Make Way For Writing and Thinking

"twitter-birds" by Flickr user Abigail Silvester, CC-BY-2.0

“twitter-birds” by Flickr user Abigail Silvester, CC-BY-2.0

I’m not a fan of going online and making a big scene of a social media hiatus. But the current social media hiatus, a Twitter hiatus as of yesterday evening, is directly related to the book-ish in progress.

When I first moved to Kansas City and I was struggling to make progress with Dissertation Chapter #1, I cut out Facebook. It was my social media drug of choice at the time. I remember posting a status about it just because I thought some folks would want to check in with me before I deactivated my account. One person responded, I won’t believe you until I see it. I was so annoyed that I deactivated my account right then and there.

The break from Facebook was good. I don’t remember how long I stayed away from it—maybe almost a year? It’s all very fuzzy now—but I did make headway on the dissertation, and I did feel my brain/life reboot. In the meantime, I had Twitter, which slowly became more and more important to me. It became a lifeline of sorts for me that first year in Kansas City.

Fast-forward: now I’m at a point where I’m trying to move past dreaming about writing a book and move toward writing a book. But I feel my writing energy flowing more and more often toward Twitter. Not to mention that Twitter always feels current, present, now. It’s irresistible at times…especially when you’re avoiding doing the big work on your book project: the conceptual thinking.

Does my need to detach from Twitter have to do with what Atlantic writers Adrienne LaFrance and Robinson Meyer see as the twilight of Twitter? Not sure. Twitter does feel different to me lately, but I don’t think I’m in the right place to start thinking about what my break from the platform says about Twitter in general. All I know is that I need to put more energy into writing and I spend too much time on Twitter. Hey, those witty tweets of mine don’t just come out of thin air-most but not all of them do. ;)

My old boss from the writing center pointed out at lunch on Tuesday that what I need is to write down what’s on my mind before I take another step with research or planning. And she’s right: I need to do this. Every time I try to do it, I find a way to procrastinate on it and I don’t do it. There’s something tough, something keeping me from moving forward. I need to write through it and see where it gets me.

One of the things I’m thinking about is, why postcards? My old boss articulated it this way: what do you want to tell people about postcards? That makes total sense: what’s the point of writing about postcards? There has to be more than just “I collect them and I think they’re great.” They stick around for a reason. I’m trying to figure out that reason.

I recently downloaded the iPhone app Postale, which allows you to make your own postcard and send it anywhere around the world. I’ve been thinking about it lately and trying to figure out why would such an app exist and not, say, a letter-writing app. Of course the letter-writing app is better known as email, but for some reason an app for postcards makes more sense than an app that takes your message and sends it to a recipient, complete with cursive font, envelope, and stamp.

Another thing that’s been going on is that more and more people are sharing with me that they have postcard collections of their own. When I hear about their collections, I always wonder, why do you collect postcards? The reasons are pretty varied: they have sentimental value, they commemorate something special, or they were passed down to them. Asking that also helps me reflect upon why I collect the postcards I do.

Do you collect postcards? Why? I usually ask readers to comment below or tweet me, but since I’m not on Twitter until July 1st, you can comment or contact me through this form

Who decides to become a writer?

Reading Siva Vaidhyanathan’s meditation on the value of the humanities this morning got me thinking about my own inclination for the humanities. I know these articles are in vogue nowadays, and I try to stay away from what’s in vogue (not self-righteousness, just an adolescent knee-jerk) but I can’t help but delve into articles about the humanities. I still feel a connection to the academy, to the humanities. and I enjoy participating in those conversations. Am I a humanist, even outside of the academy? i guess you could say yes.

Anyway, this part really resonated with me:

I explained that I was back in school to figure out how I could learn to write books. I had bigger and different questions in my head than my current writing outlet would accommodate”

The passage reminded me of why I went to college in the first place. I told myself i wanted to teach, but really, I wanted to become a writer. I know, I know, I’ve talked about this before. I think that’s what made my transition from academic to freelancer easier: there was something else that made my heart sing, and it was words. teaching was the shape that love was supposed to become, the practical thing. Funny how now teaching seems like the least practical option, in light of the poor state of the academic job market and dismal working conditions for adjunct instructors.

But where did I get this pesky idea of becoming a writer, anyway? My parents were working-class folks who found their way to the middle class when working-class jobs  could actually pave a way through to the middle class. I was a first-generation college student and, later, a first-generation graduate student. My parents touted the benefits of an education, especially in terms of how that would affect my future earnings, but statistically speaking, I am an anomaly. Do you know how many Puerto Ricans get a PhD?

Additionally, one of the reasons I ended up where I did (graduate school) is because i realized in high school that I had smarts; if boys didn’t pay attention to me because of how i looked, I was gonna focus on one of the things i *did* have: my brain. I was good at school and at learning. My smarts and my wit would get me the heck out of Dodge. I thought too much. The humanities seem to be where I’d be most at home, despite the fact that career counselors didn’t know what the heck to do with this tendency of mine to overthink everything.

But still, where did I get the idea that someone like me, a Puerto Rican who lived in the country, far away from any lively urban areas (San Juan was close but we only drove the two hours to san juan if necessary, and my contact with the city was mostly through the newspaper and gossip)? I don’t know. Nuyorican writers would come to my life in college. All I know is that I enjoyed reading books, and writing became something necessary for me.

I had a diary. I wrote stories. I crafted poems. I even published some of those poems! You’d be hard-pressed to find them online, but I keep hard copies of those small literary magazines who published my work. (In other words, they exist, but not on the internet. Sorry!) But I didn’t know anyone who made a living off of writing. That wasn’t something we talked about at school job fairs. It wasn’t something people in school talked about.

In fact, the popular thing when I was in high school was engineering; many people I went to high school with wanted to study engineering, particularly because the closest public university was an engineering majors powerhouse on the island, so I guess that was the socially-acceptable way to move up socioeconomically. Me, I couldn’t see why anyone wanted to study engineering. I didn’t have the slightest idea what engineers did, and no one explained it to me either. So I stuck with what I knew: writing and books.

I don’t remember telling my parents I wanted to become a writer, but I don’t remember telling myself that either, in all earnestness. I remember submitting a short story to a Seventeen Magazine writing contest when I was in middle school. I typed it on my parents’ typewriter, and even though I didn’t win, I remember my mother being very excited that I wanted to submit something. Later, when I was a grad student and I was having an career-related existential crisis of sorts during my dissertation, she would tell me that one of my skills was that I knew how to write. “Writing comes so naturally to you, Liana. I don’t know how you do it, but that’s your talent. You’re so good at it.” The critic in me thought, nah I’m not that good at it because I would have published by now and I would have finished this dissertation by now and I’d have tenure-track offers left and right, but then and there I decided to let her thoughtful words sink in and warm my heart.

Spring Training

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or not. Depending on who you ask.

Spring Training is the time before baseball season where players practice in exhibition games. For me, Spring Training is me going cold turkey without my husband after several months of having him at home day in and day out. He leaves and is gone for about four weeks. Spring Training gets easier year after year, but I don’t think it’ll ever be easy. We just learn how to deal.

Contrary to other baseball spouses who may travel with their significant others to Spring Training, I usually stay behind. It’s always work, usually money. And soon it will be E’s school.

The first time my husband left for Spring Training, our relationship was in a rough patch, so his departure eventually meant that we broke up. Even though he may have felt sad for our breakup, all I knew was that I was heartbroken and mad while he was out in Phoenix enjoying baseball and sunshine.

The next year his job as pre-game and post-game show host required him to go to Spring Training as soon as pitchers and catchers reported—which is usually around Valentine’s Day. I was pregnant, and this would be our first big separation after his return back to the East Coast after the end of baseball season, and our reconciliation. My mood swings crept through the phone waves, and every solo trip to the grocery store made me angry at Major League Baseball all over again. (He was there for the birth, if you’re wondering. MLB couldn’t take that away from us.)

The year after our first Spring Training as a couple I spent it in Kansas City with a baby. I was teaching and trying to make progress with my dissertation. You could say my dissertation is the background of my relationship with baseball—my whole graduate career even. You can also turn it around: baseball is the background to my professional career.

When you’re in this position, you eventually figure out how to handle the distance. Video chat. Text messaging random thoughts or pictures of your adventures throughout the day. Emails with business that must be taken care of. Questions from well-intentioned people who didn’t know that their questions about my husband’s travels felt like pin pricks in my chest. “When is he coming home? Are you going? Do you have family who can help you?” Every answer carefully thought out. You don’t want people to think you can’t keep it together when you’re by yourself.

And I can keep it together when I’m by myself. After all, I lived by myself for a while. But I needed the company. I needed people to spend time with me. It seemed like it was during this period where I needed company the most. I didn’t want to feel alone.

I started to make up travel plans to New York City. There was always a conference or meeting to attend. That year I was pregnant I had not one but two baby showers. I was grateful for the distraction just as much as for the presents.

The next spring Training, I stayed in Kansas City, again. I was finishing my dissertation. It was the first time I sent away my daughter to daycare full time. My husband, the man flying to Arizona for six weeks, encouraged me to put her so I could dedicate more waking hours to writing instead of always fitting in dissertation work before I was fully awake or before I went to sleep. I needed the time, but I felt guilty that I was home alone and she was in the care of someone else. This prevented me from flying out to Arizona.

The year after, my husband left later, but only by a week. The play-by-play broadcaster doesn’t need to be there when pitchers and catchers report. We had an extra week and it didn’t make any difference because it would be three months until we saw each other again. It was his first Spring Training calling games for the Houston Astros. I stayed behind because I had a job and because someone had to pack up the apartment, right? Three months. 90 days total. I counted every day.

Every Spring Training seems to be rife with emotions. So many things going on.

I wonder if Spring Training in MLB is also a season for me, for my soul: maybe Spring Cleaning? Balance my emotional checkbook? Get back in touch with me and my goals? Every Spring Training up until this year had been intense, fraught, painful. Yes, painful.

I had to allow myself sometimes to cry, to miss him. It’s okay to get upset. I’ll have to make sure to teach our daughter that, even if some day that will come back to haunt me. Now I travel for work. She knows our work take us away from home for periods of time. She may think we love our careers and we love that it takes us away from home. We do love our careers. We do not love that it takes us away from her.

This year, things were different. Spring Training went by so fast, I didn’t even get to enjoy the time to check in with myself.

Because we’re finally both gainfully employed and not borderline broke, we could afford a trip to Florida to spend time during Spring Training. I’m still getting used to the baseball life, as you can imagine. However, Spring Training coincides with an intense time in the Spring semester: conference season. With my new job I have to attend academic conferences.

March was a whirlwind of activity. I finished putting together the rough draft of the newsletter and got on a plane to Florida. In between meals and sightseeing in Florida, I would check my email or double-check article edits. I then packed up for Baltimore to attend NASPA for work. While at NASPA I had to copyedit the manuscript and cover panels for future WIHE articles. My mother came to Baltimore to see me, and we spent time with family there. I then returned to Houston and met my sister in law at the airport. She’d be staying with us for a week and watch Miss E while I went to another conference, this time in Fort Worth. By the time she left on Thursday, I was already thinking ahead to what I wanted to take care of before my husband came back to town. This past weekend was the first free weekend I’ve had in weeks.

I may have overdone it this time.