30 April 2011

comps mini-journal, day 9.

drink and write? who, me?

Today I hunkered down to write. Started with 725 words, ended with 1544. This Latin America essay is an ass kicker, there is just so much reviewing I have to do to answer the question. At school I got bored with it and had to make myself a Jack and Pepsi with my desk whiskey. And I had to listen to James Taylor and Jim Croce and sing along. I mean, how else could I write about Cardenas and Calles and all the boys? This is the creative process at work, people. Romantic!

I am hoping to finish a draft of that essay tomorrow. Since I don't have anything planned for tonight other than making some orange scented fennel pickle, I think I'll probably do some tinkering with the US essays. As I drink Jack and Pepsi made with home whiskey. I am so glad that I only have 5 days left!

I look permanently tired.

The lipcolor is Revlon Just Bitten Lipstain in Flame- not orangey at all as the packaging appears- but rather hot pink- fun! I think stains are the best way to do the bold lip for Spring... I just can't do all the reapplying that lipstick demands. Perfect for days when you're wearing head to toe gray. Not that I do that.

comps mini-journal, day 8.

This is the face of somebody who marveled briefly, jealously, at a royal wedding dress. 

This is the face of somebody who taught two excellent sections today to engaged learners.

This is the face of somebody who went to Starbucks twice, respectively, with lovely people.

This is the face of somebody who had a wax-paper cup of wine before she had anything to eat today. 

This is the face of somebody who commented on a paper about Indian feminism.

This is the face of somebody who almost ran over a crowd of tourists while on her red Dutch bike as she wore all black making a left turn (and later found out the tour guide was in her program).

This is the face of somebody who went to the doctor and channelled her great-grandmother, who answered questions tersely as she rocked on her heels.

This is the face of somebody who listened to Marvin Gaye with her eyes closed on the couch.

This is the face of somebody who went to drinks at Oscar's and bought impromptu presents at CVS, and then had another drink in the warm abode of friends.

This is the face of somebody who did not work on her comps today.

28 April 2011

comps mini-journal, day 7.

So here's a story:
I couldn't find any of my tote bags. As I have 234 books checked out from the library, I have 4 that move between office, library, and house.
I also couldn't find a particular overdue book. I tore my house apart, I looked all over my office bookshelf and book piles. No dice, so I figured it wasn't properly checked back in at the library, which has happened before. Cue terse emails between self and library staff. 
Today I had a revelation. The tote bags were in my office. 
You see, last Friday I took all of the non-relevant books off my office book shelf with the intent to return them. I then got to work, and forgot about them. All week, as I have looked on my shelf for that damn book, I have been so impressed at how relevant all of my books are to my essays.
So today, I found 100 odd books-- in 4 tote bags- in the corner of my office. HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT, folks.

That's where I'm at today.

I got a late start because of Thursday brunch, and then threw a fit at the coffee shop because I really had no idea what the Mexican Revolution was about. I spent four hours at school relearning it. I didn't intend to do any reading during the comps period, but the writing was becoming too painful (I have a paragraph that looks like a Mad Libs puzzle).  As it turns out, I can't just sit down and expect to just write like I've done with my US essays. So I wrote one page today (of my big field) and I can now distinguish between Villa, Carranza, and Zapata. I mean, hey, I have a week to go, and I've got about 22 pages.

Here's where the magic was happening tonight. My office workspace is far tidier than my home workspace.

 in my natural habitat
The last picture is to show my new favorite necklace. I got it at Yellow Owl Workshop. It goes with everything and I get compliments every time I wear it. It adds visual interest to my extensive collection of boring cotton separates. Seriously, if you need a gift that someone will love (or for yourself), these necklaces are it!

27 April 2011

comps mini-journal, day 6.

Day 6 was a vast improvement over Day 5. Let us count the ways!

I started working on my outside field essay today. It's in Latin America with an emphasis on Mexico. I was starting from pretty close to scratch on that list, so the reading was a lot more difficult because I had no idea what was going on, much less which conversations the books were joining. Latin American history is animated by a different set of questions than U.S., and I've had to get a grip on those in a pretty short amount of time. I'm not really sure how well that's worked; I am terrified that I will be totally stumped during the oral exams. It's a lot harder for to talk my way out of henequin production and oligharchy than compared to... well, anything US related. Except for battles. I might actually know more about henequin than battles. 

So this is all to say: the progress is a lot slower. I have to be a little more careful because I'm not certain about the facts. I wrote two pages today and was so proud of myself, like beyond proud. That's not enough, so there's work to do tonight-for real work, not the un-work of watching the RuPaul's Drag Race finale, which is how Day 5 ended. 

what, you don't watch the best show on television / internet streaming?!

I don't mind. I have been driving myself crazy in the evenings lately because I'm too spent from writing to read or clean but totally terrible at just hanging around.

Today was also magnificent because I found out that I get to be a teaching assistant again next year! I am beyond thrilled about keeping my job- no small feat in today's volatile higher education economy. This means I will have plenty of time to conceive my project, finesse my dissertation prospectus, and get myself ready to apply for some serious grant money next year. It is such a gift to be in a department where I am appreciated. Especially when I think back on the agonizing decision about where to go to grad school-- this is a really beautiful situation.

My best "I don't have to live in a tent in my brother's backyard" face.

This song has been in my head all afternoon. It's totally perfect for this warm sunny spring weather we've been having.

Oh fine, just one more: 

26 April 2011

comps mini-journal, day 5.

Day 5: attack of the angst!

I got mad today. I was sitting down to work when I found out that I had to go to campus to sign a form ASAP. Tuesdays have become kind of sacred this semester because they'e been the one day I'm consistently off campus. This incursion into the holiness of Tuesday agitated me-- I went all the way up to Temple and came all the way back and was just. not. feeling it. I didn't even enjoy the bike ride on my big heavy stupid bike the Old Dutch Treat. I went to the coffee shop to try and find some peace and focus, but couldn't muster it. I did some bad writing- 4 pages of it- and then I hit the wall.

I'm pretty sure I made this face at every single person who came into the coffee shop:
Sorry bout that South Philly.

The problem with this exercise is that it lasts two weeks. That's awesome because I might produce something more coherent than if I had a day or a week, as is common for most other programs, but it also sucks because it feels like comps will never end. And that leads to me feeling like this is a dumb use of my two weeks and this doesn't show that I know anything and twitchtwitchtwitch etc.

I am really feeling this song.

Ok, so feeling like that isn't really sustainable. 
I mean this was me yesterday:

And this was me today:

And this is where I need to be:

So I came home and ate some soup and watched Easy A (so good!) and learned how to smile again and now, now I am going to try to finish this essay because 8.5 pages is good, but finished will feel so much better. Perspective! I am having it!

25 April 2011

comps mini-journal, day 4.

I'm in a groove. It's a write 4 pages a day groove. I kind of like it. It puts me a touch behind schedule, but well, I can only focus for so long / ramble on for so many pages / connect so many dots etc. I mena, the real reality is that I can only drink so many iced coffees before I get too hopped up to work. There are a lot of factors here. 

Comps isn't really changing my appearance. I should have a head of white hair by now, or look more tired, or something. It's like 80 degrees in our house, so I'm just warm and kinda annoyed, ya know?

Today I wrote about the 19th century, which was kind of refreshing. For my big field (19th and 20th century) I decided to only write about topics that I'm really interested in. I have a better grip on some conversations than others, and as one of my committee members told me, you have to write about what you know (as a result, his essay will be about 2 pages long). The crazy thing about ten pages is that I have no space to really say anything. So my discursive footnotes keep getting longer and I'm just like, whatever.

24 April 2011

comps mini-journal, day 3.

Day 3. Seeing this on my dashboard kind of creeps me out.

This is me looking out the window, wanting to be outside because it was 84 degrees. Not conducive to writing.
Also, hot rollers. Where would I be without hair tutorials? One of my favorite ways to kill 10 minutes / take a study break.

I started work a little late because I had to make donuts (forthcoming post). Today was slower going- I wrote around 3 pages this afternoon and things came screeching to a halt. I think because it's Sunday, and also because I ate nothing but donuts, and also because my laptop cord is at school which meant I was trapped working at home (I am not going to Temple on Easter Sunday, even if I'm not really observing Easter. Not going to Temple is my observance). More or less got through page 9 today (hello, discursive footnotes!) which is not a draft, as I hoped, but it's pretty good I think. I'm going to table the dissertation field essay for a couple of days so I can come back to the argument with fresh eyes and wrap it up in a cohesive manner. 

This is how I feel when I think about writing about welfare policy. All of my welfare books are at school, and I don't want to be there right now. And the welfare scholarship is well, complex.  Embarrassingly, this is what I think about when the word "welfare" comes to mind:

Putting on my game face tomorrow, I promise. 
For now: finishing The Hunt for Red October. More interesting now that I know so much about the Cold War!

23 April 2011

comps mini-journal, day 2.

It took me a couple hours to fall asleep last night, so it looks like that is going to be the problem during this whole process. Slept a little later than planned and high-tailed it to the coffee shop so I could get a jump on things. Starting earlier = finishing earlier. Working at the coffee shop = uninterrupted work.

I pulled out 5 pages in 4 hours. It felt great to write about things I've been thinking about for months. I'm doing my laptop work in Google Docs so I can move between computers easily. I am will run my master draft out of Word since I prefer using my big screen for formatting. I'm fussing around with it and am having an oh shit moment-- I totally spaced and worked in 11 point (you can see more on my teensy netbook screen). So that means I wrote 6 pages. Um, oops? 

My goal is to write 5 pages a day. That would mean having 3 operative drafts by next Sunday, meaning I can sleep all day and start revising that Monday. I like to spew out the rough stuff and then really tear it apart. One of the biggest payoffs during this process is that I have been in grad school for four years and I know how I work best.

So yah, I look a little spazzy and frizzy, but I'm feeling kind of smug. I know I'm starting with the easiest stuff first- best to get it out of the way in case the hard stuff takes longer- but I feel good. Time to fix my bicycle chain and clean myself up for a Passover Seder. Lamb and wine are pretty much the perfect hard work payoff!

22 April 2011

comps mini-journal, day 1.

This is how I felt this morning. I got maybe 5 hours of sleep last night-- I was strung out on the anxiety that had been alluding me during 2 1/2 months of absolutely confident preparation. I wanted to wake up and find my questions in my mailbox. I tried not thinking about it... I tried riding my bike to school (my dirty chain came off before I left my street)... I tried to stay cool on the train... I worked through scenarios where our secretary (the question-Santa) was sick and couldn't send the questions... I worked through the scenario where my department decided I couldn't take my comps because I haven't taken the language exam yet... I was a little / a lot wound-up.

My questions were in my email box as soon as I got off the train.  
They are exactly what I expected. 

It is so hard to teach when you desperately want to be working! I made it better by giving myself the treat of teaching Paris is Burning

I was relieved to come home and work alone in my silent house. I am working out of this excellent Ritter Sport graph notebook that my mom sent me in an antique trunk.

I have 2 strong outlines for my US essays that I feel good about and a working outline for my outside field that I will bulk up as I go. This is not so bad. I think I feel good because I have had so many well wishes from family and friends- they are the best! I feel sustained! 

Now off to meet my roommate for drinks because otherwise...

my face will stay stuck like this.

dispatches from comps, part 5: comps mini-journal.

My comps questions have dropped! I have 2 weeks to complete three 10-12 page essays across three fields of history- Latin America, 19th and 20th century US, and post-war politics and federalism. Big Brother has suggested that I keep a mini-journal of my comps experience, and what better place for it than my neglected blog? Comps liveblogging, how very digital humanities of me! Or to be passe, how very vintage LiveJournal of me! I will try to post every day until May 6, at which point I will collapse into a heap, or maybe even disappear like the Mystics in The Dark Crystal. (spaced out-podling-sucked of vital essence is more likely)

I like to think that this will give me perspective on the whole ordeal. This is not the most harrowing two weeks of my academic career, or even a major right of passage in my struggle to become a professional historian, but rather, just some funny story I'm telling the internet about my daily life- like #30daysofbiking, only important! #14daysofwriting! Let's do this!  

08 April 2011

dispatches from comps, part 4.

“Of course I’m not supposed to admit that there is triannual torrential sobbing in my office. ... But I have friends who stay home with their kids and they also have a triannual sob, so I think we should call it even.”

-Tina Fey

I am so reading Bossypants when I'm done with comps.


07 April 2011

dispatches from comps, part 3.

"The important point is that the median voter, or the middle classes if one prefers, needs to be convinced to accept or tolerate income dispartities. Unless the median voter is actually persuaded to tolerate income inequality, the failure of officials to implement legal democratic commands exposes a democratic regime to charges of hypocrisy or corruption. And I would call that a problem of legitimacy." 
-John Ferejohn"Is Inequality a Threat to Democracy?", The Unsustainable American State
I have been chewing on this quote for days. That is the problem with The Unsustainable American State, by far my favorite book to have read during comps. I haven't finished it yet; the essays take me days to digest and do so many things to my interpretive schema that I have read the book in very measured doses over the course of several solo bar trips on nights when I decide I really want to treat myself. It ties together so many of the threads of scholarship that I've consumed over the past two months and offers a model of critical scholarship that must be considered by policy-makers and institution-builders. The insights in the book require meditation.

We can take nothing our government does for granted. Nothing about it is fixed; even the Constitution includes provisions for amendment. It has only the power we gie it. So we must ask: 
Who convinced us that pronounced income inequality is essential to democracy? And why are they still in government? Why do the laws protecting them still stand? 

More from Ferejohn:
"In modern society, income is produced by a complex combination of private and public actions, and inequalities are to some extent unintended consequences of billions of separate actions.... So, from the standpoint of regime legitimacy, it is an open question whether the relatively less regulated liberal world would undermine democracy any more than a regulated, and arguable more democratic, alternative."

food for thought.

01 April 2011

why i'm doing #30daysofbiking.

Woohoo! April is here! This promises to be one of the more stressful months of grad school thus far. On April 22nd I will begin a two week written exam, producing three ten-page essays showcasing the knowledge I've attained after four (four!) years of graduate school and working ~400 books this semester. On top of this, I'm finishing up my last class, guiding students through the last 35 years of the 20th century, and trying to plan my first dissertation research trip.

This month is not especially conducive to exercise, or grocery shopping, or really, leaving my house unless I have to. Which is exactly why I'm doing #30daysofbiking. I have to make time for myself. I eat better when I bicycle grocery shop regularly. I prepare for class and meetings more thoroughly when I can't count on a subway ride for extra review time. I keep a clearer head when I bicycle commute every day. I need to ride my bike every day this month.

#30daysofbiking! Work-life balance! Let's do this!