Category Archives: Uncategorized

How I’m Staying Sane During Comps

Comps was the first thing I asked about when I came to my grad program’s admitted students day in 2016. I wanted to know how it worked, what the exams were like, how you made your lists, how you studied for them– and my now friend, James, said to me: “Worry about that when you’ve done your Masters.”

Well, James, it’s definitely time to worry about them.

In truth, I have moved past my initial fear and anxiety surrounding the exams. I’ll worry about taking the actual tests in April. Right now, I’m just focusing most of my energy on reading, organizing my schedule for readings, note taking and meeting with professors. So I thought I would take this time to break down how I’m structuring my time, making the most out of meetings with my professors and caring for myself during what would otherwise be a pretty stressful time.

Reading

The most productive piece of advice I can give you is to make yourself a reading schedule in whatever feels like the most effective way for you get the job done. I have an Excel spreadsheet open at all times with five tabs: four tabs for each of my four lists and a tab for my reading schedule.

For my sheets with the lists on them, I have columns for the title, author, date published, and whether or not I’ve read it. The books are broken down into smaller sections, which group the books according to time period or theme, about 4 or 5 sections per list. At the bottom of each list, I’ve got a running count of how many of the list I’ve read and how many I have left to read.

PROTIP: If you read something in a graduate level classroom, I have typically marked those books as “read” but highlighted them as something to come back to at the end to review if I have time.

My reading schedule is fairly rigid but also pretty flexible at the same time. I read on average 10-12 books per week, but I’m flexible about when during the week I read them. I could read three books two days out of the week, two books two more days, and take a day to rest. I could read one every day, and then a few days I read two. Whatever works so long as I get the books that I’ve listed for that week read with notes.

Meeting with Professors

Every professor is going to be different but so far, I’ve found the most effective use of everyone’s time is to just send your professor a quick email update with what you’ve read since the last meeting and single out a few texts that you really want to talk about or have questions about.

But the best advice I could give you about meeting with your professors is to establish some ground “rules” for how meetings should go: What do they expect from you? Do they want written reviews? Email updates? Can you email questions in between sessions? How often do they want to meet? How best can you utilize that time?

PROTIP: Take your notes and any texts you want to discuss so it’s easy to refer to. (Don’t bring your entire library cart. Your meetings won’t last particularly long, as they do have to work after all. 3-4 texts seems to be working for me.)

Self-Care

And most importantly, I’m caring for myself during this time. I have

  • picked up a relaxing new hobby
  • started going to the gym (semi) regularly
  • Been taking a weekly Mindfulness class
  • Started writing comic book scripts for a series I want to publish one day (writing 30 minutes a day)
  • Started cooking more meals at home and
  • Been spending time with my family.

Even though doing comps requires doing an insane amount of reading, in reality, it’s kind of nice if you let yourself believe it. Most days, I’m in bed or on my couch with a stack of books, some coffee and my dog, reading and taking notes.

In order to make the best use of my time, I’ve set my days up to look like this:

  • 7 AM-8 AM Wake up
  • 8 AM- 9 AM Morning routine (walk dog, breakfast, coffee, meditation, etc.)
  • 9 AM- 12 PM Work Block #1
    • Using the Pomodoro Method, I try to read at least one book in this three hour block (and if time permits, take notes)
  • 12 PM-2 PM Afternoon Break (lunch, gym, walk dog, catch up on TV, nap, etc.)
  • 2 PM- 5 PM Work Block #2
    • Using the Pomodoro Method, I try to either finish the first book or read a second. (if time permits, notes)
  • 5 PM-7 PM Evening Break (walk dog, dinner, self-care time)
  • 7 PM-8:30 PM Work Block #3
    • This is time that I reserve for note taking, making connections between texts, reflecting on them, etc.
  • 8:30 PM- 10 PM Evening Routine (walk dog, shower, journal, write for fun, catch up on TV, meditate)
  • 10 PM-11 PM Sleep

Granted, this is what my ideal comps day looks like. Not every day pans out like this, I’m okay with that. Generally speaking though, I do like to work between 7 and 8 hours a day, broken up into blocks of 2-3 hours. This method helps me focus, but do what feels right to you!

The last thing that I do for myself every week is I give myself at least a half a day, to a whole day, off every week. I always give myself Sunday mornings off for church. I can read for the whole rest of the day if I want, but from the time I wake up on Sunday to the time I get back from church, I am offline.

Structure and organization will most definitely help you get through comps, but don’t be rigid to the point of breaking with your scheduling. It’s there to guide you, but do know that life happens. Just do the best you can. That’s all anyone can ask of you.

“Enjoy the Process”: Notes from My First Week of Full-Time Comps Prep

While my semester got off to an exciting start with the Computing for the Humanities Bootcamp and Branch Out 2019, once those workshops were over, I realized there was nothing standing between me and my comps preparations. So I took a couple days after Branch Out to rest up, then mentally steeled myself to dive completely into comps.

Since about last Thursday, I’ve read a lot. I read Sami Schalk’s Bodyminds Reimagined and LeRoi Jones’ Blues People; I read Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat By The Door; I even read The Narrative of Sojourner Truth and Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo. I also read a number of poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar, Rita Dove and Langston Hughes, as well as chapters from Safiya Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression, Simone Brown’s Dark Matters: On Surveillance of Blackness and Anna Everett’s essay “Have We Become Postracial Yet? Race and Media Technology in the Age of President Obama.” I’ve been reading like I’m dying of thirst and books are my only cure.

Ultimately, with 117 texts left to read and 93 days to read them in, I know I have to stop reading every single word. But as much as grad school has tried to break me of my love for reading, and as much as comps is essentially academic hazing, this past week of doing nothing but reading texts and then writing about then for notes has actually renewed my love of the written word. I know not all of what I will read will be beautiful, I know not all of it will be life changing– there will inevitably be texts that I don’t like– but this week, I did manage to fall in love with a few texts.

A Voice From the South, Anna Julia Cooper

“When, looking a little more closely, I see two dingy little rooms with, “FOR LADIES” swinging over one and “FOR COLORED PEOPLE” over the other; while wondering under which head I come…” (p. 96)

I thought my love of books published by Black women in 1892 began and ended with Ida B. Wells’ Southern Horrors. Sometimes, I love being wrong. AJC was tackling the intersections and complexities of Black (Southern) womanhood long before there was the word “Intersectionality” to put in your twitter bios. (No shade, no shade). I’m definitely late to the AJC fan club and the importance of her writing, but I’m here now! Cooper had me laughing out loud at her quite frequently present shade and sarcasm. For example:

“Above all, for the love of humanity stop the mouth of those learned theorizers, the expedient

mongers, who come out annually with their new and improved method of getting the answer and clearing the slate: amalgamation, deportation, colonization and all the other actions that were ever devised or dreampt of.” (p. 171-172)

She said it, not me.

Her soapbox is the education of Black women– no, not even the education of Black women, but her insistence on the existence of Black women and thus catering towards our humanity. We aren’t doing any service to our race, she insists, by ignoring Black women. We are a critical part of the population.

If there was any doubt that Black women have always been doing the work of liberation, one need only look to Anna Julia Cooper.

“If she the G.O.A.T. now, would anybody doubt it?”

-Janelle Monae, “Django Jane”

Superwomen: Gender, Power and Representation, Carolyn Cocca

Carolyn Cocca is mainly concerned with the project of representation of women in (transmedia) comics. She covers it all– the good, the bad, and the ugly. Her chapters on figures such as Wonder Woman, Batgirl, and Buffy (among many others) are proof that women characters can have varying representations in comics and on screen, but a lot of that representation is unfortunately tied to sales and who on the artistic and editorial team is willing to, as Kelly Sue DeConnick quips, “pretend [women are] people.” (p. 220) Cocca is also deeply interested in the connections between representations of women in comics in particular with the second and third waves of feminism. And naturally, with discussions of power come questions of race and heternormativity, questions I believe Cocca handles with care.

And yet– and this is no fault of Cocca’s excellent text– I found myself wanting more of this type of analysis but about Black women in comics, Latinas in comics, Native Americans in comics, Asian Americans in comics. I think Deborah Whaley’s Black Women in Sequence is an excellent text to read in conjunction with Cocca’s book, because it fills in the narrative gaps I was feeling, at from the perspective of Black women.

What this book gave me was a desire to produce more content by and for Black women in the comics realm, so much so, that the first thing I did after close the book for the last time was open a document and start writing my first comic book script, a fantastical/superhero narrative starring two best friends, one African American and one Afro-Latina. I don’t know if anything will ever come of this story, but it made me feel emboldened to create the story I know I would have wanted to read as a sixteen year old.

And at the end of the day, in my mind, if a book doesn’t make me want to write, then it didn’t speak to my soul.

Thank you for speaking to my soul, Carolyn Cocca.

Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted, Frances E. W. Harper

Again with my books published by Black women in 1892. That was just a good year for Black women writers, apparently.

So, I picked up that book…and didn’t put it down again until I was finished reading.

I was not expecting to be so engaged! But then again, I should have known I would have liked it. Ever since I took my Interracialism class my first semester of graduate school, I have been enamoured with the Black writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly those stories which deal with mulatto characters. I honestly have no idea where the fascination comes from, but I believe it’s the interest in different variations on American Blackness that confounds and enthralls me. I also have an interest in Afro-Latinx literature of the late 20th and 21st century. I think these stories remind me that Blackness is not monolithic, it’s diasporic and infinite.

I also love a text that challenges me to think and question, that I sort of wrestle with, and Iola Leroy was definitely one of those texts. Everytime I read a text with mixed raced characters, I have to redefine what I mean by Blackness, and I think that sort of exercise is good for the mind and important for my scholarship.

“‘Slavery,’ said Iola, ‘was a fearful cancer eating into the nation’s heart, sapping its vitality, and undermining its life.’” (p. 216)

As much as I have dreaded this process, fearfully reading as much as I could last semester and in the summer to avoid having to read stacks of books a day, I have found this intellectual exercise particularly stimulating. It’s also possible that I feel this way because the ratio of novels and poems to peer reviewed monographs is overwhelming. I’m spending my days lounging around, devouring books with my dog at my side, sipping perfectly brewed coffee and thinking how one day, I will desperately miss these perfect moments.

Branch Out: Round Three

If you’ve been following along with my journey, you’ll know that I have managed to be involved with the Lemon Project Branch Out Alternative Break every year since I got to William & Mary. My first year I was just a tagalong, helping my colleague run the trip. Last year, I co-ran the trip. And this year? This year was the first time I’ve ever taught it mostly on my own.

First things first–what is Branch Out? They’re service trips held during school breaks. Typically, students travel somewhere, but the Lemon Project trip is held on campus for three days the weekend before classes start. Our trip is less of a service trip, and more of a public history and social justice oriented project. As part of the Lemon Project’s goal is to have people think critically about the College’s and the greater Tidewater area’s relationship to slavery, Jim Crow and their legacies, it is always important to have the Branch Out trip reflect those goals.

What do we do? There’s usually one big project that the students work on over the course of three days. We break the project down into smaller, more manageable sections for the students to tackle in groups. In 2017, we did a critical analysis of race in the College’s newspaper, The Flat Hat, over the course of a hundred years, hosted on an Omeka site. In 2018, we created another Omeka exhibit analyzing space and place at William & Mary as told by the Legacy 3, the first three residential African American students at the College. This year, we created an exhibit using your average wordpress site, which brought a critical lens to all the commemorations that have been floating around the College and the greater Williamsburg area in the last few years. The students wrote essays on the 1619 commemoration, the 100th year anniversary of co-education at William & Mary, the 50th year anniversary of residential African American students, the Rowe presidency and the memorial to the enslaved the College is currently working on. In addition, they also created accompanying syllabi for how they would teach these topics.

Yes, they did this in three days.

When I sat in the History Grad Lounge on Saturday morning and walked the students through what I wanted them to do by Monday afternoon, their eyes grew wide and round as teacup saucers. I could feel their desire to ask me if I was crazy. They had every right to: it was a tall order.

And yet, they did it.

With the help of Dr. Vineeta Singh, I set up the weekend to give them as much guidance as I could. We brought in speakers to talk about each of the five topics; everyone from a First African Fellow at Jamestown, to President Rowe herself. Vineeta led what I consider to be one of the most useful workshops on building a radical syllabus. We even had some fun participating in a local peaceful protest called Moral Mondays led by Dr. John Whitley, a local activist.

In the afternoons, they worked. They conducted research, wrote their essays, created syllabi, peer reviewed each other’s work, and finally loaded everything into the WordPress site on Monday afternoon. They worked down to the wire and I hope they’re proud of everything they accomplished in just three short days.

Most importantly, for me, is that they all seemed to bond over their work; spending time having side conversations unrelated to the project, over dinners and lunches and goofing around in the evenings. I hope they look back on this project not only with a sense of pride, but fondness as well.

To Brendan, Angela, Emily, Sharon, Meg, Matthew, Kam, Jioni, Isa, Kelsey, Lex and Abby–

You know, my first semester of grad school, I thought frequently about leaving. Then, the day before Branch Out 2017, I happened to be at the right place at the right time. I was asked to help out, and I fell in love. I think my love of this particular project stems from the students. You all come to Branch Out because you want to– not because of an area requirement, or needing those last three credits. You genuinely want to know more about the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow at the college you call home. You want to have a full understanding of this place, complicated and gut-wrenching though it may be. I admire your collective work ethic, curiosity, and enthusiasm for your work. In all honesty, the energy that the Lemon Project Branch Out students have brought to the table each year keeps me going. The work that you do inspires me. Students like you all make my passion for teaching shine so much brighter. Each one of you is so precious to me, and I look forward to seeing what you do to make this world a better place.

Thank you so much for making what was probably my last Branch Out trip so wonderful.

With all my love,

Ravynn