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

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Every Day in November – Week 1

Since today is November 9 it’s been a little more than a week since I started my commitment to write 30 minutes a day, every day this month. Not, as I planned, 30 minutes a day first thing — though I did do that 7 of the 9 days, stumbling to my desk with only a cup of coffee and light box between me and the early morning. But for the last two days, having stayed out late at the ASA conference, I’ve slept in meaning I had to write in the evenings. Last night, though I didn’t get home until after 11, and ended up writing until 1am. Today was a little more sane, with my 30 minutes happening in the early evening.

What’s it been like?

First, it’s been liberating. 30 minutes feels like nothing, too little to worry about getting done (and, in the beginning, too little to accomplish anything). On Tuesday, a teaching day, I woke up later than I meant to (sleeping is something of an obsession clearly) and my first thought was “clearly I can’t write this morning.” But then I felt afraid of putting other things before this writing time. So I sat down and did the 30 minutes. It did mean I ended up arriving at school 20 minutes before I had to teach, with my hair still damp, but the writing was done. Each day the writing has gotten done.

Second, doing 30 minutes of work on my manuscript every day has helped keep my job market anxiety in perspective. It’s so massively out of my control that having this one thing that’s completely mine has been great. Doing the writing reminds me every day how much I love this work and connect with causes and writings of the people I’m researching.

It would be great, in the tradition of the NaNoWriMo to be able to end this by giving some impressive word count. But in line with #AcWri and #GetYourManuscriptOut, the writing that’s needed to be done this week is editing a book chapter on Elizabeth Martinez’s writings as Elizabeth Sutherland. 30 minutes a day has made a huge difference in the state of the manuscript and my responses to the editors. When I was asked two weeks ago if I could get the edits in by November 15, my response was very unsure. I have so little time right now, I thought. It seemed impossible. After the past nine days, while it still doesn’t seem exactly likely, it seems possible. While I may not hit that deadline, I’m sure I’ll have the revisions to the editors before Thanksgiving.

On to Week 2.

Hey! I’m Not a Basket Case and I Don’t Regret My Ph.D.

Disclosure: I finished my Ph.D, in English in 2011.  Since then I’ve worked as a freelance editor, writing consultant and adjunct.  

There have been a number of articles lately in Slate and The Chronicle (and elsewhere) expressing regret for the time spent getting a Ph.D., feelings of failure, warnings to others not to go and generally expressing what, to me, reads like a great deal of entitled exhausted (?) angst.  In response, Emory Ph.D. student Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote an excellent blog post on reasons why students of color should look at getting a Ph.D. and the power said degree has in helping one make their way through a white world.

Yes, finishing my dissertation and getting my Ph.D. were the hardest things I’ve ever done.  Yes, there were bad times, including moments when I was sick, out of money and (the worst) faced with racism on the part of my fellow graduate students who openly expressed their suspicions that I hadn’t gotten where I was on merit but  was a product of affirmative action (which, whatever my merits, I am). But getting to work on my Ph.D., becoming the first in my family to be called “doctor” was and is the greatest privilege of my fortunate life. I got to spend a decade studying literature, mostly Chicana/o literature, which continues to inspire me to tears at its beauty. Along the way I got to teach, advise and edit undergraduate and graduate students. I got to do all this while my sister worked cleaning houses, serving food, doing retail and generally working at whatever she could to get by without health insurance or any security, asking me to recommend books she could read for thirty minutes or so before she goes asleep.

At the same time, I also found a community of Latina scholars, including my dissertation advisor, who have heard and understood my pain, especially the pain of feeling alienated from my mostly all white department, who have told me I’m good enough, who have supported my scholarship whatever my affiliation or lack thereof.  There is a history in Chicana/o scholarship of research being done be people in a variety of positions — there aren’t generations of Chicana full professors at research universities.  We’ve always struggled from the margins. Important work is and has been done by librarians, grammar and high school teachers, administrative support people and community activists. I’m not ashamed I’m not in a tenure line position — those before me weren’t necessarily either.

Yes, part of me reads these articles and understands. The job market / adjunct situation is bad. Rejection sucks. Uncertainty is hard. But nothing is ever certain. My family is proud of the adjuncting work I do, proud of the editing work I do, proud of me. They wouldn’t understand (or care) about the difference between a tenured and untenured position. To them all employment is uncertain, all work has dignity.

I wonder if some of what gives me strength and makes me see struggle for the beauty and gift that it is, are the very writings I study.  Whether it’s the passion and life-long activism of Betita Martinez or the raw celebration of life and pain of Gloria Anzáldua, Chicana writing is about feeding one’s soul in order to then go out and do what can and should be done.

As Ella Diaz remarked when I expressed surprise at the number and tone of the articles out there, perhaps we should create a reading list of the works that keep us sane, that sustain our souls and share them with those who feel their degree wasn’t worthwhile.  I think what it comes down to for me is I believe the work I do on the literature I work on is important and valuable. I will do it however I can for as long as I can as hard as I can.

Because when I see Latina/o scholars I think we’re beautiful.


MALCS Institute Paper: The Case of the Second Chicana

This paper was written for and given at the 2011 MALCS Summer Institute held last weekend at Cal State LA. It was wonderful and energizing conference. I’m including some of the slides as images — we’ll see how that goes.

In the introduction to her anthology, Chicana Feminist Thought, Chicana sociologist Alma Garcia gives her criteria for the selection of writings:

the substance of a document;
the historical importance of a particular document; and
the historical importance of a particular writer.

I would further argue that writings coming from the underground presses and newspapers of political and cultural resistance movements — like the Chicano and feminist movements — can be said to gain intellectual capital by both the frequency of their publication (and re-publication) and the extent of their distribution.

On those terms Enriqueta Vásquez’s variously titled article can be counted as one of the most influential essays of the Chicano movement. Certainly it qualifies as one of the most widely read and republished Chicana-authored pieces, crossing and criss-crossing Chicano and feminist boundaries, including its publications in Sisterhood is Powerful and Liberation Now!.

On my first readings of Robin Morgan’s anthology I assumed that the single Chicana author included in Sisterhood Is Powerful was Enriqueta Vasquez. I believed that Vasquez’s piece stood alone in representing Chicana feminists, as if saying that Vasquez was the solitary Chicana feminist not only in the text, but perhaps also in the larger feminist community. Its inclusion in Sisterhood Is Powerful does not stand on its own, however, but the five-page article is powerfully mediated by Elizabeth Sutherland in a three-page introduction explaining the article’s context. An identical version of “The Mexican American Woman,” complete with the same introduction by Sutherland, appeared in the 1971 anthology Liberation Now! under the title “Colonized Women: The Chicana.” However, in the case of the version in Liberation Now! the article is indexed as being by Sutherland, with the Vasquez article appearing as though within it.

The inclusion of Sutherland’s introduction is significant and striking. Among the anthology’s sixty-nine articles, only the contribution by Vasquez merits an introduction by another author. The structure of the introduction is itself interesting. Elizabeth Sutherland, in the tradition of the slave narrative, appears to function as an Anglo authenticating feminist voice. As such, she seems to vouch for Vasquez’s inclusion in the text as a feminist, as if otherwise there would be some doubt about the article — or even about Vasquez herself belonging in this community of sisterhood. Sutherland explicitly calls on the — presumably white — readers to “listen for her [Vasquez’s] own voice, not merely for echoes of their own.” The assumption, based solely on her name and the fact that Sutherland does not identify herself as ‘of-color’ — that Sutherland herself is white is one that should be examined, but is one that readers (myself included) would be likely to make.

However, a careful reading of the contributors list at the anthology’s end gives more information, (re)naming and identifying the author as “Elizabeth Sutherland (Martínez),” giving a clue she may not be as Anglo as her name would make her seem, though again it would take both careful reading and some insider knowledge or research to decipher the clues. The (Martínez) addition is not included in either the table of contents or the article text. It can only be read by going to the “Contributors” biography section at the end of the anthology. There she is further identified as the editor of the New Mexican based Chicano movement newspaper El Grito Del Norte. Further research into El Grito — reveals that Sutherland to be the second Chicana contributor to Sisterhood Is Powerful, Elizabeth (Betita) Martínez. Martínez was the founding editor of El Grito where Vasquez wrote regular columns and where the article was originally published. The name “Elizabeth Sutherland” is Martínez’s Anglo pseudonym, one that, by 1969, she had employed for several years.

Betita Martinez - Photo by Margaret Randall

Sutherland’s curious mediation, and the editor’s feeling that the introduction should be — or needed to be — included would be interesting in its own right. However, it is all the more so when one realizes that “Elizabeth Sutherland” is not in fact an Anglo feminist, but Vasquez’s Chicana editor writing under her Anglo-assumed name. Read with this knowledge, Martínez becomes the second Chicana contributor to the anthology; one with an extensive publication history, both before and subsequent to this contribution, and one arguably far better known (to the east coast Left community) than Vasquez would have been.

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La Paranoia de Aztlán

Recently I’ve been researching a contemporary refiguring of Aztlán because of the “Aztlan conspiracy” being put about by paranoid nativists.

The Southern Poverty law center writes that the wide propagation of these false theories are led by two hate groups — the California Coalition for Immigration Reform and American Patrol.  Though them, Aztlán is being refigured as a racist conspiracy by Chicana/os against all other minority groups.  Yet this theory isn’t one held by a few fringe internet groups.  It is becoming more and more widely circulated — has even been reported by “mainstream”news papers and in the media in reports by CNN commentator Lou Dobbs.

These groups base their attacks on a misunderstanding / misreading of the “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan,” the 1969 document adopted at the first Chicano Liberation Youth Conference. The document is a revolutionary one reflecting the spirit of the radical 1960s civil rights movements that the Chicano movement itself came out of.  The Plan de Aztlán has always been a unifying myth of the Southwest as being a Chicano/a space, for Chicano/as to lead and govern their own communities, not a call for governmental overthrow. Even at their most radical, most Chicano/a activists worked for social and cultural change on issues like racism, education and housing reform and the anti-war movement, not for political revolution.  Even radical Reies Tijerina (his group La Alianza — an alliance of Mexican American and Native American tribal peoples who led an armed courthouse raid in 1967) relied largely on the law and legal documents to pursue property rights.

From El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán:

Brotherhood unites us, and love for our brothers makes us a people whose time has come and who struggles against the foreigner “gabacho” who exploits our riches and destroys our culture. With our heart in our hands and our hands in the soil, we declare the independence of our mestizo nation. We are a bronze people with a bronze culture. Before the world, before all of North America, before all our brothers in the bronze continent, we are a nation, we are a union of free pueblos, we are Aztlán.

For La Raza to do. Fuera de La Raza nada.

But many of the nativist anti-immigration groups don’t see the El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán as a relic of the counterculture of the 1960s or a poetic origin mythology. Instead they read it as the founding document of a conspiracy supported by Mexico and, in some versions, by most Mexican Americans. Illegal immigrants are seen as part of an organized plot to “reconquer” the seven southwestern states, recreating the Mexican borders that existed prior to the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo.  A Chicano/a or Latino/a who was a member of MEChA while a student is seen as implicated and demands are put forward that they renounce ties to their student activist roots.

I’m not linking this blog to any of the hate filled mis-representations that these groups and people write.  It’s enough to know they’re out there.  You can look for yourself — Google “Aztlán” or “la raza” and you can find plenty of hits for sites displaying Aztlán paranoia hosted by Minutemen and groups with names like Deport Illegals.

It’s important that we claim or reclaim Aztlán for what it was intended to be.  A poetic mythology of a Chicano/a homespace that resists the notion of the United States as an Anglo space and claims Chicano/a’s right to be the southwest — that we shouldn’t be seen as outsiders or foreigners .


[In celebration of my dissertation being accepted today by my university’s library, I’m put up its abstract. Don’t worry, I’m probably not going to post the whole thing.]

Title: ”Splitting Aztlán: American Resistance and Chicana Visions of a Radical Utopia”

My dissertation researches American resistance movements, focusing on nineteenth-century Transcendentalism and the Chicano/a movements of the 1960s through 1990s.  It is concerned specifically with the emergence of Chicano/a literature from the late nineteenth century through the twentieth century, especially Chicana authorship and editorship as part of a tradition of U.S. resistance literature.

The 1960s was a period of renewed interest in the literature of American Transcendentalist communities, especially the writings of David Henry Thoreau regarding resistance and civil disobedience.  This re-reading shaped and informed American civil protest literature of the 1960s, including that of the Chicano Movement. Reverberations connect the two periods in the area of non-violent social protest.  Further resonances may be heard now between the nineteenth-century suffrage and abolitionist movements and the 1960s civil rights and anti-war movements, as they questioned the United States’ role as an imperial nation — a role begun with the nineteenth-century policy of Manifest Destiny.

The replication of and discursive focus on nation and universalized communities of men, opened space for women as editors and authors.  Chicana writers and editors of the late twentieth century, like the protofeminists of the nineteenth-century suffrage movement, split the single “divine soul” by pointing out the contradictions and flaws in a discourse on the nation which presumes only masculine subjects.  Both ultimately created textual communities as sites for feminist, cosmopoetic and cosmopolitical interventions.  At the same time, like African American feminists of the same period, they resisted the essentialist and universalizing feminist gaze, creating out of this a U.S. differential feminism of color.

The opening section of my dissertation, comprising the first two chapters, is an introductory discussion of textual communities and resistance literature, focusing on both United States Transcendentalism and the emergence of Chicana feminist authors and editors.  Chapter Two is a reading of María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s 1872 text, Who Would Have Thought It?, as both a satire of United States northeastern culture and politics, and a statement of resistance to Manifest Destiny.  Ruiz de Burton’s work resists the westward gaze of northeastern U.S. literature, instead looking east from western / Californian eyes, specifically at the New England northeast.  A satire, the novel was explicitly written to resist the author’s sense of cultural annihilation, against both the Californios’ sense of their own invisibility and the larger national policy of Manifest Destiny.

The second section of my dissertation, comprising Chapters Three and Four, looks at the emergence of Chicana authorship and editorship during the Chicano civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.  Chapter Three examines late twentieth-century Chicana authorship and editorship, using close textual readings from diverse archival sources, including the Chicano newspaper El Grito del Norte and its collective of writers and editors, especially Elizabeth Martinez and Enriqueta Vásquez, to explore the evolution of Chicana editorship and the development of textual communities within and around the developing mythology of Aztlán.  Chapter Four focuses on Chicana edited anthologies in the 1980s, especially This Bridge Called My Back and Chicana Voices.  The two anthologies, though different in many respects and created for different purposes, created  textual communities of writers which participated in the project of developing and defining a specific new feminism by women of color, as well as Anzaldúa’s border theory.  This research examines and participates in the discussion of emergent writing and editorship by women of color, and how these feminists fit into the larger tradition of textual communities in the United States.

The dissertation concludes with a re-examination of Aztlán as a site of resistance, a borderland cosmopolitan and cosmopoetic space.  While “cosmopolitan” traditionally speaks of urban sensibilities, recent scholarship on the modern and postmodern evolution of cosmopolitanism offers a new and renewed vision that utilizes pre-Kantian cosmopolitanism.  This vision imagines a world city space and citizenship which exists outside the confines of borders, while also tempering the effects of globalism; a space which acts against the confines of nationalism and outside the power of the state.  This new type of cosmopolitanism has been named “borderland cosmopolitanism,” one which exists at rural crossroads as well as in cities; it is a cosmopolitanism of the indigenous as well as the elite.  Borderland cosmopolitanism does not just attack the nation; it also destabilizes citizenship and, in doing so, endangers the authority of the state and nation.

Having just finished my dissertation…

God, I can’t tell you how weird it is to write that. It’s been this guilty millstone around my neck for so long, anytime I’d start to enjoy or work on something I’d think “but shouldn’t I be writing my dissertation?”

And now it’s over.  “Splitting Aztlán: American Resistance and Chicana Visions of a Radical Utopia” is in a queue to have her formatting checked over by my university’s editors.  Soon she will be on ProQuest, searchable by anyone who cares to look.  My days as a student are, at last, numbered.

Ironically, now that my dissertation is turned in, I can’t leave her alone.  I’ve made a dozen minute corrections, found typos, glaring errors, whatever.  I keep uploading new versions.

Paul tells me that down this path lies madness, something I already know something about.  But she calls to me, wanting me to read, re-read and edit.  The document is so far from perfect I can hardly stand it.

Must leave it alone.  It’s done.

Besides, I’ve got a talk for NACCS to get ready.