Home is…

You know it has been an incredibly long time since you blogged…when you forget how to log onto your own blog.

I’m here. We survived moving. I survived starting my new position and teaching. I can even say that I’ve thrived off of the experience so far. It’s actually almost embarrassing how much I love my new job. If you met me you would hear me trying not to gush. It is a lot of work and the stress level is always a bit high, but I enjoy what I’m doing and I really do get excited by the number of days that I come home just feeling like my brain has stretched due to the wonderful conversations and events that I attend.

I’m so happy that I lucked into this position. I say lucked because I know that there are so many super qualified people who could/should hold assistant professor positions. I definitely suffer from imposter syndrome a bit at times, but I think that is healthy. I don’t want to ever get to a point where I am overly confident and become a bit of a snob to those who did not luck into a position. I want to be able to talk at conferences with any and everybody and not just get sucked into the world that my job opens up for me.

I want to remain humble.

The only downside of the job is the one that was foreseen long before I moved.

It is very very far from home.

At this point I have not missed my friends and family as much as I had expected I would. I’m not sure if that will change after I get more settled into my position and everything is no longer shiny and new, or if I’m just content with the prospect of the holidays and summer breaks because I’m too busy to really engage with family or friends much anyway.

I actually like that most of my off time is spent with my immediate family. My mijos and N. I know that won’t be enough forever, but I have now realized that home is where my boys are. When I return from conferences to my new home, I get excited. It doesn’t tug at my heartstrings geographically as much as my other home, but it is home instead because they are here.

I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do here. Granted I haven’t seen all that the seasons can throw at me yet, but I think the thing I appreciate the most about our new place of residence is that life seems to have a slower pace to it. Where we lived before everything and everyone moved fast. There are a lot of the same things here, but for some reason the same frantic pace just doesn’t seem to be there. It’s a bit of a relief to find that to be the case. I don’t miss that extra speed. I have enough work to do already.

I guess I’m happy to find out that I can live someplace else as long as I bring along my boys. We could make it work. That’s comforting and the sign that they truly are home to me now.

Apology to my OChem Prof.

I remember the common complaint about our OChem professor as a freshman was the fact that he couldn’t “dumb” down the material to our level. He couldn’t explain why that bond was weak compared to the other and why it would leave before. When I tried to get help from some of my friends who knew chemistry they had the same problem. I still remember my friend Mike, “You see this bond, it’s not so impressive.” Um, why, Mike? Silence. I ended up tutoring OChem during my junior year and I was proud that the people I tutored ended up with high grades. I think it is in part because I was never so good at Chemistry that it became intuitive. I could still explain things at a more basic level.

Fast forward to me embarking on my professorial career and I’m realizing just how hard it must have been for that chem. prof. to teach what was alarmingly basic and common knowledge for him.

I am a newbie. I just got my PhD and am entering the college classroom as the instructor rather than just a TA for the first time. I was hired because I am an expert in my field capable of teaching the material well to undergraduate and graduate students. Even while I realize that, I don’t own being an expert in my field as much as I probably should. This is largely because I know just how many other scholars are out there studying the things that I talk about in pretty much each sentence of an introductory level course. They are doing so in really exciting and innovative ways. I can’t even pretend to have read all of those studies and am constantly learning more about my field. As an instructor I try to complicate things as much as possible for my students while still making the material accessible. As I’m planning, I’m left feeling as though I’m walking a tight-rope. Knowledge is ever-evolving, messy, and has a funny way of feeling organic once you know part of it.

I’m beginning to plan out my lectures for my introductory course. As I do I stop every now and then and think they are going to roll their eyes at this. It is all so common knowledge. Then I have to remind myself that it is common knowledge for people in my subfield, but not for other professors in my larger field and definitely not to the masses of high school teachers who are preparing my students. In fact this knowledge was largely acquired and internalized while in my graduate school classes and then incorporated into my research and thinking on the topic.

Every time I give a lecture to people outside of academia and my field, they marvel at parts of the lecture that are background and common knowledge for me. When I spoke at a high school recently I discovered that I had to back up and give more information before I could even talk about what I was working on at a basic level. I did that again and again. I’m happy that I am still aware that this is the case and also in awe of just how much I’ve learned in graduate school and during my research. I’m also not cocky enough to believe that I gave all the introductory details they may have needed. There may have been students who were left not understanding what I did despite all my efforts to break it down for them.

The best part about teaching and cultivating a set of classes is that I realize that this first attempt at my introductory lecture course does not have to be perfect. I can adjust even during the semester as needed and I can definitely reassess at the end of the semester. I can look at exams or evaluations to understand when I went into too much detail and explanation or when I lacked the basic explanations and back story that my students needed to really understand the material. It’s been fun to get back up there and balance on that tight rope and has made me critically question what parts of the new research in my field deserves to be highlighted in lectures and reading. I am looking forward to getting into the classroom again and spreading all of this knowledge I’ve acquired.

In a good stage

I’ve heard the following saying everywhere I’ve ever lived (though they all claim it as a local one): “If you don’t like the weather in ___, wait five minutes.” I think that phrase more than adequately explains parenting. When I was searching through my blog for an old post yesterday I saw the sheer number of posts that hinted at how very difficult the twos and early threes were with mijo. I think part of the reason I don’t blog as much today is because there isn’t that much to sort through anymore. I don’t feel like I’m failing or drowning in the same way. This is a good thing!

Mijo is at a really fun stage right now. Sure he doesn’t listen all the time, gets overly excited, or whatever, but he’s also coming up with really fun connections, has a full personality, and even when he is having a breakdown, it is clear what it is all about (usually he’s tired or he needs to eat…it was not always that easy before). N and I can just laugh/smile at each other over him as he makes his adorable pouty face, because it is so cute.

I know that we’ll be in for it again when some other unanticipated stage hits that is difficult or when mijito goes through the twos, but for right now I like the weather.

Hierarchy of Memories

I’ve mentioned before just how much I enjoy sorting and organizing when I’m finishing one big task and moving on to another. This huge move away from family and friends and towards a new career is definitely one of those times.

This weekend, for the first time I got the opportunity to start the sorting and organizing that will be required before we move. We currently live very close to family. Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends we’ve known since we were kids, and so on. It’s not easy to leave and we can’t imagine not coming back at some point. The uncertainty of tenure means we will likely be gone at least six years, but not necessarily longer than that.

What this means for organization is that we’ve chosen to keep things here. We are streamlining our lives a bit and clearing out some of the clutter without actually throwing much away. I’m nothing if not a very organized pack rat.

We have a couple of places where we are keeping storage and the relative security of each space has made me truly sit back and think about what are things that I could move on from losing without any real heartache and what would devastate me.

Things that if you took I probably wouldn’t be able to remember what was really in there:

• Knick Knacks from my childhood. Even when I’m looking at them I know that I don’t remember them at all when they are not physically in my hand. If I put them in the giveaway pile I’d never miss them. And yet…the physical act of holding them takes me back to my childhood and brings up feelings and emotions that I sometimes forget I have. They are the fastest entry point into me as a child and so I keep them, but they are not in the secure storage space.

• Camping clothes/Supplies. We are moving to a place that has winter. That’s new for me. We’re not crazy (sorry HS BFF) enough to camp in the snow. Brrr. So we plan on camping when we come to visit, but don’t have any need for the stuff in our new place. Or that’s our current view on it.

•College notes/readers. I’ve kept and referenced all of the notes and essays I wrote in my own field, but I used to take a lot of courses in fields completely unrelated to my PhD and current job. Those live at my parent’s house and in our non-secure storage. If they disappeared I’d probably be relieved.

Things that I would be very upset to lose:

• Correspondence. If you sent a letter to me, I still have it. I have a huge file of letters from HS BFF that date back to her HS summer camp days. I have notes from family and friends at all stages of my life. They give me insight into the person that wrote them, but also let me get a glimpse of the way that friend viewed me. The things they chose to share with me in confidence or the frequency with which they wrote are all special reminders of our friendship. I keep emails too, but those are digital and require a different type of storage. I was going to place correspondence in the unsecure storage and realized I couldn’t.

•Yearbooks. I have dorm ones, elementary school one, some from summer programs, and the obligatory high school and college ones. Some are more precious than others. Some I could probably part with, but in general they are too much a part of my history to give up.

•Journals. Before I blogged, I wrote a journal. I thought that I was a sporadic writer (probably because I didn’t live up to my own lofty expectation of daily writing), but when I gathered all of the journals together there were probably ten fully filled journal books. Cracking one open to a random page jerked me into a head space that was familiar and yet completely alien. I’ve changed so much and I realize that most when reading in those journals. It’s almost enough to make me start another one. Perhaps I’ll make a new blog that is less pseudonymous and more anonymous to allow for it. I couldn’t bear to lose these, so they are remaining in the more secure storage space.

•Photo Albums. With the advent of Cloud photos and the birth of my children, I rarely look through photo albums anymore. I used to make one a year when I was in high school and college. I haven’t gone through them in years and don’t plan on needing to so urgently during the next six years that I need to take them. Plus, family photos are the items mentioned by the movers as things they don’t recommend you take. So those remain here because they are precious to me, but at the same time I see myself scanning them at some time in the future to have a virtual copy as well.

Clothes are not on my list of things that I’m worried about losing. I’ve saved my prom dresses for my nieces and a couple of other dresses. My sister says they will love them and I hope she’s right. I was willing to part with them along with most of my wardrobe. I’ve actually decided not to take anything to the new town that I don’t get a little excited about wearing. I think this comes with getting my first professional haircut. My hair looks good on most days now with just a little effort. When I’m dressed to match I really feel confident and experience a surge of energy. This is new for me. I never paid attention to clothes or my hair and usually didn’t really like either, but was too lazy to change it (I hate shopping.). I guess it is having a new job that has pushed me to make a change. My wardrobe will be constricted when I arrive there, but the great wardrobe reboot will continue and someday I’ll be able to have a closet full of clothes I actually want to wear.


I know if I was a white male, I likely would never think about this subject. Being a Latina who has always been accused of being a “bitch” “full of herself,” etc. for answering questions in class or knowing the answer, I’ve been conditioned to keep a low profile.

And so I debate whether or not to put my new position onto places like my alumni directory. Or whether to tell people I know. In general I am conflicted about how much to share.

I also realize how dumb this is and how it does not help me with networking. I went to some very prestigious schools. Some of those alumni could read my tenure file in the future. It wouldn’t hurt to make those connections now. I’m at a school where tenure is not a foregone conclusion. In fact, it’s a bit of a calculated gamble. I might meet people who could offer me my next position. And still I hesitate to “brag” by updating my information.

Just writing this has made me realize how short-sighted I’m being. I’m going to update the directories now…

Writer’s Avalanche

While visiting the department (All went well…lots of nuts and bolts…I saw my office! I feel like I can’t write any specifics about the visit or my current challenges anymore as too many people know them now too.), I ran into a lot of my colleagues. Many of them talked about how they had failed to write as much as they would have liked to and felt like the summer was running out. They blamed it on writer’s block.

I have to admit that I have never suffered from writer’s block. I can’t really sympathize fully with someone who is going through a period of being stumped. My writing process seems to be the complete opposite. I’ve got writer’s avalanche. As long as I sit myself down and give myself the screen time, my fingers will fly on the page with ideas. I can write 500 words in twenty minutes or in an hour. Once I’ve spent my two hours in front of the screen I stop, read, revise, etc.

I thought I was alone on this until I heard an interview with James Patterson on NPR. The interviewer asked if he had a set number of words to write each day to meet all his many project goals. Patterson responded,

No … To me it’s always just the joy of storytelling, and I don’t think about it. Getting things in on time has never been a problem for me, so I don’t worry about it. You know, I remember watching Morgan Freeman when he did the two Alex Cross movies, and he’s so confident that he’s going to knock the scene dead. And I’m really confident that I can tell a good story now, so I just don’t worry about things.

I’m not there yet, but I can understand how you can get there. My hard work as a writer comes after the writer’s avalanche. I have lots of ideas that I’ve fleshed out and some structure, but since I essentially spit them out I need to revise heavily. I always have something I can turn in by the deadline though since it is written out. The nice thing with having this be my writing process is that I can send my draft to trusted readers who can help to advise me on which of my arguments/stories/etc. are the strongest.

I think that my writing method comes from being better verbally than on paper. I can explain what I want to do in person much better than I can write it initially. I go from sharing my argument with someone in a conversation, to frantically writing it down, to refining it with good prose. In some ways my first draft should probably be on a tape recorder.

With the school year approaching I do plan to implement a daily word count target. Doing so makes me realize just how doable writing during the school year can be. Scivener makes this incredibly easy. You can set up your target word count for the entire project. Then you can set the due date on a calendar. You can also set which days of the week you plan to devote to writing. It then calculates the number of writing days you have and sets session targets for you. By doing that I realized that I only have to write 250 words a day to have a chapter completed by my due date. I can do that! Knowing that not writing only causes those session counts to increase has so far kept me writing daily. I love Scivener!

New Town Visit

I’m preparing a list of things that I think I should do when N and I visit our new home community. We’ll only have a few days there, but I figure the more I can do now, the better. I don’t want to arrive on campus and be bombarded with nuts and bolts issues (or at least not ones that I could anticipate and take care of in advance).

If anyone else has blogged about this (or about things that they would have done as a sum up of a visit) I missed it, but would welcome being pointed towards posts.

Here’s my list so far:
*Create an account at the local credit union.
*Visit the preschool/daycare and pick up all paperwork for the fall.
*Visit HR and complete all paperwork.
*Visit and measure new apartment.
*Meet colleagues for lunch to discuss course details (I’m teaching a course that has multiple sections.).
*Visit departmental staff and see what they may have for me to complete. Maybe see my new office?
*Drive around surrounding neighborhood and drop by grocery stores to get a sense for what exists (particularly ethnic foods).
*Enjoy child-free evenings and nights with N as we explore local eateries.

Hm, this post is scarily reminding me of my mother-in-law. This is the type of planning she does before trips.


Cleared out postdoc office. Check.
Housing in new town. Check.
Moving assessment. Check.
Course Planning/Syllabus. Check.
Family/Friend Goodbye Party. Check.

I keep checking off things on a list that used to feel very major and is now just a reminder of how close I am to moving. That list is growing much shorter.

I keep hearing from people how exciting the move is.

I also keep hearing how different the culture and weather will be.

I’ve emailed with new colleagues and am excited to start. I just hope the move proves as exciting and hopefully worthwhile for the other three members of my family.

Countdown continues…

Three Lives: All We Know

I’ve shared how I’ve been going through a non-fiction kick lately. This has continued with Lisa Cohen’s Three Lives. I heard about this book on the NPR books podcast and checked it out. As the title suggests, the book is a biography of three different people. They are all women who lived during the same period (and even came into contact with one another).

I enjoyed the book, but found that my interest in it was uneven. The first two stories on Esther Murphy and Mercedes de Acosta seemed much more fascinating than the one on Madge Garland.

Esther Murphy was Cohen’s exploration into the idea of personal failure. What does it mean to have all the potential in the world and to not capitalize on it? Does it mean more in the US? Do we need people to fail around us in order for others to be productive? Are you a failure if you spoke instead of wrote your brilliance? These are some of the questions that come up with the biography of Esther Murphy, a brilliant and verbose aspiring author who attended parties with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but never published a book of her own. Her bio and the analysis Cohen gets at due to it were by far the best part of the book for me.

The second bio was focueed on the role of a fan, through the study of Mercedes de Acosta. She had intimate friendships with Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich (among others). Cohen makes some interesting points about the importance of a fan to the star and the ways in which the relationship is symbiotic and important. It’s not enough to just dismiss de Acosta’s life or ephemera merely because it is from a fan. This was the shortest bio, but I felt there was a real corrective argument Cohen was making towards society, museums, and other biographers that was interesting and worth making.

The third bio was of Madge Garland who was an important figure to the fashion world. She seemed the most well-known, with what felt like the most “common” bio. She grew up in wealth, but fled in order to have her own career. She was let go from positions at fashion magazines and yet was able to reinvent herself again and again. i found I was less interested in the fashion world in general (I guess I’m a sucker for writers instead), or in her insistence to always look good and judge others based on what they wore. I skimmed her longer bio. From the skimming I couldn’t really find as much of an argument from Cohen. I wasn’t sure why she picked up Garland aside from the fact that she was an early feminist and rebel who managed to live a lesbian life behind the scenes (all three of these women had relationships with women) at a time when it could have meant the end of her career.

Cohen is a great writer. I really enjoyed the first two bios and appreciated that she seemed to choose those individuals to do a larger exploration of a topic beyond the bio. I wonder what other bios we could create of supposed “failures” and whether they’d be as fascinating as Esther Murphy.

Work Groove

May was a wonderful work month. I got into a total groove. I had a rhythm going and a very defined schedule that I got used to. I think I read somewhere (cloud? Laura Vanderkam? Grumpies?) that a persistent schedule aids with effectiveness and productivity. In May I had it!

But now comes June, July, and August. In each of these months I have a week where I’m not going to be at work. I also have new goals that include teaching prep for next year. So I’m going to have to switch up my incredibly useful schedule.

June Work Goals:
*Clear concise abstract of book theme and argument.
*Syllabus Creation.
*Create PDFs of all my quals notes (they are not useful for creating lectures right now).
*Continue Data collection, organization, and analysis.

July Work Goals:
*Create “prep” lists for each class session (should include notes to review, bullets of ideas, places to get images, etc.).
*Continue data collection, organization, and analysis.
*Cull condo and prepare for move.

August Work Goals:
*Block out calendar with research and teaching/prep time (Service will get added as I know what my committee meetings are).
*Continue data organization.
*Move! Watch mijo (daycare ends for him after the first week, so I have to figure out how to work with him…perhaps a couple weeks with an ipad won’t kill him…).

New ideas for schedule:


M, T, Th (in office) W, F (at home)
1 hour writing
1 hour data organization/analysis
2 hours data collection
1 hour teaching prep
2 hours secondary source reading (When at home, condo organization, maybe with the help of my mom??)

July/August **hopefully no longer pumping at work, mijito will be over a year old and will nurse a lot with me**

M, W, F (at home)

1 hour writing
1 hour teaching prep
1 hour data organization/collection/analysis
3 hours condo organization (a lot of this is work related…culling through books, articles, and notes and figuring out what will be useful for teaching in my current job)
1 hour secondary source reading

T, Th (at work)
1 hour writing
2 hours data collection
2 hours data collection
1 hour secondary source reading