Fiesta O' Random

Right here, the random, ADHD entry. Those first three paragraphs are painfully focused, but that's about it....

Lately, I've been doing so much reading and writing for my dissertation it's been hard to think about what to write for this site - and to find a time to write it. At the moment, I really should be reading The Black Atlantic and thinking about what an African diaspora may or may not have to do with the idea of transnational indigenous alliances - but instead, here I am.

It's been a long few weeks. I've been unusually productive, but the problem with a dissertation - which in my field is essentially a book-length critical analysis of a particular question, text, or issue, and an argument for a particular thesis about this issue - is that the more you do, the more you realize you still need to do. Every article I read leaves me with several more ideas for books I really should have read by now. Everything I write leaves me with a sense of how much is still lacking in my analysis just for this chapter, and almost despairing of finding a way of unifying the next few chapters with this one.

Chapters in and of themselves are pretty scary creatures, really. It's the first time I've had to write a book-length critical piece (the craptastic novel fragment I wrote for my master's thesis is a different creature entirely), and it's damned hard. That's part of the point, of course - you need this skill if you're going to be a professor. You need to be able to make a coherent argument about a series of texts, something that holds together and is comprehensible for several chapters. I seem to keep forgetting that I'm actually making an argument here, trying to prove something; my writing keeps degenerating into a sort of "Hey! This is cool! Check this out! And then over here - this is neat too!"

Hm. Symptomatic of this is that I wrote those three paragraphs last week, and then found other things to do. And that now that I'm revisiting this, I really think anyone reading this is going to be bored if I talk about my dissertation any more than I already have. In fact, I hope anyone reading this hasn't already been put off by those first three paragraphs. So instead, let's go random, shall we?

We got a Netflix trial membership last week. Writing a dissertation emphatically does not mean that you possess common sense, and so the idea of basically unlimited movies shipped to my house seemed like a good one. For all that free time. However, I have no regrets whatsoever because the first DVD we got was The Best of the Muppet Show: Steve Martin, Gilda Radner, and Carol Burnett. Some shows that I watched as a kid didn't age well (seeing CHiPs on late-night TV should be proof enough of that), but The Muppet Show is perhaps even more brilliant now. It's utterly random, full of self-consciously stupid puns, a fantastic collection of bizarre characters (Gonzo, the chicken lover! Sam the patriotic eagle! Animal!), and they had the best guest stars. These three shows had us rolling on the couch laughing.

I also managed to do some pleasure reading. Few things crush your love of reading as much as being a Ph.D. student in literature, because suddenly, reading is work. You can't pick up a book without a pencil in hand, compulsively making notes in the margins. So I forced myself to put down the pencil, turn off the mental note-taking, and actually enjoy some books for a change. And I did! I read Toni Morrison's Love, Louise Erdrich's Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (highly recommended), Stefanie Zweig's Irgendwo in Deutschland (the sequel to Nirgendwo in Afrika, which I saw last year and really enjoyed), finally finished Dan Savage's Skipping Toward Gomorrah, Zadie Smith's White Teeth (which has been at my bedside, waiting for me to read it, for about a year), and am currently starting on Reading Lolita in Tehran. It was addictive. It was fun. I rediscovered how much I love books. And the interesting thing was that while I was doing this reading, the "work" reading, for the dissertation, got easier and more fun too. Lesson learned; I will put the pencil down more often.

When I wasn't reading or watching DVDs, I was trying to finish up a fellowship application for a fellowship I don't stand much chance of getting. It wasn't terribly easy to keep up the motivation for that, since I was putting a lot of time into something that would probably turn out to be, well, nothing. I kept reminding myself of the importance of the process, and all that jazz, and I finished the application and didn't even have to stay up all night to do it, but it wasn't the most fun I've ever had. Even so, I know I need to apply for more fellowships; if you get one, it's free money, so especially since I can re-use most of what I've already done, I might as well keep on applying. Still. Bleah.

We also went and bought furniture. This was much more fun. A local furniture store was having a 50% off sale, so we went to town and got a fantastic lounge chair (with massager!) and a side table for the living room, and a couch end table. We've only gotten the end table so far; the other two will take another 6-8 weeks for delivery. Sigh. Patience is not one of my virtues.

And while I'm behind on updating this site, I'm also way behind on my holiday letter. I call it a "Holiday Letter" not to be non-denominational, but so that I can arbitrarily reassign which holiday it's sent out for. Last year and the year before the holiday was New Year's, give or take, but the year before that it was MLK Day, and this year it might be Groundhog's Day before it gets out there. Ah well. A holiday's a holiday.

Well, I have a dissertation and a holiday letter to write, a couple more movies to watch, books to get back to, and - as Zora reminds me, resentfully eyeing the computer on my lap - a cat to pet.

Happy new year to everyone!

(And go rent The Muppet Show!!)


January 13, 2004


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