readingredhead: (Professor)
After deciding, totally on a whim (and with far less forethought than I should have invested in it) to follow a friend's challenge to create something every day for the month of March, I started thinking a lot about what it means, for me, to MAKE something, and how that's changed over the past few years. 

I'm pretty sure I always knew I wanted to be a writer. But I'm pretty sure that was mostly out of a sense that words, and the things we did with them when they left our mouths or our hands and made their way out into the world beyond us, mattered. I wanted to do something with those words. I wanted to show other people how they could matter. And being a writer seemed like the only option available to me: after all, no one was going to pay me to sit on my couch all day and read books.

I'm a stubborn person, and a critical one. I tend to be very critical of myself for giving up on projects I said I'd follow through on, even when those projects are no longer as central to my conception of who I am as they were when I first devised them. And so as a result, late in college when I realized I wanted to apply to grad school and that I felt so much more fulfilled in my English classes than my creative writing classes, I beat myself up over it. I was majoring in English so I could teach high school English and still have time to write on the side, until writing became the thing I did full-time. That was the plan. That had always been the plan. (I realize this sounds like exaggeration, but seriously I have documentary evidence of my desire to be a teacher and writer from as far back as an "About Me" survey I filled out in the second grade). Going against the plan wasn't just going against myself, in some fundamental way -- it was "giving in" to doing the thing that was "easy" and that I could know I was good at, rather than the thing that promised fewer tangible rewards in the near future but was "more worth it."

And you know, I'm really glad I stared down my anxiety about that plan I'd made for myself all those years ago, and let myself be okay with the fact that I'd changed, because I love what I do as a graduate student. Not all of it, no -- but a substantial portion of it, all of the parts of it that have to do with belonging to a community of people who care about the production of knowledge, whether those "products" are tangible or not. All the parts of it that have to do with how much words matter. (And lo and behold, I do get paid to sit on my couch all day and read books!) It is, in some ways, an easier life than the one that I used to want -- but part of that is because I think it's always easier to live the life you want to be living than the one you think you should be living. 

It's become easier for me to accept the fact that what I do (and love) now isn't the thing I thought I would never stop wanting to do (i.e. creative writing) as I've come to admit to myself that the same impulses that prompted me to that old plan are satisfied by the new one. It's hard to justify this to people other than myself -- the things that I "make" as an English grad student, when they are concrete, are also directed at a very specialized audience. I'm writing seminar papers and conference talks and lectures that may never have audiences beyond the people present in the room at the moment that I deliver them (and before long I'll be writing articles and a dissertation and scholarly monographs that won't gain a readership any larger than that).

But here's the thing: I care more about the continued life and health of the constantly-fluctuating community of people who gather together to consider and rejoice in the ways words matter than I care about having anything like a central role in that community. It's hard to tell people that the thing that you "make" for a living is something as intangible as "knowledge" or "a community" or "a spirit of rational inquiry" (god I am more of a student of the Enlightenment than I think I am). But these things need to be made. By which I mean both that humanity needs them, and that they don't just spring up on their own. They must be sustained by the ongoing contributions of effort and energy that community members/human beings make, one by one, day by day.

And I've gotten into some pretty abstract philosophizing here in the process of making what is, to me (but often not to others), a simple point: my work as a grad student, and the work I'll do someday as a professor, is essentially creative. Not just because I care about researching and writing papers whose arguments are inventive and unique and, in some ways, beautiful (though I do care about these things, and quite a lot!) -- not just because I produce tangible (if arcane) things -- but because I am part of the collective support system for something bigger than me, something that everyone who supports it is constantly involved in (re)creating. 

(As a side note, I feel like a lot of what we think about when we think about "making things" has to do with distinctly individual authorship -- this is certainly the case with books -- and this is increasingly a problem for me, because I really do want to emphasize the communal role of the work I do, the impossibility of doing this work or of this work having meaning outside of a community. And that means giving up some of my own authority as sole agent of creation. That also, however, lets me change my definition of what "counts" as creative in a way that has been incredibly rewarding for me personally.)


In other news: I also baked things today! I am basically working my way happily through the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and finally got around to making chocolate chip brioche pretzel rolls (yes, you heard me). Warning: if you attempt these yourself, watch your KitchenAid while it's mixing -- I think the dough is actually way too heavy to be properly mixed for 10 mins straight (as it's supposed to be at one point). My KitchenAid started massively overheating and some other people's actually broke. So do the 10 mins in shorter intervals, and be prepared to knead a bit with your hands. Still: totally deliciously worth it! [picture]
readingredhead: (Muse)
Maybe -- MAYBE -- I will actually post these things the day I do them for this week since I am on spring break?! ONE CAN ONLY HOPE. (Also I will start commenting on other people's stuff because I realize that's part of this thing that I've been totally lame about.)

Day 14: On Thursday I delivered my first ever lecture in front of a classroom full of college undergraduates. I was given the opportunity by the prof I TA for to give a guest lecture (something that's somewhat common practice here?) and I jumped at the chance, especially because I got to lecture on the second half of Austen's Persuasion, a novel I absolutely adore and have a lot of thoughts and feelings about. I have really no problems about speaking in front of people (like, really no problems with it, never have had) and so I went into this with more excitement than anything else. I think my biggest fear was that no one would show up, since it was the last class before spring break! But the students showed up, and I gave the lecture, and even though it wasn't perfect, it was pretty damn good. My professor congratulated me afterwards with, "That was an amazing job, and you're obviously doing the thing you were born to do, so keep it up!" And that's basically how I feel about this, so it's good to have it confirmed. (Downside is that I spent a lot more time talking on Wednesday and Thursday than I usually do -- the lecture was 75 mins, I practiced it twice the day before I gave it -- and as a result my throat is still a little bit sore...)

Day 15: So, I was coming off the high of giving the lecture (and deciding that I deserved some time to rest on my laurels before jumping right back into the fray), and then I got hit by horrendous sinus pressure headache that I thankfully recovered from just in time to prepare drinks for the small group of friends who came over for the evening: blackberry gin fizzes, to be precise, from this Smitten Kitchen recipe. (If you're trying to replicate it, I sort of find straining out the blackberry seeds to be unnecessary -- I mean, you'd eat them if you were eating the berries, and it takes longer than you think it will to strain them out.) I made more of the blackberry puree than I needed, but that turned out for the best...

Day 16: ...because I saved the puree and used it as a sauce for the lemon ricotta pancakes I made this morning for breakfast. [recipe] [picture]
readingredhead: (Reading)
 So, okay, as expected I have been doing a bad job of keeping up with all of this. So have a catch-up post with a lot of days smooshed together.

Day 7: Sausage, kale, red onion, and ricotta pizza: We had a couple of random cheeses left over from a calzone [personal profile] oliviacirce made earlier in the week -- specifically some ricotta -- and so I made a pizza based on this one from Smitten Kitchen. I adapted it by using crumbled Italian sausage instead of prosciutto (cheaper) and also by adding chopped raw kale to the ricotta mixture so that it cooked with the pizza. Click here for a picture.
Day 8: ---

Day 9: ---

Day 10: Baked a batch of raspberry ricotta scones based on this recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. They turned out very deliciously -- so deliciously, in fact, that it appears I don't have a photo of them.

Day 11: I made a slow-cooker beef stew based on this recipe (though I use my own blend of herbs and spices instead of onion soup mix). Since that got prepared in the morning, I had time to make these rosemary pull-apart rolls

Day 12: ---

Day 13: Today I really got to work on my lecture on the second part of Persuasion that I'll be giving tomorrow (!). I've been planning in part through the use of sticky notes and note cards on my closet door [picture]. It's basically a conglomerate of every idea I've ever had about the novel, and there are a lot of those, so organization has been difficult -- but I think it's finally coming together. 
readingredhead: (Reading)
So I've already managed to miss a day -- and technically two days, because I feel like my Day 4 "something" is even more of a cheat than usual -- but I'm doing this just as much as part of a mental exercise and refocusing of my current activities under the category of "creation" as I am interested in producing vast quantities of new creative material.

Day 3: I spent almost all day grading student papers. I did write a bunch of responses to those student papers, but it really feels like cheating to call that work creative.

Day 4: I wrote a report that was due today for one of my classes. If it's creative, then it's only really creative in the sense in which it creatively misappropriates Habermas to my own purposes, but I did write it with my very own words (setting the bar low, I know), and I'm going to keep it on the list, because skipping two days in a row would just look sad.

Day 5: That's today! I've actually started work on two future posts for my academic dreamwidth:

1) On reading Dorothy and William Wordsworth in the context of transformative works theory: Dorothy Wordsworth's journals are indisputably the source texts of many of Wordsworth's famous poems ("I wandered lonely as a cloud" and "Resolution and Independence," to name two major ones), but Dorothy is only ever considered important to romanticism as the brother of one of its founding poets. We talked about her in my lecture class today and I found myself thinking about how different the focus would be if we saw Dorothy's journals as a "canon" work and William's poetry as transformative fan work -- immediately we'd escape a lot of the problematically gendered issues that surround the relationship between these texts. I feel like whether students taught this way of relating D & W Wordsworth understood fan culture or not, you could get something important out of the discussion: especially because I suspect that most of the students who are likely to be anti-transformative works are also the same students who would typically put Wordsworth on a pedestal and dismiss Dorothy's works as "feminine jottings," and this context would either force them to a) admit the potential power of transformative works or b) see the intellectual relationship between D & W as intellectually dishonest (and perhaps even abusive) on William's side of the equation... And I would call either of those results a good one. (Also, man, I never thought I would want to teach Wordsworth!)

2) On interiority as social medium in the works of Jane Austen: This started out with my shower epiphany that the trope of "costume theater" in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (a modernized vlog adaptation of Pride and Prejudice -- if you're not watching yet, you should be!) is the closest this adaptation comes to representing free indirect discourse.

Now, this is a hobbyhorse of mine, because I think the dominant narrative about free indirect discourse is all wrong. For many critics of the 18th-century novel, the development of free indirect discourse coincides with a new respect for and valuation of interiority in the real world and not just as represented in fiction. The novel, or so the argument goes, develops FID in order to represent the newly-complex interior states of humans in the world in which it's situated. This argument is usually invested in larger claims about the "rise of the novel" being parallel to the "rise of the individual" and the creation of something like a modern notion of individuality as originality.

But if you actually read a Jane Austen novel, it's obvious that free indirect discourse operates in a much more complicated manner. Yes, it does allow for a narrative representation of an interior space -- but that doesn't mean that interiority = individuality = originality, because more often than not, characters' heads are full of other people's words and phrases. And furthermore, this isn't always a bad thing: while there's a sense that it would be great to have a unique interior language, there's also a sense that this is impossible. Language always belongs to a collective beyond the scope of the individual character, and so the real individuation occurs when you consciously choose which bits and pieces of other people's speech you will allow to represent your own thoughts. (I make these arguments loosely here because I've already sketched them out elsewhere and at great length, mostly with regards to Persuasion, but also in Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice.)

For example: no one disputes that the infamous first sentence of P&P is an example of FID. But it's not at all about the uniqueness of anyone's interior space -- if anything, it's about the crushing generality of public opinion, and Mrs. Bennet's inability to escape from this general public to become her own individuated person. (I call this type of FID "generalized," though I would sort of love a better term.) Another example: at several points in Persuasion, Anne represents her own thoughts using the language of others -- this is particularly visible when she describes the way in which Mrs. Russell persuades her to break off her engagement with Wentworth by describing her own thoughts in language reminiscent of a speech Mrs. Russell has just given. (I need a better term for this type of FID, which I have been thinking of primarily as "ventriloquy" but which is rarely that conscious.)

So, back to the idea of social media: I think that using LBD and the idea of costume theater makes it obvious that there are lots of ways that FID works in the Austen canon. They're harder to see because we've bought into the narrative that interiority = individuality = originality, but these instances often show the severe dependence of our interiority on a social sphere. This sphere is, in LBD, very literally the sphere of social media as we know it -- YouTube, Twitter, etc. -- but in Austen's novels, it's still a mediated social sphere. What the vlog is to LBD, the letter is to P&P, in some ways: audience-oriented interiority (oh dear god and this is the part where, were this a scholarly paper, I would quote Habermas, because damn him he is relevant). Bottom line, I think that LBD's social media rewriting of P&P could actually be a really great pedagogical tool for getting students to understand multiple modes of FID that Austen criticism only rarely differentiates.

ETA: And this idea of interiority as a social space is something that makes me think Austen would be totally in favor of transformative works because she understands the difference between imitation-as-plagiarism and imitation-as-transformation -- she understands that all language is borrowed, and she cares more about how you reflect your own agency in those borrowings than she does about whether you can say something that is wholly and utterly "yours."
readingredhead: (Muse)
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I live in a city that is vibrant and alive, that keeps on growing and changing but never grows old, with more to it than I could possibly discover in a lifetime (though that won't keep me from trying), littered with great cafes and independent bookstores, somewhere that's cold in the winter and hot in the summer and beautiful always.

I share a home with a person -- nay, people -- I love, who love and support me in all my endeavors, not unquestioningly (because sometimes I come up with schemes that need to be questioned, even if only so that I can refine them to the point where they will actually work) but untiringly, because they know that I will do the exact same for them.

I teach mostly-interesting subjects to mostly-interested people at a university that invests in its professors as teachers (not just as researchers) and in its students as people (not just as brains), where my colleagues range on the spectrum from "not my type of person but likeable enough" to "brain crush for life."

I write fiction -- maybe not a lot, and maybe not very well, but it's a part of my life I make time for, and I am rewarded for the time I put in, even if only in the form of having a release from academic writing.

I am part of something big, something that matters, and even on the bad days (because the bad days don't just go away after the last page of the story's been written), I can remember this and know that for today, this belonging is reward enough.
readingredhead: (Muse)
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I feel like the progress of my life thus far is really a story of profoundly influential teachers -- both in school and in life. It's hard for me to pick just one, because ALL of them, from kindergarten on up, have had such an impact on my life that I don't know what I would be like without them. They're the ones who showed me what the world looked like, and allowed me to envision myself as a part of it -- and they still do it today.
readingredhead: (Professor)
This post serves three rather scanty purposes:

1. To exude glee over my finally having figured out what I'm going to write about for the first of my final essays (which is due in a week), and on top of that having figured out that it is something I am actually really interested in.

2. To make legitimate use of the (rather amazing) Doctor Who quote that titles it, because yes, I feel that smart today.

3. To make (somewhat) legitimate use of my new icon, which, while it is technically also a quote from Doctor Who (though not from the Doctor), is also a decent expression of my attitude toward life as a whole, and could probably be used retroactively as an icon for many of my past posts to great effect.

4. I lied, there is a fourth purpose: procrastination! (And to tell you that now I feel the need to possess an icon with a Dalek saying "Procrastinaaaaaate!" Oh, the unnecessary things I would do with unlimited icons...)


5. To comment on how adorable it is that British people end texts/messages with x's on a regular basis -- even if they are your lecturers. xx
readingredhead: (Default)
--If I were a professor, I think I'd totally check my profile on RateMyProfessors obsessively at first. And possibly throughout my career.

--If I were a famous published writer, I would want to read the fanfiction people were writing using my characters just to see what strange happenings were going on, but I wouldn't want to for fear that I would want to borrow one of the fanfic writers' ideas!

--This Milton class might be turning me into a Miltonist. But I don't know if that's because I actually like Milton enough, or because this one class on Romanticism has been disappointing when compared against the Milton class. And I don't know if it's fair to think about what I want to do with my life in terms of a single professor who blows me away. (But then again, my initial interest in romanticism was caused by just that -- thank you, Professor Goldsmith!)

--I used to be dead on my feet by 11pm at night, incapable of coherent scholarly thought after 8pm, but now my brain doesn't wind down until after midnight, even if my body's too tired to do much about it. I think this might be why I have had an increasing number of scholastic revelations in the middle of the night or as parts of dreams.

--I bought a plane ticket to London. In less than five months, I will be leaving the country!

--The weather today made me feel complete. It was sunny and warm and I got to wear a skirt and sandals. It's time to bring out the summer clothing, and I am so ready for it.

--My summer schedule is awkward. I technically have a longer-than-usual summer because I don't leave for London until September 17th, but I'm spending most of July on a family vacation so although I will be home for June, portions of July, August, and portions of September, I probably won't be able to get a job. Grar.

--Script Frenzy is just not as easy as NaNoWriMo. You'd think that, if I could write an 80,000-word novel in a month, I could write what amounts to a 20,000-word screenplay. Well, I can -- it's just a lot harder than it sounds.

--I should stop this and go to sleep.
readingredhead: (Default)
I want to be a teacher so I can do for others what my best teachers have always done for me -- make me feel respected, intelligent, worthwhile, and loved. I swear that five minutes in office hours with Professor Picciotto (the by-now infamous Milton professor) was enough to make me feel like I'm on the right track in my life -- that I'm where I'm meant to be. On some days I'm not so sure I could make it as a college professor, but on other days, as I walk down the stairs of Wheeler, high on the combined power of written words and conversational discovery, I know that this is what my life's about. This is where my heart is. This is what gets me excited, what makes me think, what I feel the most myself about. This is where I can be the best kind of me that I know. And if I can become a professor with half Picciotto's skill for engaging in real dialectic learning alongside students, and for overflowing with enthusiasm for her subject, I'll have succeeded in something so beyond myself and my ability to understand it.
readingredhead: (Light)
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There are too many answers to this -- most discussed at length here and elsewhere. For me, the problem isn't finding a dream job, it's finding only one. And from there, also, there's some difficulty in figuring out how to get from wanting the dream job to having it. But a few job scenarios, in order of dreaminess.

Writer. I'll always write. I might as well get paid for it. I honestly don't remember a time when I didn't want to write.

Teacher. I like talking to people about things I like. Students are a captive audience. Granted, I'm still wavering between high school teacher and college professor, but right now I'm leaning toward the latter. I blame it on my Milton professor.

Office of Letters and Light Intern. There are a lot of big decisions that the big people in charge get to make in the Office. I don't think I'd want to have Chris's job, or Jen's, though I could maybe deal with Lindsey's or Tavia's. But I'll always love the stuff I get to do as an intern. It might seem small, but it's great to feel that people like me keep this great program running.

Bookstore owner. There are far too many small independent bookstores that I want to own, in far too many places in the world. I might not have the management skills or financial know-how to start a business, but I have a feeling I could get customers to keep coming back.

Astronaut. Mostly for old time's sake. And so that I could go to the moon, even if only once.

Wizard. Enough said.
readingredhead: (Default)
Overall, I think this vacation has been good for me. I've needed some rest and I've needed some time to be at home. Frankly, I haven't missed my family so much since I left to go to Berkeley for the first time a year and a half ago. And I didn't realize that I missed them until Mom opened the door when I came home and I ran into her arms. It's been good to be back.

Perhaps the only problem with being back home is that I've got more time to myself than I'm used to -- and when I have time like that, I spend it thinking. And thinking, especially hard thinking, especially about my future, is usually not the greatest idea. But it helps to write about the things that are clattering around my brain, so here they are.

1.       Attending graduate school

a.       feels like the right thing to do

b.      will add six more years of school

                                                               i.      and I don’t know where I want to spend those six years

                                                             ii.      that I will have to pay for if my chosen school can’t pay for me

c.       will give me a education I feel like I have to do something with

                                                               i.      and I don’t need a Ph.D. to write or teach high school

1.       so why am I going to pay for six years of grad school?

2.       Teaching

a.       as a college professor

                                                               i.      is one of the only interesting things you can do with a Ph.D. in English

                                                             ii.      would not be that interesting after a long enough while

                                                            iii.      pays better than high school

b.      in a high school

                                                               i.      does not require a Ph.D.

                                                             ii.      entails hellish amounts of work for abysmal pay

                                                            iii.      seems likely to be strangely rewarding

3.       Nonprofits

a.       are very fun and do fantastic things for the world

b.      will make me absolutely no money

4.       Writing

a.       is what I’ve always wanted to do

b.      will make me absolutely no money

                                                               i.      unless I sell out and become

1.       a “literary” writer

2.       the next Stephenie Meyer

                                                             ii.      unless I’m the one person in a million who’s any good at it

1.       and I can’t believe I’m that person

5.       Love

a.       hurts

                                                               i.      a lot

                                                             ii.      and yet I still want it

b.      can be an inconvenience

                                                               i.      especially if I have a career plan to follow

                                                             ii.      until I figure out how to be independent and dependent simultaneously

c.       had better not let me down

                                                               i.      again

                                                             ii.      because the next time, I’ll take it personal


readingredhead: (Default)

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