going totally broke or insane trying to do it. No pressure, right?

Obviously, the proposal is only as good as the project behind it, but it’s been such a struggle so far to even write what that project is for this funding agency. I’m an interdisciplinary scholar working between many fields- history, critical geography, visual cultural studies, performance studies, feminist and queer studies. Notice something about all of them- that they’re not social sciences? Guess which fellowship I’m applying for? Now you know my pain.

I know what I need to write in order to be legible to the funders, and I’m trying to do this work of translation while   staying true to myself and the ethics of my project. It’s a near-impossible task. My chosen methods and theoretical approaches come directly out of my knowledge that the  social sciences and hard sciences were born out of a racial project to quantify, classify, and objectify the very communities which I am a member of and who I am in solidarity with; yet to position myself and my project as such would automatically send my application to the “discard” pile. I know the colonial, militaristic, and neoliberal underpinnings of the fields of area studies, political science, and economics– the very fields whose language I have to employ in order to make my work sound “empirical”; I can’t stand to write this way, but I also know that without this funding, I won’t be able to do any research in the field, the research that writing this dissertation depends on. Did I say this task was impossible? Scratch that, it’s just plain violent.

My problem isn’t unique– so many of us radical folks of color (not just in the academy, but in the nonprofit industrial complex, in grassroots movements and orgs, too) need to do this song and dance every day just to survive. And I’m not saying anything new here when I ask: What does it do to our spirits to have to throw ourselves and our communities under the bus momentarily in order to get the resources we need to help us thrive in the long-term? Doesn’t this necessary move also, unwittingly, keep us dependent on the very structures that continue to work against our interests, that ultimately drive us to premature death?

Of course I have no answers, I just wish I didn’t have to ask the questions.