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

Teaching Manifesto

Photo by Shannon Hauser via Flickr.

Photo by Shannon Hauser via Flickr.

I’ve spent the past week at the University of Mary Washington as a fellow at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Summer Institute. There were wonderful keynote speakers — the amazing Tressie McMillan Cottom and Cathy Davidson and great “tracks” to choose from. I spent about a month trying to decide which track would be right and decided to choose Intro, not so much because I consider myself new to digital pedagogy but because I wanted a chance to have a sense of the foundations of why we do what we do in our physical and virtual classrooms.

Although the institute is about digital pedagogy, one of the most valuable things I’ve taken from it has been asking ourselves not simply what technology we use with our students but what the implications are of that technology. One of the powerful exercises we did was to break into groups and look behind the apps. Looking at their founders, their boards, where their capital came and is coming from and, most telling, their Terms of Service left me unsettled about the technology, including learning management software and companies like TurnItIn, that my students are using for their classes. Too many of these companies see their users as products to produce content for their platform and sources to harvest data from.

After several days of talking about pedagogy, mostly through discussions of writings by Paulo Freire, bell hooks and Seymour Papert, Sean Michael Morris led us in a series of timed writing exercises to get at what we thought about ourselves as teachers and our own pedagogy. (I didn’t write down the prompts so I’m guessing at them based on memory.) This is what I produced:

First exercise prompt: When did you first think of teaching, of yourself as a teacher? Start with “What I want to say” and write for 7 minutes without stopping, circling back to “what I want to say” if you get stuck.

What I want to say is that throughout most of my education I saw myself as a student. Even in grad school, even finishing my Ph.D., even in the classroom, I saw myself as trying to be a student with all the insecurity about whether I was good enough, real enough to be wherever I was. I have that same insecurity now. I teach from a place of insecurity, of instability, wondering almost constantly whether what I’m doing or having my students do is the right thing, if they’re getting anything out of what we’re doing.
What I want to say is when I feel like a teacher, when I see my pedagogy is when I see / listen to / look at what my students are making, writing, saying. And I can see the texts we’ve read or watched together in their work, how they’ve thought about them, how they’ve been, in some way, influenced by them.
Where I teach from, what I feel confident in is my activism. It’s  not hard for me to take a stand, to have a position. I do adhere to the Chicano studies philosophy that Rudolfo Acuña wrote that sometimes there is no other side. That there is a moral or just position, a good fight to fight as it were. So when I teach Chicana/o studies I teach activism, art and justice. I sometimes argue my position with my own thoughts, but mostly my students are getting my ideas from the readings, art and writing we do. I wonder sometimes why I don’t get more push back, something that friends and colleague in the field do get. Perhaps I’m good at using humor to defuse or lighten tension. Perhaps (though I hope not) it’s that my students see my passion and feel overwhelmed by it, are afraid to push against it. I really hope that isn’t the case.  And I don’t think I have anything more to say here and am just waiting for this last minute to stop.
We went from that exercise to constructing (quickly) a tweet that was our pedagogy in five words.  Mine is

 The final exercise was what I was dreading most because I knew our goal was to produce a teaching statement or philosophy. I’ve been working on materials for the job market and find that while all the materials produce anxiety, writing the teaching statement has left me hating what I’ve written. Our prompt to was to write something explaining why we teach. Maybe because of the earlier exercises or the feeling of the class being a community, as I started to write I began to tear up.  What I produced was something I thought I could put on my syllabi explaining to my students what I hoped the class would be like and why.
There are not enough voices engaged in Chicana/o studies in this university, in this state, in this country, in this world. Our artists, our people are under attack and it has pretty much ever been so. Yet there is so much that is significant in Chicana/o thought, in literature, art and in our own lives. I teach what I do the way I do because I want us to see it and talk about it together. I want my classes to add to and be part of this collection, to hear the voices from our past and amplify them. I want your voices to be amplified, your word to be read, your art seen.  And so there is a lot of for us to look at, to read, to watch, to uncover. It is work and it is amazing.
My writing partner for the exercise called what I wrote a “manifesto” and I was happy with the thought that that’s what I’m doing, teaching from the position of activism as an act of social change.
The final thing Sean asked us to do was to write either the opening or closing sentence of a speech on pedagogy.  My stab at that and end for this post:
Most important, we should ask ourselves whether what we are teaching is worth learning.
I

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.

AcWrit – Every Day in November Plans

clockI’m making a commitment for November to write 30 minutes a day, every day (that’s 7 days a week). Right now my plan is to do this writing first thing — even before I check my email — though not before I make coffee. We’ll see how that goes. I’m talking about it in public because I want to accountability, plus I want to explore though weekly blogging about the practice of writing every day. Because my blogging also doesn’t get the time and attention it deserves.

This goes against the way I’ve generally written. I’ve always been something of a binge writer, writing in intense bursts when either inspiration struck or deadlines loomed. Yet I know that’s not the most productive or healthy way to write. One of my Twitter compadres, Raul Pacheco-Vega writes every morning for 2 hours. His daily discipline inspires me.

My other thought is that by writing first thing in the morning, I’m paying myself first. That is, I’m putting my research and writing ahead of everything else, from grading to job search work. This relates to some of the advice Wendy Belcher gives in Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks — that the grading will get done, but for many of us our writing gets a lower priority and ultimately never gets our time.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but the plan crystalized as I read Ryan Cordell’s “Writing 20 Minutes Every. Single. Day.” and the more recent “Scholarly Writing Hacks: 5 Lessons I Learned Writing Every Day in June” by Jennifer Ahern-Dodson. The fact is, there’s too much going on right now to have the luxury of writing binges. Even if I had the time to write like that, I wouldn’t have the time to recover.

I was incredibly pleased to mention my plan on Twitter and get responses from a variety of scholars who want to make the writing daily in November commitment too. I’m asking permission this afternoon to put their names (or whatever names they want to use) and links to their blogs (if they have them) here so we will have made a public commitment.

What I’ve been working on this week is getting my writing spaces organized so once this starts I can just sit down to write without having to first clear my desk.

If you want to join, leave a message in the comments, tweet me @anneperez or get in touch somehow. I’d love to see what we can do in November.

Who’s committed?

@santaperversa: Finding Self, Finding Love & It’s Always Summer in LA

Nikolai Garcia: @hellokommie

Annemarie Perez: @anneperez & Cited at the Crossroads

Liana M. Silvia Ford: @lianamsilviaford & Words Are My Game