(#Alt-)Academia Higher Ed Personal

Reflecting on a decade

2020 is on the horizon, ushering in a time of looking back and looking forward. January will bring not only a new year but a new decade, and a metaphorical connection to 20/20 vision. In the U.S., the year also brings a high-stakes and emotionally fraught presidential election that feels something like a moment of reckoning. Naturally, this is a time of reflection for many, myself included.

I’ve been thinking especially about how much has changed in my professional life in the last ten years. At HASTAC, we’re in the midst of planning our 2020 conference at UT Dallas, with a theme of Hindsight, Foresight, and Insight. That theme resonates as I reflect on my own journey. Part of this professional trajectory connects to another unexpected ten-year mark. As Twitter reminded me, ten years ago Jason Rhody and Bethany Nowviskie started describing their work as “alt-ac”.

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Higher Ed Personal

New Beginnings

After my daughter was born in 2014, I couldn’t believe how hard it was to avoid clichés when everything was so startlingly new to me. She was growing so fast, I felt so much joy and so much exhaustion, I worried about diaper rash and breastfeeding and the state of the world. Thoughts of health and growth and happiness and safety—just like every new parent, ever. So many things I had never felt before, but that had been felt and expressed by countless parents across time and space. Words failed me.

I had my second child, a baby boy, this past July. Having watched myself transform into a parent when my daughter came into the world, I feel (somewhat) less stunned by the simultaneous wonder and triviality this time around. Becoming a parent feels miraculous and utterly mundane, a tension that recurs every day through brand-new smiles and endless repetitive tasks, through deep hope and moments of frustration.

So now, with the paradoxes of life with a new human very much on my mind, it’s time for me to return to work and think once more about the ground that we as educators prepare for the generations to come, while building on the work and wisdom of many who have come before. I am at once not ready to be back, and happy to be returning.

I am grateful for the unfailing support of my colleagues, who made it possible for me to be completely focused on my family and my health during these past three months. And I’m full of admiration for the hard work it took our union, PSC-CUNY, to obtain paid parental leave not only for me, a birth mother, but for any new parent in a full-time position. This kind of support, both institutional and personal, is too rare in workplaces in the U.S. and I do not take it for granted.

In the weeks and months ahead, I will be blogging about my book project, Putting the Humanities Ph.D. to Work; our work at the Futures Initiative; and issues around higher education more broadly. And I’ll be trying to bring more of my whole self into these posts than I sometimes do, which may mean reflections on parenthood (especially motherhood) in an academic workplace—especially given that my breast pump often provides my writing soundtrack these days.

So with deep thanks again to all who support me, I’m happy to be embracing the new beginning in my personal life and bringing a fresh perspective to my work.

(#Alt-)Academia Personal

Neither here nor there

I couldn’t attend this year’s HASTAC Conference, because I’m not quite ready for work travel after baby S was born in July. But I’m still tuning in. During the opening plenary, which was a fantastic panel discussion featuring Tressie McMillan Cottom, Purdom Lindblad, T-Kay Sangwand, and Anastasia Salter, I tweeted this:

I posted it as a small gesture toward the ways that bodies and caregiving can complicate work, a nod at why attention to accessibility (like livestreaming) matters, and also a consideration of the ways that I try to remain in community even when I can’t physically be somewhere. But I’ve been thinking more about it, and I realized there’s something else behind it, too—something that makes me a little sad.

Watching a livestream while pumping breastmilk is not just an indication of where I am, but where I’m not. I’m not at the conference; that’s why I’m watching the livestream. But I’m also not with my baby; that’s why I’m pumping. The tweet was meant to show that I was embodying two identities at once, but it also means I’m not in either space fully.

The transition back to work has been more challenging for me this time around despite an incredibly supportive boss, coworkers, and institutional structure, and I think this tweet captures a big part of why. I want so much to be more fully present in both parts of my identity, and at this particular moment, I feel distanced from both. And that is not an easy place to be.


Too late

I at last read Teaching to Transgress for the first time. In it, bell hooks writes that she read Adrienne Rich’s poem, “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children,” in her first year of college. I read it now, grad school long past, as the world seems to be burning.

I am late, too late.

For the first time, I read Angela Davis’s Women, Race, Class. I do not know why I have not read it before. It illuminates everything.

I am raising a little girl, a little brown girl who will grow into a woman of color. Born into relative privilege, to educated parents, and yet she will undoubtedly know pain that I have never felt, know bias I do not encounter. Perhaps I am being too pessimistic, and she won’t. We are in Brooklyn, after all, and multicultural backgrounds are more or less the norm. Or perhaps I am too optimistic and it will be worse for her than I imagine. When she is grown, what will I tell her I fought for, and fought against?

Whiteness, White feminism: these are terms I hear often, and I have grasped what they implied. But only lately do I finally—finally—understand that White feminism is not something emerging now, divorced from history; it is not an innocent obliviousness. That rather it is a force that has caused untold damage against women of color, and Black women especially, since the earliest days of feminist activism in this country. That early suffragists were not only fighting for women’s rights, but actively pushing Black women out of their ranks and Black rights out of their agenda. Nobody taught me this in school, or in college, or in grad school. And I did not seek it out.

Only lately have I realized that I have long been among those who think that we can move “beyond race,” and only lately have I realized how utterly blind and damaging such a standpoint is. I fell into the illusion that my education was neutral, that whiteness was neutral.

I am deeply ashamed that this has not been a lifelong awareness for me, that only now am I waking up.


Paris, NYC

I was a student in France when the Twin Towers fell. I recall vividly the reactions and conversations I had with people as I processed what had happened and would likely happen next. I remember the empathy expressed by so many, but also the bitter anticipation of the violent national response that was likely to follow. “All we can hope is that your government doesn’t respond with more violence, with bombs,” some said.

I can’t shake an odd and terrible sense that I’m reliving the same thing now—far from attacks that struck near to people I care about, and with a deep foreboding about what what may follow, not only in terms of military response but also the racism, bias, and stereotyping that are expressed in a thousand large and small ways. I have no doubt that even while some hearts are opening to all those who are mourning and suffering, other hearts and minds are hardening. And France has already begun to bomb Syria.

I am grieving the terrible things happening in Beirut, Baghdad, and in so many places around the world. I am lamenting the suffering caused by attacks like these and also the suffering that follows them—and also the suffering and anguish that creates the kind of world in which they are possible. How many times will we feel this way?

MLA Personal

Big news: I’m joining the MLA!

I am delighted to announce that, following my term with the Scholarly Communication Institute, I’ll be joining the Modern Language Association as Managing Editor of the MLA Commons.

The new role begins in September, which seems far away, but the months will undoubtedly fly by. I’m in the enviable position of wanting to linger in my current position while also looking forward to the next. As many of you know, my position with SCI came with an expiration date; like many grant-funded jobs, this one runs out when the grant concludes. Were that not the case, I would have loved to keep working with Bethany Nowviskie and the team at the Scholars’ Lab; it is a wonderful place, with brilliant colleagues, smart, creative graduate students, and a constant stream of new ideas. It has been a privilege to work with them; I’ve learned an incredible amount in the past year, and the people at the Scholars’ Lab are a big reason why.

But if I do have to move along, I cannot think of a better place to land than working with Kathleen Fitzpatrick at the MLA. (I know, I’m incredibly lucky to have such phenomenal bosses and mentors.) I’ll be responsible for much of the editorial work and community building related to the brand-new MLA Commons. So please, start using it now if you haven’t already, so that I have a wealth of material to work with when I come on board! As you might imagine, I’ll be thinking a lot about how the Commons might best serve not only its existing active members, but also people in alternative academic careers. I’ll also be thinking about the potential for cross-disciplinary collaboration as the Commons matures.

Between now and September, I have a lot of work to do: I am continuing to work on the analysis and reporting of SCI’s recent survey on career preparation for humanities scholars; SCI is convening one more meeting on each of our two main topics (new models of scholarly production and reforming humanities graduate education); and we’re starting to think about future directions for the newly-launched Praxis Network. Watch for more on all of those things in the months ahead. In addition, I’ll have a couple of fun “firsts”: I’ll be attending DHSI (for a course on visual design! I’m terribly excited) and giving a long paper at my first Digital Humanities conference (here’s the program, hot off the presses). It’s an exciting time for me; I never could have predicted any of this a couple of years ago, and I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds down the road.

(#Alt-)Academia Personal

Reflections on 2012

When I look back on 2012, I have no doubt that it will stick in my memory as a year of renewal. It has been an incredible and enriching year in so many ways, from a new home to a new job to what feels like a thousand and one new skills (many of them half-baked, but good starts nonetheless). I know that the tech skills below are no big deal for most everyone in the DH community, but I came to them all from total unfamiliarity.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned in the past year:

  • I learned how (and why) to use the command line.
  • I learned how to use Github, both for my own projects and to collaborate with others.
  • I learned how to use vim, and that using vim makes me feel pretty badass… or else it makes me feel like a hopeless case. The line between the two feelings is pretty thin.
  • I learned that everybody has to look stuff up in the documentation, and that half the battle is knowing where to look.
  • I’ve gotten pretty decent with HTML markup.
  • I can figure stuff out in CSS. Sometimes.
  • Along the same lines, I finally figured out how to get a domain name and host, get a proper WordPress install, set up a child theme, and start making my website look the way I want it to look.
  • I learned how to use an FTP client, and eventually I got brave enough to move remote files around from the command line.
  • I learned enough JavaScript to piece some D3 visualizations together (though not really enough to get myself out of trouble).
  • I learned a tiny little bit of Ruby.
  • I learned how to type curly quotes, and why it matters (thanks, @clioweb!).
  • And finally, it might rank low on the list of essential life skills, but I have learned to do a headstand without a wall to catch me, and that feels amazing.

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The unusual in the everyday

I’ve done little of consequence this Labor Day weekend — no travel, no big plans. Instead, I’ve been vegging outside, reading Middlemarch, drinking wine, and cooking the random kinds of meals that I tend to eat when A. is traveling, as he is now. I’m in my most ordinary environment — I haven’t really left my neighborhood — and yet it seems that I’ve been seeing things differently than usual. It might be A.’s absence, or the leisure afforded by an extra day, or the fact that I’m reading a 19th century novel instead of my usual diet of 20th/21st century fiction. I realized the difference most acutely when I saw these crazy green parakeets in a neighbor’s oak tree, swooping down to feast from a nearby pear tree. I work from home, so I stare at these trees a lot — and yet, I had only caught a glimpse of one of these bright birds on one previous occasion, and then I thought that I was imagining things. But now that I’ve associated the raucous cries that I hear all the time with these unusual monk parakeets lovebirds,[1] I realize that they must be in the oak tree quite often. They may even have a nest there. In the course of the afternoon, I saw them perch on neighbors’ balconies, trees, and fences, and even on the telephone wire right outside my apartment. And yet, I hadn’t ever really spotted them before today.

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On the sanctity of (some) life

This morning’s news about the shooting in Aurora has left me deeply unsettled, and while I’m not sure how well I can articulate my thoughts about it, I’m too distracted by them not to try. Fair warning: this is a personal post, and it’s driven by emotion and experience rather than by research.

Aurora is terribly close to home for me. I have immediate family members living there (the closest mere blocks from where the shooting took place), and it’s very near to where I grew up. I know that my family is ok, but I’m still worried about second-degree connections: my brother’s friends, people I knew growing up. I’m trying not to imagine the people getting bad news instead of comforting news today, because it’s too hard to think about.

Looking back on the many years I spent in Colorado, I realize that it felt like an extraordinarily safe and sheltered environment, and that my community of family and friends actively thought of it as a safe and happy place. My family worried when I moved away for the first time; they worried even more when I moved to New York. But from a distance, Colorado doesn’t appear so safe. It isn’t just this incident; it’s the recent shooting in City Park, where EF heard the gunshots that killed a police officer; it’s Columbine, where my cousin was a high school senior trapped in a music room; it’s the 23-year-old shot and killed in a random attack just blocks from my family’s home in 2009. I don’t know anybody that has witnessed first-hand this kind of violence in New York. In Colorado, I know far too many people who have.

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Bear with me…

I’ve just transfered this blog to a self-hosted site, which is a whole new world for me. I did it in part because I want the increased flexibility that a self-hosted site provides (I kept getting jealous of all the WordPress plug-ins I couldn’t install when my site was hosted at, and also so that I have a place to play around with some of the new things I’m learning. This site will probably fluctuate a lot over the next couple of weeks as I figure out what I want to do with it. As you already know if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook and saw the deluge of links I mistakenly posted, I am new at this and trying to figure things out on my own.

I’m happy to say that I’m at least making progress. I’ve successfully moved everything over to the new self-hosted site, and from here (I think) it should be a matter of refining. Thanks for your patience!