2018 Ford Fellows’ Conference Plenary

Thank you for the introduction.

Being selected to give this plenary here at the Ford Conference is a huge honor. Receiving the Ford Predissertation Fellowship was a turning point in my academic life. The community of Fellows and what I learned from them is the reason I stayed in graduate school and why I have my current position.

The topic of my talk today is mentoring. Specifically, how mentoring and being mentored are a source of academic joy. Are what makes our success worthwhile. We don’t use words like “joy,” “generosity,” or “kindness” very often in academic circles, instead favoring words like “rigor” as though they can’t all be connected. I know mentoring and the giving of kindness and generosity have been more important to my life as a scholar than any course, archive, or theory. It is my experience with mentoring that has taught me the most. I know the importance of mentoring because of spending six years on the job market, and five as contingent faculty.

During those years I was an adjunct lecturer, I taught at four colleges and universities for seven different departments. One of the chairs I worked for, Chicana feminist scholar Dr. Karen Mary Davalos, (I say her name here because giving credit is important) mentored me on the job market. Over those years, with her support, I applied for more than 200 jobs across the US and internationally. I had more than 20 interviews, and several campus visits. Five years sounds like a long time and it was. During all that time, even when she wasn’t my chair anymore, Dr. Davalos did more than I can recount here. She wrote my letters, read my research, critiqued my job materials, introduced me to other scholars, and actively encouraged me, treating me as her equal, always.

In 2017, when I was hired into a tenure-track position and began my new job, a friend suggested I write a blog post about how I was able to move from an adjunct to a tenure-track position, a variation on the popular “quit lit” genre of academic blogging, but one with an unusually happy ending. As I thought about how to write what to me seems more good fortune than formula, I decided to write about the academic mentoring practices that inspired me to stay on the market through so many cycles. To write about the community of scholars, of women of color who supported and encouraged me and my work. The post I wrote focused on Dr. Davalos, on the difference one person made, but in reality, there were many mentors who reached out to help. First among them was Ford Fellow, Dr. Kate Shanley, who arranged to meet with me at the Modern Languages Association conference, where I had my first interviews. She bought me coffee, candidly reviewed my job materials, and suggested talking points for my interview. There was also Dr. Norma Cantú, who, at another MLA, made sure I had dinner plans each night and would not be sitting alone in a hotel room.

I wrote about one person and the support she gave me, but there were dozens of acts of mentoring, of generosity, of kindness that helped me on a practical level, but even more importantly, affirmed my value as a scholar and a person. This is important because so much of the academic hiring process is impersonal and dehumanizing. So the blog post I wrote ended up being about the importance of a single mentor relationship.

I wrote it fast, in maybe an hour and a half, and then posted it to my blog. I didn’t expect much to happen when putting the link to it up on my Twitter account. My blog didn’t have many readers (statistics said 5 or fewer visitors a day) and my Twitter account had relatively few followers. But the post struck a nerve. I watched with no small amount of nervousness, as over the next 72 hours the link was retweeted hundreds of time. Friends from all over contacted me to say the link to my blog post had been shared on their Facebook feeds and the post itself was being discussed in a number of groups. At the same time, my blog’s stats were showing hits in the hundreds and then thousands. A digital humanities friend with a much bigger social media presence told me my post had gone “academic viral.” Within a week, with my permission, it had been republished as an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, exposing my writing to more people, including my college dean.

All this social media attention was unsettling, the experience of people of color, especially women, on the internet is not an easy one, but the responses I received were largely positive. I heard, from a number of graduate students and contingent faculty about their need for mentors and mentoring. I heard too from people recounting their own experiences with mentors and other acts of academic kindness and generosity. But most of all, I heard from hundreds of senior faculty across disciplines and around the world who said they wanted to mentor someone. People who said they were going to look for opportunities to make that kind of difference to someone in a contingent position on the job market. So there are senior scholars looking for people to mentor.

Which takes this back to you. Because I also heard from faculty and administrators that I had made my own mentoring possible. That I had reached out for help, asked for assistance, and taken what was offered. These conversations reminded me of the incredible vulnerability I felt at finishing my Ph.D. without knowing what I was going to do next, without having landed an academic job that despite the current state of the market I somehow assumed I’d find. This insecurity came from not understanding how academic searches were done, not knowing what positions I was qualified for, not knowing how to go about getting published, or whether my materials were right for the jobs I was applying for. There were seemingly hundreds of things I didn’t know that someone finishing graduate school is somehow expected to understand. The answers I found on the internet were contradictory and did nothing to help my anxiety or confidence. The groups organized by my department felt somehow competitive, and not in a positive way.

Because I had been a Ford Fellow and realizing I needed help, I put my first hesitant requests for assistance on the fellows’ listserv and heard almost immediately from Chicana scholar, Dr. Tiffany Ana Lopez, who reached out to me and offered help. The positive, helpful responses I received encouraged me to reach out more, to find a community of Chicana scholars. When I attended Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social Institute the summer after my hooding, I felt ashamed admitting I didn’t have academic work for the coming fall. But the senior women at MALCS explicitly told me focus on celebrating my doctorate, that Latinas make up only 2% of college faculty in the United States and I should be proud of finishing. They encouraged me to try again on the job market if I wanted to be a professor.

The Ford Fellowship’s mission to diversify higher education is only possible if these moments of kindness, of generosity, happen. When I replied with my concerns about the job market, said I’d read and been told by my own department that there were too many people getting PhDs in English, Ford Fellow Dr. Deena Gonzalez replied very quickly “There are not too many Chicanas with PhDs in English. There are too few, especially given what the undergraduate population looks like.”

This is true for all of us. Our very rareness, a factor that can make us feel like we don’t belong in our Ph.D. programs, is actually part of why we must belong and why we must value each other and our work. Many of us work on texts, on histories, with communities and populations that, if we weren’t doing our work, no one would be doing this research at all. If we aren’t there to ask our questions, it’s not a given that someone else will ask them. Maybe not for years. Maybe not ever. We can choose to see this. In doing so, we can choose to see each other not as competition in a zero-sum game of faculty hiring, tenure, and promotion, but as part of communities of scholars who know each other and appreciate each others’ work and success.

My experiences on the academic job market and as adjunct faculty changed and developed me more than my Ph.D. program did. The experience of finding and working with mentors changes one’s research, teaching, writing,  communication, and our own capacity to mentor others. What we can come to see is this world, this academic world we inhabit is full of smart, even brilliant people. The ones I admire, the ones worth emulating and who make the most difference, are the ones who build community. They are generous scholars, who value kindness as part of academic life. This makes for a better experience for everyone they touch.

You’re here and it’s no mistake. You belong here. I know you’re brilliant. Your research is important, could change your field, the world even. So this is my challenge to you. Be vulnerable. Reach out for mentorship and friendship over and over, and accept it when it’s offered. Be all the amazing things you are capable of being, and be kind as you do so. You’ll then be able to reach out and mentor as you climb in your field. Consciously looking for ways to build community and pay it forward.

Here is the final bit of my job story. At the start of this speech, in addition to talking about mentoring, generosity, and kindness, I promised joy. It is not my own. I felt more relief than anything else when I finally got hired. However, when I started my job, my new department chair told me about making calls to check my references before they made the final offer. She said when she called one of my references, Dr. Alice Gambrell who’d supported my work since graduate school, asking about me and in the process telling her of Cal State Dominguez Hills’s planned job offer, Dr. Gambrell screamed out with joy.

That happiness over the success of one we mentor is what I wish for all of us.

Thank you.

MALCS Summer Institute 2018

Image of institute announcement.

The MALCS 2018 Summer Institute at the University of Texas El Paso is over. I’m sitting in the lobby of the Hilton next to the campus waiting in the blissful air conditioning for my shuttle to the airport. I’m tired and will be glad to be home. But I also am so sorry this year’s institute is over.

Most years I attend 4-5 conferences and/or institutes. In 2018 I will have attended MLA (Modern Language Association), NACCS (National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies), MALCS (Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social), Ford Fellow Conference, and ASA (American Studies Association). All of them are important to me and I attended or tried to attend as an adjunct faculty member, despite having to pay all costs myself. Now that I’m tenure-track my university will pay travel and hotel for two conferences a year where I’m giving a paper. Of all of them though, the one I look forward to most is MALCS. This year since the conference was in Texas and I wasn’t giving a paper, I was happy to self-fund.

MALCS is different from the other conferences in several ways. It’s held on a different or college university campus each year. It’s for community activists as well as academics. And it’s by and for Chicana, Latina, and Indigenous women and gender non-binary people. If you haven’t experienced it, I can’t fully explain what it’s like to walk into a space and see rooms full of women who look like me. Representation isn’t everything and it isn’t utopia. But on the other hand, roughly 1% of college and university faculty are Latina. Fewer still are Native or Indigenous women. MALCS turns this around. We make the space in these universities our own. This was all the more powerful in that we were hosted by UT El Paso and El Paso Community College, both Hispanic Serving Institutions.

I won’t be able to give a complete sense of Institute, but here are a few moments that felt especially :

Session 1 – Language, Identity, and Culture in the US-Mexico Border
Presenters: Sonia Aleman, Mari Castaneda

This session used Latina/o critical communication theory to look at how chants of “Build that wall, “Make America great again,” and even “Trump, Trump” are being deployed as hate speech as expressions of white supremacy.

Session 3 – Counter-Narratives of Digital Archives and (HER)stories
“Decentering Digital Humanities: Creating the First Digital Humanities Research Center for US Latinx Studies” Gabriela Baeza Ventura (U of Houston)

“Challenging Narratives of Exclusion through Public History, Performance, and Art”
Lydia R. Otero (University of Arizona)

This session was important not only because of the significant work being discussed, but because a digital humanities session at MALCS had an almost full room. Seeing DH work being done by Chicana, Latina and Native women was exciting and fills me with joy. I couldn’t help but think back to MALCS 2012 in Santa Barbara where Linda Garcia and I led an impromptu discussion on using Twitter in the Chicana studies classroom as expressions of digital humanities. I think there were four of us in the room. It was exciting to see how many MALCS graduate students are interested in DH.

Session 7 Toward a Research Manual in Chicanx/Latinx Studies
Rita Urquijo-Ruiz (UT San Antonio)
Linda S. Heidenreich (Washington State University)
OMG this session! Rita and Linda discussed their project — the creation of a writing and research manual using Chicanx and Latinx studies theory and principles for its basis. I was excited about it from the moment I read about it in the program, but only became more so when they put examples of writing principles as basic as semicolon usage that used quotes from Anzaldúa. The room erupted. This is such a powerful idea.
So much was fantastic about this institute. I’m already looking forward to next year at U Mass-Amherst.

Editing and Publications

One of the things I didn’t know when I became an academic is that as one I would write something, it would be accepted, and then it would be months, or more often, years before the work was published. I also didn’t understand that submitting work for publication is a process, that it will be edited, come back to me, revised, sent back and that this process could repeat multiple times.

Being edited is hard for me. Like many academics, especially women of color, I carry with me a huge amount of impostor syndrome, generally believing I’ve gotten this far by somehow tricking a lot of very smart people into thinking I’m smart too. So when I get feedback on my writing, my first impulse is to believe this is the moment — I’ve finally been found out. That’s only my first reaction though. After I take a deep breath and read over editor comments I tend to think things like: “Wow, I’m so glad they caught this” or “They’re right, this could be clearer/longer/shorter, etc.” Good editing and good peer review is a gift from one scholar to another.

I’ve been fortunate in my editors and peer reviewers. With some, there’s been a feminist ethos of editorship that’s been focused on encouraging writing with constructive criticism delivered in a supportive manner. With others, it’s been an open peer review process where I’ve worked with the reviewer to revise something until we both agree it’s ready for publication. In all cases, the editors (including ones where my has been rejected) have been kind people who edit with generosity. I know that’s not always the case, that at times “rigor” and “honesty” are equated with cruelty and a seeming belief that we can be cutting so long as we’re speaking the truth. Yet editing someone’s writing is an intimate act. Writers put their ideas and skills with language in a reader’s hands, hoping the work is good enough to go through the gate the editors and reviewers keep. Writers sending their work to editors make themselves vulnerable to being told their work isn’t good enough to be included in their profession’s discourse.

Why am I thinking about this today? Partly because I’m at the University of Texas El Paso at the MALCS (Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social) Summer InstituteEditing and editorship have played a huge role in the organization — almost as soon as the Chicana and Latina feminists began meeting in the 1980s, they started working on getting each other’s work into print. As I wrote in “Practice and Praxis: Chicana Feminism and the History of the Chicana/Latina Studies Journal” for Diálogo, the history of the MALCS organization and its journal are intertwined.

But also this past month a book chapter, “’Tu riata es mi espada’: Elizabeth Sutherland’s Chicana Formation” I wrote on Elizabeth Martinez for the anthology Chicana Movidas: New Narratives of Activism and Feminism in the Movement Era (edited by Dionne Espinoza, María Eugenia Cotera, and Maylei Blackwell) was published with the University of Texas Press. Being included among the authors in this book is a great honor . I wrote the first draft of the book chapter in the summer of 2014 — its publication (including some incredibly useful peer editing) took a long time, but I think the quality of the collection shines. And then today, UndocuDreamers: Public Writing and the Digital Turn, an article I wrote last summer (so not that long ago – though it was part of a paper I gave at HASTAC in 2015) for a b2o special issue on the theme “The Digital Turn” was published. The editor, David Golumbia helped me shape and revise what had been a conference paper on a disturbing pedagogical failure into an article.

I don’t have a clever or even thoughtful end to this — except to circle back to where I started, that review and editing can be gifts.

On Deleting Facebook

I left Facebook in January, deactivating my account, and then deleted it entirely two weeks ago, a process that’s finally complete. I feel relieved to be gone.

This is not because I don’t care about the people I know there, many of whom I know in other spaces like Twitter or face-to-face. I had a rule I would only be friends with a person I’d be happy to meet for a cup of coffee. My friends and family generally had politics I agreed with and lead interesting lives and are a pleasure to interact with. But nonetheless, however much time I spent there, it was never a space I felt entirely comfortable.

I don’t think this was because I was unnerved by the vast data harvesting of our lives that FB does, although, seen through the lens of Cambridge Analytica it is unnerving. I’m aware that Twitter, which I feel fine with, is busy gathering data too. My unease with Facebook was a combination of things.

First, I’m not a picture-oriented person. I was a late adopter of Facebook for this reason. I like reading much more than looking or watching. Facebook’s focus is on images and so it appeals to me less than a text-base space like Twitter or blogs.

Also, generally speaking I don’t like using products where I’m not the customer. I like being able to call / write and complain when something isn’t working or when it behaves badly and have my problems listened to. This is not just because I want my concerns taken seriously but because putting energy into writing is work, pleasurable work, but work. I don’t want to put energy into something I’m not, in some way, in control of.

I think my distrust of free online spaces comes from the early days of the web when I saw creative work wiped off the web when providers like Free Yellow or Geocities deleted free accounts. Maybe this kept me from ever putting enough heart into my Facebook posts to become attached to it.

I also have never liked the Facebook interface or the way the feeds would suddenly be reorganized. One of the pluses of Twitter is being able to choose a feedreader and not having to use the Twitter website. Aesthetics are important to me — one of the reasons using Blackboard hurts.

Being able to walk away from Facebook and remove my account is a privilege. I don’t need to store pictures there. I don’t need Messenger to stay in touch with friends and family. I don’t need Facebook as my Internet provider. This isn’t to say there aren’t elements of FB, especially some of the groups I was part of, that I won’t miss.

But the fact is, even though I always rolled my eyes at articles saying Facebook increases anxiety, I have felt calmer since I stopped going to the site. In the past three months I’ve read more books, written more reflections and (yes) posted a couple blog posts. It’s not hard to see that the fall off of my blogging coincided with me signing up to Facebook. For the first weeks after I had deactivated (and locked myself out of) my account, I surfed to the site an alarming number of times. Even with all the reasons I had not to enjoy the site, part of me still found it addictive.

I think we need to consider where we’re spending our communication time and energy. Or, to put it another way, how much effort do each of us want to put into providing Facebook with free content? How much information should they be allowed to harvest?

I can just about imagine a social media platform that was run as a not for profit, that was focused on user experience and protection, that wasn’t turning people’s lives into product to be sold. I know this isn’t the direction things are going. But it’s something to at least think about.

Image credit: woodleywonderworks

A Radical Idea About Adjuncting: Written for Those with Tenure (or on the Tenure Track)

What we can do instead of gaslighting by telling adjuncts ‘it was ever thus.’

As those of you who’ve been reading along (all 5 of you) know, I received my Ph.D. from USC’s English department in spring 2011. This past fall 2017 I started a tenure track job in interdisciplinary studies at California State University Dominguez Hills, my dream job, teaching a student population I love in my home city of Los Angeles. Between 2011 and 2017 I was an adjunct at Los Angeles area colleges and universities.

Because I got a tenure track job, at a place where I’d been contingent faculty, a friend suggested I write a blog post or even CHE article on getting hired from part-time adjunct into a full-time tenure track position. I demurred, in part because I think contingent faculty who want to move to the tenure track are far too likely to blame themselves and feel like they’re failing. I don’t want to contribute to that by enumerating the things I did or tried to do to stay in the job market as if doing those things is a path to success. I have my job because I was lottery-level lucky.

Here’s a few of the ways I had a lot of luck. First, I finished my Ph.D. in English in Los Angeles. Los Angeles has a large number of colleges and universities that don’t have their own Ph.D. students. This means it’s not that hard to break into the adjunct pool and it’s possible to get enough work across universities to keep body and soul together. Many of the schools are unionized (or fear unionization) so pay on the higher end of national adjunct rates. Teaching a total of seven classes a semester at three to four different schools, I earned ~$40,000 a year from teaching. I was also fortunate (seriously, this was not planning on my part, just a desire to get paid over the summer) that rather than teaching a lot as a grad student I’d worked as a campus and freelance APA style editor. So I also had a reasonably steady stream of freelance and consulting clients.

Second, although my degree is in English, my specialization is in Chicana feminist writings. This field has a long history of theoretical and historical work being done by people in contingent positions or outside the academy. What this meant was not being in a full-time tenured position was never (as far as I can tell) held against me or used to minimize the importance of my research. I know that is not the experience of a number of adjuncting academics doing research and that experiencing such dismissal is soul destroying.

Third, I don’t have children, I have a partner with a steady job and health benefits, and we live in an apartment we rented when I was in grad school that’s under rent control. This meant that I rarely / never had to seriously worry about meeting basic expenses and that the money I earned from my freelance work could go to paying for me to attend conferences, including the annual MLA interview site. We aren’t place-bound so I was able to apply for jobs across the country. My only limitation was that I wasn’t willing to uproot us for a temporary position — if my partner was going to give up their job, it needed to be for something with more than one or two years of security.

Fourth, USC’s English department allows its graduates to participate in semester-long department job workshops where I got to work closely with faculty graduate advisors on putting together job materials and preparing for interviews. I was able to do this every year I was on the market.

Even with all of that though, I absolutely believe I would not have been hired had it not been for the radical way the department chair in Chicana/o studies at the first university where I was hired treated adjunct faculty. She saw the use of adjunct faculty by her university as exploitation and felt deeply responsible for her part in it — even though it was required of her as a chair to hire adjunct faculty. As part of my interview, she asked me what my career goals were. I told her I wanted a tenure track job, preferably teaching somewhere with a significant student of color population. She said that was good, because her goal was to get her adjunct faculty hired into tenure track positions. That I should see adjuncting as something I was doing on my way to being hired into a full-time job. She also told me the number of people who had worked for her department and where they were now working as faculty. She said by hiring me she was making a commitment to help me get hired into a full-time position.

What did her commitment to this mean in practice?

Basically, she treated me like I had a post-doc at the university (except for what I was paid, she couldn’t control that). That meant she came and observed my classes, discussed my teaching with me and wrote up recommendations for improvement. She made sure I had office space with a working computer, access to printing, and work-study student support. She offered to read my research and give me comments on articles I was working on. And, perhaps the most important act of all, she told me she was doing this so she could write a strong and knowledgable letter of recommendation.

And she did. Every year I was on the job market, she went over my job materials and my accomplishments from the previous year, and made suggestions for improvement. Every year, even when she was no longer chair and I was no longer working for that department, she got her letter updated and uploaded to Interfolio by the date she said she would. Every year. She did practice interviews with me and got someone she respected to do a mock online interview to test my set up. She sought me out at conferences and introduced me to her friends and told them about my work. Through it all, she talked with me about her research and asked for my advice, while also discussing my research and her thoughts on it. She never, by anything she said or did, made me feel like I was anything less than a colleague doing work that was significant for our shared field. She never acted like my not getting the (many) jobs I interviewed for, year after year, was in any way a personal failing.

She did all of these things without my having to ask — she consistently and repeatedly offered her help and guidance. When I welcomed it (who wouldn’t?), she offered more. She did likewise to the other people who adjuncted for her while she was chair. By the time I got hired, she knew me and my work better than any other senior scholar, including those who’d advised my dissertation.

I’m writing this because, reading on Twitter and elsewhere, I see how badly scholars with tenure feel about the job market and for the position of people adjuncting in their departments or at their colleges and universities. I offer this as something those of us with tenure or on the tenure track can do to help individuals trying to move into full-time employment, who may feel alone and ashamed they haven’t been hired into the sort of work they expected they’d do after graduate school. We don’t have to just wring our hands about how terrible the situation is, or (worse still) say the job market has always been terrible and those who are adjuncts should never have started a Ph.D. if they weren’t willing to be exploited. Reaching out and offering to help even one other person in concrete ways, taking responsibility to support and advise them, can make a huge difference. This remains true whether the person is hired into a full-time gig or ultimately decides to leave academia. This sort of mentoring values adjunct scholars and treats them with care and dignity.

This is work that matters.

Edit: To my surprise, this post has gone what Lee Skallerup Bessette termed “academic viral.” Several people have asked me who my mentor and former chair is – it’s Professor Karen Mary Davalos. She was my chair in Chicana/o Studies at Loyola Marymount University and is now at the University of Minnesota in their Chicano and Latino Studies department. Many thanks to everyone who has read and commented here and on Twitter.

Image credit: Gwen

Seven Weeks on the Tenure Track

Just writing that subject line made my head spin a bit. After five years on the job market, fall without letters to request, job lists to study and applications to send out feels odd. Wonderful of course, but odd. I hadn’t realized it, but being on the job market had become part of my identity.

What else is strange? Not telling people I’m an adjunct lecturer, something I thought about today as I revised an article where I identified as an “adjunct instructor.” Likewise, it’s only been a few weeks since I took my Loyola Marymount faculty ID out of my wallet. My car still has a parking permit for West LA Community College on its windshield.

I think this strange feeling of not entirely believing I’m an assistant professor now is partly due to how long I adjuncted and partly due to my having been hired at a place where my status was “part time temporary” for two years. For years I’ve told myself and my family that being hired into a tenure track job would mean relocating, that my partner and I would be moving. But here we are, in the same Santa Monica apartment we lived in when I was a graduate student, thanking the gods for rent control. In addition, I worked in my program coordinator job at CSUDH until the Tuesday of my first week in the new gig. That crashing sound, I think, is me changing gears.

I’m almost moved into my office now. Just need to hang some pictures and for the bookcase to get fastened to the wall (earthquakes) so I can load my books into it.  To some degree I’ve “decorated,” that is, brought stuff from home, to every workspace I’ve ever occupied, however short the time I was going to work in it. But as I moved stuff into the new office I thought — this space is as close to permanent as any workspace can be. I definitely made sure the carpet got cleaned before my desk (a huge mid-century wooden one that I think has been on the campus since it opened) got moved in.

People ask me if I feel differently about the campus. I think  l look at them a bit baffled. I do feel different, but am not sure how. My students are the same and treat me the same (I doubt they know the difference) except they know I’m full time now. I had no understanding of what “tenured,” “tenure track” or any other faculty category meant when I was an undergraduate. I think the most I knew was that TAs were graduate students. If I feel differently about the students now, it’s because I know I have to learn everything I can about the department and the campus so I can advise them. This semester I’m not advising students on course selection and what they need to take to graduate, but I will next semester when the two tenured people in my department will be away, one on a Fulbright and the other on sabbatical.

My first RTP (Retention, Tenure and Promotion) submission is due in January. It’s basically a five page plan on how I intend to spend the next five years, what my research plans are and so on. This is the first time since I started graduate school where I could look more than a year into the future and imagine I could see what I would be doing the following year and where I would be doing it.

I don’t have any category on this blog where this post fits.

Passion, Procrastination and Impostor Syndrome

First off, the weekly review. I did it, it was good and it only took two hours this week so things are improving. I’ve gotten some work done on the book review and in starting to package up my current job so I can hand it off cleanly to my successor in mid-August. Things are getting done in pretty much every area of my life. So that’s good.

Along those lines, I read about a system called ZTD (Zen to Done) on Robert Talbert’s blog as something that he uses to enhance his GTD practice, so of course I went and read the little book. It raised some interesting points about habit formation that I hadn’t considered before and made me think about how I tend to try and change many habits at once only to revert to my old ways when I’m under stress. There’s a lot to unpack there and much good content that I’m still thinking about.

it was the last point in the book, “Find Your Passion Habit” which said that if you make your passion your job then you’ll find doing work easy that I had an issue with. Because I am passionate about my job — both teaching and researching and yet I procrastinate about my writing my research, even though there’s nothing that interests me more than the work I do on Chicana feminist writers and editors. Despite (or perhaps because of this love) sometimes, oftentimes, I struggle when it comes to sitting down and writing my ideas. Those times have even extended into finding it difficult to do research because I’m anticipating the struggle to write. I’m struck as I write this with the fact almost all of my publications to date were written to an editor-imposed deadline. I wonder if without those deadlines I’d still be struggling to write them, trying to craft the more perfect article.

Why does writing seem so unnatural to me? I’ll do anything to postpone it — empty the trash, answer the telephone. The voice recurs in me: Who am I, a poor Chicanita from the sticks to think I could write… ~Gloria Anzaldúa, “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third Women Writers

What causes me to procrastinate is, as Joseph Kasper (pseudonym) wrote about four years ago, a sometimes overwhelming case of impostor syndrome where I doubt my ideas, the quality of research and the quality of my writing. This problem developed twenty years ago, sometime during my first year of graduate school (writing was less of a struggle as an undergraduate) and I’ve been trying to silence my inner voice of self-doubt ever since.

The perverse thing about this is that the more I care about a subject, the more important I feel the research is, the harder I find writing about it. My inner voice tells me I won’t be able to do the subject justice, that there’s research by someone else out there on this that I haven’t found, that I’m about to embarrass myself and let the people who’ve supported me down. And yes, the classic, that I’ve somehow been faking it so far, but this is the time when I’m going to be found out.

It’s something, I’ve been told, that most academics, especially women of color, feel, at least some of the time.  I don’t think the procrastination it can cause is due to a lack of passion for the work we do, but rather an abundance of it.

…I write because I’m scared of writing, but I’m more scared of not writing. ~Gloria Anzaldúa, “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third Women Writers

Image source: http://daybrighten.com/post/132712259003/a-moment-of-relief-from-imposter-syndrome

Hold All the Things

GTD. Getting Things Done. I first heard about it on Bonni Stachowiak’s podcast, Teaching in Higher Ed. It’s a system to manage all the many things (tasks and projects) in one’s life. It’s been around for a while. I’m late to the party.

So first, why am I blogging about this when there are so many great bloggers who’ve used GTD for years, including Robert Talbert (another person I met through Teaching in Higher Ed) who’s written some great work on using GTD in academic life? It’s definitely not because I’m setting myself up as some sort of expert on the topic. In fact, I’m writing these posts about the process, or at least my process, of setting up a GTD system at the same time I’m transitioning from five years of adjuncting into a tenure track position as someone who’s new to the system and flawed in her execution of all things requiring habit and structure.

What motivated me to do this? I first heard about the system last winter, read the book and made a stab at it. It helped briefly, but I wasn’t committed enough (habits come hard for me), I didn’t trust the system to work, I tried to use too many new tools (yay tech!) at once and things fell apart, though I will say at least I never had hundreds of emails in my inbox again. But this past spring, just as the semester ended, something happened that shocked me and made me decide I needed and wanted to commit to GTD and its idea of a trusted system to Hold All the Things. What happened was I opened my email and had a note from an editor at MELUS (Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States) journal asking me how the review of two books I’d promised was coming.

Reader, I had no memory of this commitment. Like, none. Had the email not contained my earlier response saying “yes” to reviewing these two books, I would have thought the editor was mistaken, that I hadn’t agreed to this. Further, I had no idea where in my study the books were or any memory of receiving them. Somehow this commitment to a journal and organization I care about and respect had vanished into a memory hole in my head, so much that even with the reminder I still couldn’t recall it. Yes, this spring had been the most stressful period of my life (and I include in this the semester where I wrote 150 pages of my dissertation in four weeks), but still I was scared and disturbed by this. How could a promise I’d made be so completely forgotten?

I don’t want to lose track of things. I don’t want to forget promises. That’s not the sort of professor, friend or person I want to be. So Getting Things Done, with its promise of helping me create a system I can trust to hold the things my brain clearly is not able to hold, feels like the right thing to try.

This felt like the right moment too. Although I’m working multiple jobs through the summer, I’m nowhere near as taxed as I was last semester. There’s time to experiment and read how other people are doing this so I can have a system in place when the fall semester and my new responsibilities as an assistant professor start.

I’ve learned a little bit from my attempt last winter. This time I’m not using any new tools, but rather using familiar tools in a new way. I followed the GTD guide to setting up Evernote as a collection system. I’ve used Evernote for more than seven years in various ways so it’s familiar. Likewise, I’m continuing my calendaring system. I use a paper Passion Planner and iCal and sit down and sync them at least once a week. My reason for using both was that while I love iCal, when I was all digital I tended to not look forward often enough. So I’m trying to change as little as possible in terms of what I use and make changes in how I use these tools.

So how did the week go? Slowly and carefully. The collecting thing is new and currently occupying more brain space than I expected. I’ve read around and made a few tweaks, the main one being picking three actions each day as things that are most important (MIT) to get done that day. I’m doing this not just because having a little structure helps me focus, but also because right now I’m in a weird bit of a paradox. The job that I’m giving up in six weeks is making a lot of demands that could fill every working moment. But in anticipation of being on the tenure track, I want to be sure I get in some research time every day, not least so I can finish the MELUS book review. That is, I don’t want the things that are yelling loudest to drown out the things that are actually most important long term.

The second weekly review I did took three hours. Which is better than the four the week before, but still too long. I think part of the problem is that I haven’t created clear outcomes for each of the projects I have and am doing that a bit piecemeal during the review time. My hope is that by next week each of them will have an outcome in addition to a next action.

The other problem I’m having is that I clearly have no idea how long some things will take me to do. For example, one of my MITs today was to read and take notes on a book introduction. It’s twenty pages and I imagined it would take an hour to an hour and half.


It took four to do the sort of detailed close reading it deserved in preparation for writing a review. I suspect (hope) that doing this means that the rest of the book will read quite easily (it was a pretty comprehensive introduction). But it taking so long meant my other two MITs gone done pretty late in the day. Then again, had I not planned to do this and wanted to be able to say I’d done the three things I’d determined to do today, I probably would have given up after two hours and gone to breakfast with my partner.

And that’s it. This isn’t going to be a blog that tells you how to do GTD — I wouldn’t presume to do that. Instead it’s going to be a shambling tale of what I’m trying and how it’s going.

Image by Dafne Cholet: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dafnecholet/5374200948

Weekly Review 1

I told myself I was going to post about GTD (Getting Things Done) and how it’s working for me and that I was going to post weekly. So here goes.

Being at DHSI was enough of a hitch that the review that was supposed to happen last Friday didn’t happen until yesterday (Tuesday). I’m not sure if it was my resistance to the process, the accumulated emails from the week I was away or that I was coming down with a cold, but it took the best part of four hours to sort the various inboxes and get everything up-to-date. I found I wanted to jump in and do the things I was finding for fear of them getting lost — guess this speaks to me not trusting my system and being distracted by a number of current emergencies. I’m going to try and take email offline as I do the next review so as I write the two minute emails, more aren’t coming in and distracting me.

What I was pleased by was going through my lists how many things I’d done, even while being away.  So that’s good. I keep imagining how much I would have enjoyed this system back when I did everything on Filofax. That said, Evernote is doing the job. I was especially pleased when I figured out how to make a Table of Contents page for the notes in my “projects” notebook.

It’s June Already

It’s June and I’m posting my first post of 2017. This may be taking the idea of slow blogging too far. I’m writing from San Francisco Airport on my way to the University of Victoria for DHSI. I am excited.

So what’s happened to me so far this year? Spring was a blur. I got myself in over my adjuncting head by having too much to do. Between my admin work as program coordinator for the humanities MA programs and undergraduate GE courses at CSUDH, teaching three classes at two universities (LMU and CSUDH), being parliamentarian for CSUDH’s Academic Senate, and interviewing for tenure track jobs, I ended the semester by basically collapsing over he finish line. As the dust settles, I’m still picking up pieces of things I dropped along the way.

The good news (the best news!) is that after four years on the market, after applying for more 200 jobs, having 20+ interviews and campus visits, I have a tenure track job. In fact, I have what I believe in my heart is my dream job. Starting in the fall, I will be an assistant professor in the Interdisciplinary Studies department at CSU Dominguez Hills, a Hispanic Serving Institution. It’s a campus where a majority of students are students of color. I couldn’t be happier — I’ve loved adjuncting there. The bonus is I get to stay in Los Angeles, a city I love, where my family is and where my roots are. Paul also gets to keep his job and we can stay in our apartment in Santa Monica.

What else is going on? As I said above, I let some things drop this past semester. I’m not happy about that. Inspired by friends in the Teaching in Higher Ed community and to make sure it doesn’t happen again, to help me focus as I move from adjuncting job-seeker onto the tenure track and because I think it will help me balance my life, I’m reorganizing the way I keep track of things using the GTD (Getting Things Done) system. For those of you who follow this system, yesterday I did my first weekly review.

I expect this road to be bumpy. My brain resists habit and organization and my response to stress is to let systems slide, but I’m committing to do this for a year. I have tried it once before, but that time I was also trying to use new list management software and I think it was too many new things at once. This time I’m only using Evernote (the professional version), which I’ve used for seven years, my electronic calendar (iCal) and my paper calendar (Passion Planner). Yes, I have to use two calendars – that’s the way my brain works. I think (hope) using familiar tools is going to make this process easier. I want to promise I’m going to blog my progress both on this and in organizing my work preparing to go up for tenure, but we’ll have to see how that goes.

I thought of ending this post with individual “thank yous” to all the people who encouraged and supported me while I was seemingly endlessly on the job market, but there’s really too many to name. I am so grateful for your help and kindness.