Life snippets

Another installment of “False Starts,” this time the “Spring Training” Edition:

1) This morning I was driving back to our Kissimmee hotel after dropping my husband off at work (“work” being the Astros’ Spring Training complex) when R.E.M. came on the radio. Satellite radio allows for long-forgotten hits and random b-sides to find airplay again. “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” played on the 90s alternative station, and it took me back to my pre-teen years. The pop culture references, foreign to my Puerto Rican life in the countryside, motivated me to find out who the heck Kenneth was and why R.E.M. were making a reference to Dan Rather. This was a little harder than it would be today, since it required me looking at issue after issue of music magazines bought at the only popular bookstore close to Sabana Grande. Pre-teen me would have loved the Internet. I’m almost certain that listening to R.E.M. increased my vocabulary by at least a grade level.

2) When my husband and I got married, we had no wedding rings. The officiant asked us during a pre-wedding meeting whether we would exchange rings. We said no. We didn’t tell him we couldn’t afford the rings. We just left it at “no rings.” After the wedding, with some wedding gift cash, we went to the KAY Jewelers at the mall in Overland Park, Kansas, and looked at rings. I hate those “every kiss begins with Kay” commercials, but we bought our rings there. They’re not a wedding band pair; we picked two rings from the “Wedding” case, two that matched and that we could afford. My wedding ring is a simple silver band with a small diamond. When I first got my ring, I couldn’t wait to wear it everywhere. Yesterday my husband remarked that I take my ring off all the time. I felt sad admitting to him that my ring fits too snug because of the weight I’ve gained, and so I take it off when it’s too tight.

A year and a half apart. Also, my lovely nail polish

3) The art in our hotel room makes me feel out of place. I’m sure it’s supposed to evoke warmth, sun, relaxation. In short, it’s supposed to evoke Florida. It has the opposite effect on me: it evokes Puerto Rico. I’m half expecting to step out of our hotel room and find myself on the streets of Isla Verde, or smell la AMA pulling up to the bus stop. But every time I step outside, it’s a hotel hallway. Every hallway on every floor looks the same. No San Juan. Nostalgia comes back in mysterious ways.

Hotel selfie 1

Hotel selfie 1

Hotel selfie 2

Hotel selfie 2

Hotel selfie 3 (also, possibly my new Twitter avatar pic?)

Hotel selfie 3 (also, possibly my new Twitter avatar pic?)





Well, *that* was awkward.

After last night’s wonky rose ceremony and painful After The Final Rose show (and after some time at the beach because, come on now, I’m hanging out in Florida and I have priorities), I checked to see what the Internet had going regarding The Bachelor finale.

In a nutshell: Juan Pablo Galavís showed his true colors, broke Clare’s heart, and had the most awkward declaration of like in the history of the show. Not declaration of love, although Clare and Nikki’s declaration of love was pretty awkward too. Declaration of like because when Juan Pablo told Nikki she was The Chosen One, he did not propose but instead told her he wanted to keep going on with her because “he really REALLY likes [her].”

Here’s the thing: The Bachelor/Bachelorette series has gotten a lot of flack about how the show isn’t real. Meanwhile, this season is arguably the realest season ever. Yes, Juan Pablo is almost certainly the most despised male contestant in the history of the show. However, I think some of the interactions on the show seemed very much like real life. Girls declaring, yeah, that guy isn’t for me so I’m gonna leave, or “I can’t believe how shallow he is” or “He just wants to have sex with me” or “I’d never want to have kids with you.” These things happen in real life. That doesn’t mean they’re okay—no one wants anything to do with a person who’s an asshole—but this reality show finally seemed to focus on the reality.

However, the show is not supposed to be real. It’s supposed to be a fairy tale. This tension is what causes me to continue watching the show. In fact, I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks (although I still have to flesh this out some more) that the reason the show continues to be popular is because it reflects the cultural values of mainstream America when it comes to relationships. In a time where we see more and more diverse representations of what it means to love someone and be in a relationship with someone, this series’ golden token is that it reifies that idea of what it means to fall in love and get married.

That brings me back to last night’s finale. Nikki reiterated during After the Final Rose that she loved Juan Pablo, albeit without the same excitement and enthusiasm that she did during the finale. When host Chris Harrison asked Juan Pablo if he loved Nikki, he insisted that he did not have to say anything to anyone (followed by the audience’s boos—nice touch, Live Audience!) In short, Juan Pablo never said he loved Nikki on the show, even though Nikki felt comfortable reiterating her feelings for him.

I had half a mind last night to talk about how forced the whole interaction seemed between them, but then I read Reality Steve’s entry about the Finale: ”he was not invested into this process at all, is glad it’s over, and will probably never have anything to do with this franchise ever again.” Reading about how much Juan Pablo had manipulated the show to his benefit left me feeling a little empty inside. it also explains how tense and staged everything felt between him and Nikki.

Some light reading about last night’s episode:

‘The Bachelor’ implodes in real time during most awkward finale ever, thanks to Juan Pablo

In Defense Of THE BACHELOR’s Juan Pablo

Juan Pablo Galavis is the ‘worst Bachelor ever’: Show insiders say producers are ‘over him’

In The Dark

2014-03-01 19.27.55As I turned onto the dark road that would take us to George Observatory, I remembered my grandma saying I was not afraid of anything, that when I want to do something or go somewhere I would just jump in and get it done. Then I saw a sign emerge from the darkness into the line of vision of the car’s headlights. “Venomous snakes in the park.” That scared me. I uttered to myself, what the heck is that about?!

It took some time for my eyes to adjust to the dark park. Once I closed the rear passenger door, the car’s inside light went off, and we were surrounded by darkness. There a was a faint yellow glow from faraway street lamps, but other than that we had to keep a close eye out for the path from the parking lot across the road to the observatory.

I should have known that the darkness meant we wouldn’t see the stars. I spent many a dark evening sitting on my parents’ front porch in the dark. E and I walked along the trail and spoke in hushed tones, as if our voices would disturb the darkness. That happens in the dark sometimes.

2014-03-01 19.31.07The path was illuminated by low-set white bulbs and then red bulbs. My daughter and I followed the path, and as we got closer to the observatory we heard the commotion of antsy teenagers milling about. We later found out that the cloudy sky meant that the telescopes had been put away.

2014-03-01 19.26.48On our way back to the trail, my daughter found a bench and requested we sit down. In the red haze of the lightbulbs, we looked up into the sky and saw stars, branches, fireflies. Staring up at the sky, together with the warm air, reminded me of home. As we walked and searched for the stars in the sky, I remembered many an evening back in Sabana Grande. The country side. The darkness. The sounds.

Suddenly it all felt very familiar. The voices were not familiar, but the darkness, the sounds of night creatures, the smell of the warm evening air, the trail, it all felt real. For a moment I was back home, in a blackout, trying to make sense of figures in the dark.

Sometimes I forget how those dark country nights are as much a part of me as the bright city lights.

I remember grandparents

My husband’s grandpa passed away this weekend. I barely knew him, compared to how my mother in law knew him, having growing up around him; compared to how my husband knew him, having learned to love baseball with him. He was a presence during their whole lifetimes, and they now must learn what it is like to live and not have him there, physically present. I barely knew him. I grieve that I won’t have the chance to get to know him better. I was hopeful for the day he would buy my daughter her first bicycle because he believed every child should have their own bicycle—having grown up sharing one bicycle among many siblings in North Carolina.

I remember grandparents today because I too have grandparents. Two have passed away; one of them I never knew, and I’ve only met in my dreams. Of the two I still have, one has Alzheimer’s. He’s there, but he’s hiding. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he’s back in his hometown, courting my grandmother, or back in Brooklyn when he first moved to the city and had to commute to the watch factory, or back on 96th street at the shop where he would drink with his buddies. I remember walking into the shop, the radio playing, the laughter from his buddies, me a little girl going over to see Abuelo. He’s there, but we can’t see him anymore.

I remember grandparents today because my parents are grandparents. Until four years ago they were only parents. And they are children, like I am. Every grandparent has/had a child. And when someone loses a grandparent someone else loses a parent. And I can’t stand the thought of my daughter losing her grandparents because that means we’ll be losing parents.

I remember grandparents today because my family is not just the one I was born into but the one that I have embraced as my own.

I remember grandparents.

My MLA 2014 Presentation for the “Rethinking the Seminar Paper” Roundtable

This is the text of my presentation for the MLA 2014 Roundtable, Rethinking the Seminar Paper. (You can read a description of the panel here.) I did a little ad-lib here and there, but this is pretty much what I walked into that room with. Note: A certain something I said later struck a chord with some of my listeners: the part where I say professors aren’t trained to teach writing. I will expand upon that in a later post. For now, I will say, teaching content and teaching writing are two different things in my head, and there’s nothing wrong with having someone who specializes in writing support/instruction to assist with teaching graduate student writers how to write for an academic audience. In the meantime, you can read my Hybrid Pedagogy article where I explain further my suggestions for that situation.


So. Why do instructors assign graduate seminar papers?

I figured I’d cut to the chase right now and just call out the question that’s on our minds. To be fair, I don’t teach anymore, so I don’t have any emotional investment in uplifting or destroying this particular assignment, a staple of graduate school for so many in the humanities. However, the fact that I no longer teach allows me to approach that question from a different angle than, say, an instructor would. I deign to wonder out loud “why.”

Once upon a time I was a graduate student—actually it was in 2012 that I obtained my PhD. I was also a Graduate Writing Specialist until late last spring. This past fall, I taught a writing course for PhD students in biomedical sciences. It is safe to say that I have interacted with graduate student writers from many different angles: as peer, as teacher, as coach, as editor, as consultant, as cheerleader. In fact, I worked extensively with graduate student writers for the past three years up until I accepted my new position as editor at Women in Higher Education. As a writing instructor and writing coach, I have also seen lots of writing assignments, some good and some bad. I have also met with lots of confused and anxious students who didn’t know where to start or whether they were doing the right thing. I know their predicament isn’t new: writers in all sorts of genres feel anxious about their writing, and I’m certain many of you in this room feel the same way.

So what would I do when students came to me, anxious and upset? Well, first I’d remind them that these feelings were not unusual or weird, and then I’d ask them to tell me more about the writing assignment or requirement.

See, in my line of work one of my strong points is to help writers break down their writing goals or their writing requirements and help them understand what they’re being asked to do or why they’re being asked to do it. A lit review may not make sense, in narrative terms, but this is where you’re expected to insert it, I would say. Or, a teaching statement starts with you. I know you feel awkward about talking about yourself, but the teaching statement needs to show me what kind of teacher you are and what your approach is.

So when I was approached to present at this roundtable, I thought: instead of arguing for or against the graduate seminar paper, I want to encourage you to consider why the graduate seminar paper is assigned in the first place. Do instructors’ expectations match their writing assignments?

It’s been a while, but in my experience graduate seminars sounded a little something like this: we get together and read several texts at the same time. We have conversations about the texts, usually led by a discussion leader’s questions or a professor’s lecture notes on the author, book, socio-historical context, among others. If your students are anything like me, they’re taking notes on what everyone is saying, especially the professor. They’re trying to figure out where this is all going. And maybe you’re not hoping to go anywhere: maybe you just want to get the conversation going! Isn’t that what literary scholars do? Anyway, your students read and read and read all semester long until the last few weeks of the semester when the seminar paper is due.

And then all hell breaks loose. They don’t sleep. They don’t eat. They may rely on the sources you gave them throughout the semester. They may stay all weekend at the library looking up articles. And then they’ll write a paper in a week…or a few days…or overnight. (Come on, you know you’ve been there: last-minute paper writing. I know I have, and after that long night I vowed never to do it again.)

What just happened?

Oftentimes, when instructors assign the graduate seminar paper, it is in order to get students to practice disciplinary engagement, the kind that’s expected of scholars who plan to go on to a research-1 institution. Read, write, do some research, read and write again. The graduate seminar is meant to be the building blocks for future journal articles, dissertation topics, research areas. However, many graduate students write these papers hastily and forget about them later. They are not encouraged to build upon the work done in other classes, and when they’re told to convert them into journal articles, they’re not sure where to go with that. Not to mention, when they get to the dissertation proposal stage, all they have written are grad seminar papers

This brings me to my initial question: why the graduate seminar paper? I encourage you to take some time later in this session to think about what the seminar paper offers that other assignments do not.

When writing assignments, instructors should consider questions such as: what are you expecting students to practice in these seminar papers? When did you last revise your guidelines for this assignment? More importantly, are you prepared to teach them how to write a graduate seminar paper?

If the graduate seminar paper is meant to teach students how to engage with a scholarly discourse community in writing, they should work on the content as well as the craft. As I mentioned in my Hybrid Pedagogy article from last summer, “Help Wanted: Supporting Graduate Student Writers,” oftentimes graduate student writers have trouble with writing because their faculty is not trained to teach writing. And I don’t blame them! I understand that there are a lot of structural constraints working against faculty—not to mention, who has the time? Y’all spent plenty of time working on dissertations on very narrow research areas! Add “teach writing” to that?

However, I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I’m hoping today we can start addressing them, and I am eager to hear about your thought process.