Tag Archives: African-American

Intermission ft. “How to Ignore Bad Advice”

Greetings!

It’s been a while since I’ve written an update, because to be honest I’m doing the boring part now: writing.

After I visited the archive at the end of June, I spent a few weeks just sifting through the issues, reading and taking notes. It took a lot longer than I imagined– what I thought would be a solid two days of work turned into a week and a half of sifting, even when I was spending a few hours a day taking notes on issues. In my defense, the Fourth of July holiday popped up in the midst of all that, so I took necessary breaks to enjoy hot dog.

Finally, once I’d sifted as long as I could, I told myself it was time to just do it. The best advice I’d ever received and the best advice I’d ever given in grad school is to just start writing. You can only plan so much– at some point, you need to put the outline down, put down the notes, stop making excuses. The longer you put off beginning to write, waiting for the perfect set of sources, or reading one more book, the more frazzled you’re going to be. Just write. Work with what you have– you can always go back and add things later. Don’t expect the first go to be perfect– it won’t be. You’ll have to edit. Even if you write what you think is the world’s best essay, I guarantee, your advisor will still send you back three pages of edits to make.

It makes me feel better to know that even the authors published books and articles probably had pages and pages of suggested edits for their pieces, even after they were published. But at some point, just like forcing yourself to write, you’re going to have to force yourself to stop.

For me, and for a lot of people, getting the tap to turn on is the hard part. So to alleviate that, I just make myself write a little bit every day, even if it’s just a summary of a book I want to use, or a page of good notes on the issue that I want to work on– I just write so I have material to work with.

Then finally, one morning, I woke up at like 6 AM and my tap was on and all the ideas were flowing.

I wrote all morning and, at noon, collapsed gratefully on my bed.

Ever since, my Black Panther essay has been shooting out of me in bursts of about 2 or 3 single spaced pages at a time. I’m so grateful for this because I was getting worried about that piece: to this day, it’s the best idea I’ve come up with so I’ve been writing it and rewriting it for almost an entire year now. I turn my ideas over in seminar papers, blog posts, conference papers, and now, I’m attempting to consolidate everything I’ve been thinking about into a paper that, ideally, won’t be longer than 40 pages.

I’m currently up to 19/20 single spaced pages, but that includes a bibliography and images, and I haven’t even written two entire sections.

I’m going to have to edit the crap out of this essay.

With this amount of work and pressure on on my shoulders, I definitely need support and I’ll take it where I can get it but it’s also worth being able to identify good advice and throw out the bad.

GOOD ADVICE:

  • Visit an archive
  • Make sure you are well prepared for your visit
  • Write a little every day (or most days) so that it won’t get down to the last week and you’re writing in a unintelligible frenzy
  • Take breaks
  • Stay organized

GOOD SUPPORT:

  • Offer to go write with your friend
  • Commiserate during difficult moments and celebrate breakthroughs
  • Cheer them on! Positive vibes are always appreciated

BAD ADVICE:

(To be fair, everyone has different versions of what constitutes bad advice, but these are the worst comments you could offer in an attempt at helping, for me)

  • You’re going to need to cut X amount of material
  • Prepare for your thesis to not work the way you want it to
  • Expect the process to take exceptionally longer than you anticipate
  • Expect your advisor to be difficult

The thing about offering advice to people who are working on long written projects is that good advice is useful across the board, but bad advice tends to be based solely on negative experiences that one’s had while embarking on their own adventure. While it may not be entirely bad advice, it’s a little like telling someone that they should expect traffic in certain places on I95 when the other person is driving on 288– you can get to about the same place, but you’ll be using entirely different routes to get there, thus ensuring different problems.

It’s also not helpful to compare your journey to anyone else’s. For one thing, academia is based on a celebration of uniqueness– the idea is every project is unique. So, technically, there shouldn’t be an exact precedent for your situation. You can sort of gauge a possible path and set of likely occurrences, but ultimately, your project is one of a kind. You likely didn’t use the same type of sources as the next person, or you used a different type of method, or wrote in a different style. All of these things are factors that will contribute to a potentially extraordinarily different experience in working on your project.

So for the time being, I’m trying not to concentrate on how much I’m going to have to cut, but rather on just getting all of my ideas out onto the page. I’m not going to worry about my advisor because it’s my goal to do as much work as I can on my own before I have to get my advisor involved. I’m not going to worry about the length, but about making sure that I’m saying everything that I need to say.

There are so many potential problems I could focus on while I’m working on one of the most important projects of my young life– but instead I’m going to remember that this is a chance for me to say something really special, and that no one is going to be able to say it the way that I can.

It’ll work itself out.

I’m going to think positively about it.

I’ve gone through too much to let someone else’s experiences dictate how I think about and approach a problem.

I have enough negativity of my own– I’m not letting anyone else’s in.

 

Week 14, or Finals (!!!) and Summer Plans

It’s Sunday before the last week in the semester.

I have 4 days left in the spring semester, 4 days left in my first year of graduate school, 4 days standing between me and a glorious, glorious summer.

I have two days of classes left: one Major Texts in African-American Life Since Reconstruction class in which I get to present on Ta-Nehisi Coates (very excited about that); one New Woman and Modern Feminism class left (have to finish reading Song of the Lark for that one); and two more sessions of Harlem in Vogue. I have 10 hours of work spread across 3 days left to finish checking quotes on a book chapter and editing a 30+ article. I can absolutely do it.

After I summon the energy to power through these last four days, I can get myself through to the end of finals. The truth is, it’s a lot easier to write when you’re not also in classes and you don’t have to finish reading so as to contribute in class. I’m planning to sleep for a couple days after classes end, then start writing.

I’m surprisingly calm heading into the foray this time around. It’s likely because I know that I’ve already done my first round of finals. I beat them, even though I didn’t know quite what I was facing. I did surprisingly well for my first go around. This round is easier than the first. None of my papers are research heavy and one of them is an extremely creative enterprise that I’m looking forward to working on:

  • I’m doing a close reading of the mulatto character Sappho in Contending Forces as indicative and an indictment of the “New Negro Woman” in the late 19th century for my New Woman and Modern Feminism class. (That paper needs to be 15-20 pages.)
  • I’m working on the graphic novel Incognegro  and the Harlem Renaissance classic The Conjure Man Dies for my Harlem class. (Always got to make it about comics if I can.) I don’t have a clear question yet, but I’ll work on it this week. (also 15-20 pages)
  • And finally, my African-American Texts professor has given us the task of writing a dialogue between W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Gunnar Myrdal, Patrick Moynihan and E. Franklin Frazier as if they were in a room together in 2017, knew everything we as students and professors knew and more, on any topic we want. (15 pages maximum.)

It was so refreshing to see that, like me, Professor Ely believes in alternative scholarship and setting us an exercise that is truly beneficial. It is quite the intellectual exercise to try and imagine a dialogue between these men, given that to have such a conversation, you need to have a firm concept of each of their stances on any given issue. This requires you to have read carefully during the semester, to have thought critically and gives you the license to dress it up creatively if the mood strikes, so to speak.

These papers over all are so much more fun to write than those I did last semester. I’m excited about my work and there’s nothing I’m dreading writing. Even though it doesn’t seem like much of a difference, writing 45 pages total looks a lot less daunting than wading through 60.

If I get through my paper for my Harlem class the way I want, I think it’ll be a good second essay for my Masters portfolio, in conjunction with my Black Panther essay. The portfolio will show how I can read comics in a literary fashion but put it in a historical context (Black Panther) and how I can put comics in conversation with other, similar literary works (Incognegro and The Conjure Man Dies.)

So there’s nothing left now but to do it.

The Monday after classes end, I’m going to spend some time with one of my cohort mates and we’re going to plan our writing schedule for finals. Then over the next two weeks, we’re going to get together to write, just so we don’t isolate ourselves and end up drowning in a flood of our desperate tears.

Sometime during the panicked writing, I’m hoping to work up a summer writing schedule to plan my edits and revisions to the essays I want to use as the basis for my Masters essays. I also want to figure out if there’s anything I can use in the National Archives and if so, I need to find out a way to make a trip up there. The earlier the better, as it leaves me more time during the summer to wade through material and write. (Stay tuned during the summer, as I’ll surely be writing about Baby’s First Archive Trip.)

It definitely seems like it’s time to be celebrating. Celebrating the conclusion of my first year, the conclusion of my Masters classes, of a semester well done. And yet it’s not quite time. I’m still looking forward.

The end of the spring semester, isn’t like the end of the fall semester. At the end of the fall, your brain just shuts off for a month, trying not to think about what’s to come in January. In the spring, you’re forced to think ahead. Now is when I fill out forms for assistantships for next year (Good-bye Omohundro, hello…Lemon Project? Stay tuned to find out.) think about the best ways to not waste an entire summer.

Instead of one month of rest, I have to fill 4 months this summer with academic activity of some kind.

As of right now, my plans include being a Classroom Instructor for the Keio Cross-Cultural Program from August 3-August 18th and between now and then, holding down a little part-time job at Michaels, my favorite craft store. The jobs not meant to pay rent by any means, but it gets me out of the house a few times a week, gives me a welcome break from staring at my laptop and writing, and funds my art addiction. I can honestly think of no better place to work, with the obvious exception of Barnes and Noble. (I am most definitely not qualified to do anything but work at a book store, a craft store, or a coffee shop, i.e. the only things I like and am good at outside of being smart– generally speaking.) I think the jury’s still out on whether or not I’m actually allowed to have this part time job at Michaels, but granted that I’ve petitioned to have it on the basis of I need it to help keep me happy, mentally/emotionally healthy and safe this summer, I have a pretty good feeling about my summer plans.

I’m planning to write at least one more time this semester, just to wrap up. But in case any of you are avid followers and look forward to my weekly updates, be aware that summer updates will be few and far between, and will most definitely come in between updating the site itself. (It is horrifically ugly and I HAVE to change it as soon as I get the time.)

To any other Black girls out there doing grad school, just be encouraged and stay blessed: God knows you’ve made it this far and that in itself, is quite the accomplishment.

 

Week 10.5, or the Mental Health Project

In the spirit of being honest, I won’t lie about my lapse in blogging over the last two weeks. My mental health took a very serious turn for the worse and I ended up having to go stay with my parents for a week until I got stable again.

Despite having missed an entire week of school and work, I’m surprisingly not stressed out by it. What I am stressed about is my mother also falling (physically) ill right as I was scheduled to go come back to Williamsburg. She went to the hospital yesterday for a ruptured appendix and so naturally I drove right back to Suffolk and parked my butt on the futon in her room.

For the last maybe three weeks, my life has been an undeniable mess.

And for some reason, that’s also why I’m not stressed about school.

Somewhere in between the tears and panic attacks, the stomach aches and urgent care visits, the doctors appointments and naps, I realized that I only have one body and I only get one life. Fact of the matter is, my body and my mind do not require school. They do, however, require attention and care. I realized that I can do literally nothing else if my body is not properly fed and watered and if my mind and my emotions have been neglected. I have to cater to myself first. I have to check in with myself, make sure I’m okay. I need to rest when I’m tired. I need to honor my feelings when I’m down. I have every right to ask for what I need to feel nourished spiritually and emotionally so that I can function.

Somehow, I let myself believe that the only way to operate was on productivity/excellence lever 12/10. That same perfectionism that is so motivating is also what pushed me all the way down.

have to do better.

There is no way I can accomplish any of the things I want to do if I don’t learn to take care of myself, or how to say no something, or how to stop giving every little thing 3,000 %.

I take everything seriously. I work meticulously, my hobby is my strictly regimented blog, and I’m even very serious about all of my friendships. I take care to treat them all carefully and work on them where needed, because I think relationships deserve that kind of attention.

But I’m also serious because I truly believe in being an excellent Black scholar. As a Black professor, I will come into contact with students at a critical age– right when they are beginning to truly be able to think critically for themselves, develop their own opinions and ideas, and learn to move intelligently through the world. I want to be like the professors I had– I want to sharpen their minds, encourage and invest in their unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and show them the power of a well educated young Black person. I want them to be able to think. In order to invest in our youth, I have to invest in myself so that I can be there to teach them.

But I have got to invest in me.

So after I finally pulled myself together and woke up from a long sleep Tuesday morning, I went to work.

I started a bullet journal that I’m going to use to track my self-care. I’m doing everything from keeping appointments in it, tracking my food, my moods, my medication, my sleep, my attempts at meditation and mindfulness, and even my prayers.

I deserve to have 30 minutes a day where I self reflect. I deserve to have an outlet for my creativity. I deserve to spend time on myself.

It’s been keeping me surprisingly honest. Monitoring my physical well being helps me see if those things are effecting my mood. My gratitude log, mood log and prayer pages help me notice my thoughts and feelings, but then leave them on the page. I’ve noticed that as soon as I write down a worry or a feeling, my mood mellows out and I can continue with my day. Best of all, it’s an excuse to treat myself with new stationary and pens. Spending time on my page layouts bring me joy and get a thrill from sharing my creations with others. I even decided to start a “creative” instagram where I’ll post pictures of my bullet journal layouts and various other artistic/creative endeavors. (click here to check it out)

Even though it’s been rough, there is always a bright side, two of my own rays of sunshine have included:

  1. Seeing my suggestion for a comic to share with novice graphic novel readers used in a Buzzfeed article! (see #6 on this list; click here to check it out!)
  2. Being recognized by an all-female secret society here at the College for my work with the Lemon Project. (This is particularly fantastic because the Lemon Project is not even my job but I have spent a lot of time and effort on my personal, small contributions.) It’s good to know that Ari and have clearly touched someone/somebod(ies) and I am grateful to be a responsible for positively impacting this college. I am particularly grateful for someone taking the time out to say thank you. You have no idea how much such a small gesture, and some kind words can mean.

Hopefully next week I’ll be back to some regularly scheduled Black Girl Does Grad School posts. Being ill and dealing with illness has prevented me from writing what I can only imagine would have been spectacular blog posts about the art exhibit I curated, my last African-American texts class in which I connected Stokely Carmichael to comics and Eldridge Cleaver to J. Cole, and my meeting with renowned American Studies scholar, George Lipsitz, who encouraged me in my scholarship, art and activism.

Not to worry, though, maybe I will tell those stories. After all, they are certainly worth telling.