Wednesday, August 30, 2006


One of my fellow TAs (whom I'll call the Bearded One) told me how he recently took his son to visit TA's mom. The son needed to use the phone, so he proceeded to the kitchen. After a few minutes, the Bearded One followed him. The son was irritated and baffled. "The phone doesn't work," he said. "Yes it does. She's had it forever," replied the Bearded One. "Look," son said, and began pushing the numbers on the phone.

Only, it was a rotary phone. He was sticking his finger in the holes, pressing not dialing.

"No way!" I said. Everyone's at least seen a rotary phone, right. Not so, the Bearded One insists and then he asks me, "Would your son know how to use it?"

And once I thought about it, I realized he probably wouldn't. Amazing how technology changes in a generation.

On the flipside, what about the technology we literally share with our children? In my house, the computer desk has become a contested space. The moment I take a break, my son and my nephew are asking "Are you finished? Can we use it? How much longer?" They're 8 and 6 and they're rushing me off my computer. My sister has grudgingly admitted that she's going to have to buy another one. With the kids, her work stuff, and my trying to wrap up the dissertation, no way is one going to get it.

I started thinking about the technology I shared with my parents--somewhat. See, my parents are old school, "don't ask me why or when," "I-know-your-little-grown-ass-ain't-rushing-me!" sort of people, so no way would I have asked more than once to use something of theirs. the only thing I could come up with was the VCR. I was with them when we got our first one--they bought satellite dish service (remember the old one that you had to dig a hole in your yard and pour cement in for?) and the VCR, "a $995 value" (or so the salesman said) came free. I loved that big ol', boxy, black thing!

Only problem was, tapes were still in the $100 range, and my parents were not ones to spend money on frivolities. Then, video stores finally came to our neck of rurality in 1997 or so (KIDDING!) and my sister and I were in heaven (remember how they used to charge you to rewind?)

Anyway, at this point, I'm wondering what my son will share with his kid.

I hope my future grandchild perfects the art of nagging as well as his potential father has.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Latest Chapter

I got it back from Quinn, still largely intact. :-p

Seriously, don't you love it when someone asks you questions about your work and you have this moment when you're like, "Oh, yeah! I didn't even think of that." In fact, based on her questions and comments, I spent today expanding, expounding, and revising.

On a Saturday.

And I enjoyed it.

And though the chapter is still a work in progress, days like today remind me why I chose this field.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Just e-mailed Quinn, the (fantastic) Brain the latest chapter. The term "rough draft" would be a vast overstatement... and yet, I feel a strange sense of accomplishment.

But maybe that's just gas.

At any rate, I am sleepy. I'm going to go lie down directly on top of this pile of books and binders and sleep.

Revisions start tomorrow, sigh.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sometimes I Remember...

Why I absolutely love children...

Last night, my son and my nephew, both of whom were supposed to be asleep by 8:30, watched parts of "When the Levees Broke" with me. My nephew, 2 days shy of six-years old, was particularly attentive. He vaguely remembered it, but he kept asking me exactly what happened, how deep was the water, etc.

This morning, out of the blue, as he's showing me the new shorts he's going to wear, he says, "They could come here." "Who?" I ask, lotioning his face. "The New Orleans people. They need to find somewhere to live. I hope they come here."

I should point out it's a year later, right? But considering how the Lower 9th Ward still looks, I don't. Instead, I tell him, "That's a good idea. Maybe they will."

I am so proud of his empathy, though, I had to tell someone...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Monday, August 21, 2006

Significance of the date?

1. I started back TAing for the first time in years, the number of which I shall not disclose, lest thou who art more judgmental sayeth: "Verily, verily, I say unto Elle, thou shouldeth be closereth to finishingeth."

2. I watched the first part of Spike Lee's documentary on Katrina tonight--a prof at the university insisted that, as an American historian and an African American historian (and I mean that both ways), I should not miss it. All I can say is, My God. I vacillated between tears and my usual disbelief of Bush and his allies.

The image that stands out most (for me) was that of an older black woman wrapped in the American flag. I just had this jolt, like, it's ours, too. That flag. This country. Sometimes, you get so caught up in hearing over and over how you don't offer anything to the society, how pathological and embarrasing you are, how you've failed so dismally, that you start feeling like an outsider. Which is exactly how proponents of those arguments want you to feel. It's only in those terms that the federal government's response--or appaling lack there of--in the aftermath of the Hurricane can be understood. You get treated as less because you are less. Less worthy. Less deserving. Less wealthy. Less white. Less American.

If you didn't watch, you have to.

Friday, August 18, 2006

University Life, I'm on campus today as I have been much of this week. A few observations:

  1. The newbies are soooo cute. Okay, really, they're not; I just had to say something to acknowledge the vast age and mental difference between me and them. Poor darlings, so many of them are lost. At the first sign of a kind face (and I'm assuming mine must be), they issue a barrage of questions. They are so disappointed that I don't know much beyond my department's building, the library, and the administration building.
  2. I have to get a carrel in this damn library. BTW, carrying books in a bag and in your arms (and even balancing them between your thighs as you try to push the elevator button) negates everything you've ever done to prove you're not a nerd.
  3. My first semester back TAing since 2003 and they gave me a class that meets 3 times a week! WTF!!! Did they not do the math: paltry TA income minus gas prices factored by the poverty of single motherhood plus the fact that I live waaaaay off campus equals... well, you get the picture. To be fair to the university, did I ever mention that I make more monthly as a TA than I did as a first year teacher in LA? No I don't get paid in the summer, but I have insurance. I think it works out.
  4. I am TAing for the professor who taught me the second half of American history. He's a sweetheart, but this could be a problem because 1) reference the kind face remark above. people think I'm sooo nice which 2) leads them to ask me to do impossible things sometimes (especially when they know me) and 3) my 1st year teaching elementary, I worked under my old middle school principal to whom I'd never grown up--I think this Prof has similar memories.

He e-mailed me yesterday to say "I'll have the syllabus some time Friday. I'll e-mail it to you. We need 460 by Monday." To which I responded something like "Sounds good. Do you know what time, b/c I'm leaving UniversityCity Friday at 2 and won't be back til Sunday night." To which he responded, "Will try to have it by morning. If not, don't worry, you can do it Monday morning." And here's a direct quote:

I "picked" on you because I know you, how competent and good you are
(See, how well he knows me? Flattery will get you everything where I'm concerned!). Seriously, Monday morning? 460 copies that will either be front and back or require stapling and collating? On the first day of classes in a department with a copier that's always on the verge of collapse? (Yes, they've replaced it since I TAed last, but good grief!)

He also suggested I get the other TAs to help me. I'm thinking, Dear God, please don't let him be expecting me to take an active, leadership role in the hierarchy of history class TAs. I was planning to follow orders, be noncommital, and remind them how hard I am "working on my dissertation and, honestly that's the real point of all of us being here, right? So, you will cover me if I miss half the class, won't you?" **Serious Batting of Eyelashes**

Stick around for this semester. It should be interesting.

Nah, that last part is a joke--both because I take my responsibilities seriously and because I have a nervous habit of plucking my eyelashes--you can't adequately "bat" five or six lashes.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Sunday night, my kid fell asleep around 8, but was back up around 11. He couldn't sleep because he was worried.

About third grade. What if he didn't do well? What if he didn't know anyone? What if no one liked him? What if...

At first I responded all kindly and mom like. You'll do fine. You'll know people--it's the same school you've attended since kindergarten. People already like you. Etc. Etc.

After 5 or 6 rounds of this, concerned mom was replaced by stern, "take your butt to sleep" mama.

The next morning, as we were walking into the school, my nephew tells me, "The Kid says he scared."

I grab my son's shoulder, turn him around, and say quite firmly, "I do not want to hear another negative word. There is nothing to be scared of!"

And I thought to myself, God, where does he get all that negativity from?

Lo and behold, a lightbulb has popped on! He gets it from me! And not just because I bitch at him about doing substandard work and have probably given him a complex, but because he hears similar sentiments spewing forth from my mouth like geysers of doom. (I don't know what the hell possessed me to write that sentence, but it's descriptive, huh?)

Like two hours ago, I was whining to my sister, in front of the kids, that I'm never going to get this degree. Oh, and not for reassurance and ego-stroking. I really, at this moment, am unsure. I cannot bring this current chapter to a close, I don't have all the stuff I need to write my resistance chapter, and my chapter on gender issues (the first one I started then stalled out of this summer) seems so repetitive of parts of my chapter on working conditions. I feel like I'm on a downhill spiral: my chapters are getting progressively shorter (and they weren't all that long to begin with) and less-inspired (to put it nicely). I am scared. Terrified.

And I can't go to my advisor because 1) she's probably tired of my melodrama and 2) there is no reason that I can't do this. I love my topic, I have strong writing skills, and God knows I'm not the only grad student with a kid and mental health issues.

What I lack is motivation and models. My intrinsic motivation burns itself out quickly when it does surface and, not having to be on campus the last 2 school years means my extrinsic motivation went waaaay down (you tend to write more when you see your advisor every other day, I believe). And models--Lord, I'm the trailblazer in my family when it comes to education on this level. I don't know how to adequately balance all parts of my life and I think the academic part gets short-changed.

In the end, I can only do what advisor says: get in front of the computer and write. But what will it take to get me there consistently?

And how do I make myself into a non-negative model for my child?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

6th Edition of of the Radical Women of Color Carnival

Over at Mamita Mala's:
The theme of August’s Carnival is privacy and raw honesty on the net, specifically in the context of blogs and in our pressence as radical women of color on the net. The internet and the blogosphere gives the impression of being a safe, anonymous space, but for many, especially women of color who wear our politics on our blogs, having an online pressence involves the management of an additional facet of self. Because of this, we may self-censor, choosing an online identity that does not reveal our real face, our real name (i mean you all know my mami didn’t name me mala). Another form of self-censorship may be making a decision not to blog/write about certain pedacitos of our lives. For some of us- this was a choice made from get, because no matter how safe- how anonymous the net may feel, it is an extention of the same racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, fatphobic (etc etc etc) real world that hardly feels safe for many women of color (dare I say most). Some of us learned the hard way - by revealing something - as an act of resistance, an act of putting it out there in people’s faces, only to have it used against us.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Today, one of the h-net listservs I'm on sent around an Article from Sunday's NYT about Ota Benga. He was the Congolese man put on "display" at the Bronx Zoo in September, 1906. Benga was characterized as a sort of evolutionary link between apes and humans. While a current zoo official agrees that this must've been a tad bit racist, he is quick to note,
"You have to look at the time in which it happened, and you try to understand why this would occur.
Which brings me to my point.

Am I the only one tired of this excuse? Is it valid and I'm just cynical and exhausted? I heard it, years ago, in a World Civ class when we read Heart of Darkness. Some white students were glad to jump on that bandwagon, attribute characters' racism solely to the time in which they lived. The professor wouldn't agree or disagree, he just listened to us debate. Heatedly.

And I've heard it my whole life as a black girl in the South with white friends who felt that they should offer some explanation for their parents' and grandparents' behavior and cold looks towards me. I've heard it as woman who lives in an academic world with mostly white colleagues who think I should understand why a particular professor won't speak to me or doesn't believe I'm all that good a student. And you know what pisses me off? They offer this explanation in a way that's supposed to induce guilt in me. Like, "Elle, you have to understand when and where they come from."

Mm-hmm. Fine.

But I still don't like it. Because that excuse makes people less human--as if they don't have choices, can't look deeper, can't question the status quo. It absolves them from their actions in propagating a hurtful, oppressive system. I don't believe anyone is racist simply because of when and where s/he was born--people don't protect and maintain such systems unless they derive some benefit. Thus, my biggest issue with this excuse is that it obscures the fact that born-and-bred racists acknowledge, accept, and perpetuate the privileging of whiteness.

But maybe that's just the little ol' revisionist historian in me...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Y'all Are Gonna Be Soooo Proud

Guess what I did tonight? OK, first let me back up and say that my approach to dissertation writing has been to use the power of recall to keep up with the books, articles, gov docs, oral histories, etc, I need for each chapter and rely upon the power of my brilliant writing to mask my lack of organization. I keep everything in baskets, on an overstuffed bookshelf, and haphazardly tossed over my computer desk. Oh, and when I type, I have the annoying habit of citing or sourcing materials, inserting a footnote and leaving it blank "until later." And while the previously mentioned power of recall usually allows me to plug it in later, I have sometimes forgotten where the hell I got something from.

In short, I have been woefully unprepared for the task of dissertation writing. And, while I sort of eased through the first three chapters, my attempts at writing two chapters this summer were horrible and still incomplete (my advisor is apparently not speaking to me, btw. Haven't heard from her since May. I am soooo scared). So, tonight, before I bled another word, I pulled out each and every loose piece of paper (be it article, document, review, census, map etc), separated them into 5 piles based on which chapter I primarily used it for, alphabetized the piles, put them into big binders, added a table of contents (okay, sis helped with typing those), labelled binder with chapter number and name, inserted most recent copy of each chapter along with the last copy advisor critiqued, and went back and filled in most of the missing footnotes. Along the way, I found sources I never used but meant to consult, a whole counter argument to points I make in the latest chapter, and some other good stuff. I should've done this as I was going along!

And I feel better, as if some things are at my fingertips instead of possibly in the basket in the closet or in the notebook on the shelf. I know, I know. To some it sounds like busy work, but if you had any idea of the disarray I was in, the fact that I literally could not find things I needed, you'd realize what a big deal this is. It also prompted me to keep writing. I'm happy to report that at least one of these chapters should be fit for submission to my advisor by next week.

That is, (ahem), if Quinn and others let me run it by them first.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Summer... officially over for me. I'm back in university town to stay. Once the homesick-related queasiness subsides, I'll be okay.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Traveling, Part Deux

This time, back on the interstate to take my dad to the heart doctor (okay, cardiologist, but when you read this blog, please approach with the following in mind--"Elle, rural Louisianan"). Today, I must blank out my dad's golden oldies (as in 40s and 50s), old-school gospel (the dirge kind), and--when he takes pity on me and turns to the R&B station--Beyonce's caterwauling (I hate Deja Vu almost as much as Unfaithful). So, I turn to billboards. Is it just me or are they more graphic and condemning here? Observe:

1. Hell flames shoot all over the background. In all caps, those that will be presumably caught up in the Rapture ask those who will be cast downwards (notice, I do not place myself in either group), "WHAT DIDN'T YOU UNDERSTAND?"

2. See the breastfeeding post to understand my raised eyebrow at this one:
babies are born to be breastfed and at the bottom: (emphasis on the "dot gov")

3. And the piece de resistance (see all the Francais I'm using today?): A sheet-covered human lies on the asphalt. Only, just in case billboard-noticers don't know what a sheet pulled over the face in the middle of the roadway means, various limbs are sticking out at awkward angles. The caption: "You didn't see him. Now his family never will again. Look out for motorcycles."

There truly is no place like my home... thank God.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


So, I get on the net and the first story I see is entitled "Bored Mom Sparks Outrage." I sympathize with the mom almost immediately, but I have to read more. Apparently, freelance journalist Helen Kirwan-Taylor is under attack because she actually said the following things:
Many tasks associated with motherhood are tedious and boring. She'd rather go shopping or have her hair done than attend another child's birthday party. When she takes her kids to movies, she spends the two hours text-messaging friends on her cellphone. She says that when her children were young, she became a workaholic to avoid having to spend time with them. She begged the nanny to read them bedtime stories.
I'm not going to say much--I don't agree with those last two statements, but that's none of my business. But the rest of it?

Hell, yeah, Helen, hell, yeah!

There is nothing wrong with a grown-ass woman not being entertained and enraptured by her kids and their activities every moment of every day. Women are adults... we should have different interests and concerns. My sister and I always talk about how we don't want to go to some kid's birthdfay party where there'll be lots of screaming and pandemonium. Best friend Louisiana won't even give her son a birthday party. I hate taking my kid to the park--it's the South; it's hot as hell. And some movies I've taken him to see almost pushed me to slice my wrists with a butterknife.

And no one is going to make me feel guilty about that. Kirwan-Taylor isn't backing down either:
"Up until 10 years ago, parents did not spend every waking moment with their children. We became a society where everything children say and do and think is meant to be fulfilling. Women are not allowed to have a life of their own, and if they do, it's considered selfish," she says.
And that's the truth. Nobody is expecting all this self-sacrifice and adoration of juvenile pursuits from men. Because it's ridiculous.

Maybe because I was raised differently. My mom has always, always, always told my sister and me not to wrap our whole lives around any person--not our husbands or our children. Have something for yourself, do something for yourself are phrases she's repeated our whole lives. There's a difference between having a primary concern and a sole concern, and somewhere along the way, mothers have been forced into having the latter. Everything my son says, does, thinks, etc, is not cute or memory book worthy. He's pretty bland and mediocre at times--the same thing he thinks about me.

Of course, I make no pretenses about being a great or magnificent mother. I am, in the words of Kirwan-Taylor, "good enough." And somehow, my kid and I manage to love each other just the same.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...