This week

It’s been a rough week, but I’m better for having gotten through it!

I had to miss both my seminars this last week due to mental health and/or physical health struggles. I was dealing with some fairly major stuff, and the good news is that with help I’m feeling much healthier and stronger. Thanks all of you who reached out!

Teaching has been ok. I am fortunate in that my students had already turned in two major assignments before spring break, so I feel better about making the second half of the semester less work and less rigid than I had planned. The assignments are very simple and honestly pretty easy. Several of my students have reached out to me directly describing fairly serious anxiety and depression (they are all getting the help they need, as far as they’ve told me) as a direct response to the pandemic. I’ve basically told them to prioritize themselves and not my class. I’ve also heard some horrific stories of how other professors are handling the shift to online–for example, taking exams with your laptop camera running so the prof knows you didn’t cheat. It’s difficult for me to imagine thinking this was a good idea for my class–however, I don’t teach Bio or Chem or any of the classes where exams are pretty much required.

Personally, I feel very good about how I’ve transitioned my class to online. Not the class itself–I taught Advanced Comp online for years, and it takes a lot of planning and design to make online classes interactive, etc., and I did none of that for this class, for obvious reasons. But I feel good about how I’ve communicated and interacted with students during a crisis, and they’ve been giving me positive feedback that is very gratifying. It’s led me appreciate the role we have as instructors of college students; the opportunity we have to model compassion and kindness in the classroom, in addition to all the FYW stuff we try to teach them. This experience has renewed my drive to teach, to be a positive force in academia. That’s very special, and I’m grateful for it.

The Care Bear Stare Healing Sometimes-Toxic Academia

Teaching, Studenting, Reflecting

I don’t know where to begin!

Teaching: as I commented on one of Chris’s posts, I have added some COVID-19 specific materials to my class’s work and reading list. I have also straight-up cancelled, just deleted, about two assignments. I wanted to make this semester as easy as possible for them, but I also want to offer them some things to learn and read and experience in case that is a useful distraction for them right now, and in case it helps them better navigate this very weird experience we’re all going through.

I emailed my students several times over break, without any response. Then, I created an anonymous survey about their needs and experiences of the quarantine, etc., and I was floored when I read their responses. One student had a professor tell them they were expected to come to campus to meet later this semester. Several students are at home with all their siblings and family, sharing one computer. Other students have elderly or immunocompromised relatives they are worried about. Many of them are very confused about the practical details of their situation—will they be getting refunded their meal plan, housing, tuition? How have their major assignments changed? When and how will finals be conducted? It is too much for a first year student to be dealing with. I am doing my best, sending out emails trying to answer these questions and send out clarifying information about what changes are taking place in our own class.

One specific question I have about revising my syllabus is an assignment I introduced before spring break. First, students research their major and learn about likely jobs, popular publications, professional associations, that kind of thing. They pull this together into a “Wikipedia page,” kind of a bulleted list of information and links. Then, they interview (over email) a professor, TA, or grad student (or person who works in the discipline in the world) and write a reflective essay on what they learned about their future discipline.  Because they have already started the first part, I didn’t feel great about cancelling the second part. But, as you can imagine, several students have written to me that profs aren’t getting back to them about the email interview. I’m not sure what to do. Should I cancel the assignment altogether? Make it extra credit? I was just thinking this morning that maybe I could make the interview optional and take the essay in another direction—say, research a hot topic in their major and write a reflective essay about that, instead. It’s difficult when this is already in process—there are students who have likely already completed their interviews. Sigh. Anyway, thank you for listening.

Studenting: I put a lot of time and energy into developing the CTW conference, and that’s now cancelled. Fortunately, we all got paid for the work we did. I’m very grateful for that. I was going to submit a poster that would help me advance my writing anxiety research, but of course now that’s not happening. I think my response to this is simply relief.

I had planned to meet with Brenda after break to develop an Independent Study class for the fall, and now we’ll have to do it over email. She just emailed me that the deadline for the proposal is in 2 or 3 weeks, so I’ll have to actually get working on that. I have a big idea for my final project for my other seminar, “Responding to International Student Writing.” I’m trying to coordinate that into a group project with my classmates (again, over email).

Reflecting: Next year is unclear. I applied for a position at the Writing Center, and haven’t heard back yet. So I may be doing that. However, the class I’m taking now has got me very interested in teaching multilingual students, so I’m interested in teaching 1003 in the fall, and I’ve sent out some emails about how to make that happen, but it’s not clear yet. What will my job be in the fall? What classes will I be taking? Finally, some folklorists reached out to me and invited me to be on a panel in the fall about Folklore and Editing (improbably on-the-nose for my interests), which I’m thrilled about, but now have to write a very short proposal this weekend!

In the midst of making all these plans, I can’t help but ask myself—“will the conference in October even happen? Will we still have face-to-face classes in the fall? Will we all be healthy and alive in the fall?” After a few weeks of things being cancelled, it feels foolhardy to plan for things. But, as Wei-Hao suggested in his post, there is something soothing about planning for the future, because it helps you remember there will probably be one!

My Conference Abstract

This is a proposal for a panel at MLA in January 2021. The panel is on alienation experienced by students in composition classrooms. I’m hoping my research on writing anxiety overlaps with this theme.

This abstract proposes a paper contribution to the College English Association’s panel “Alienation & De-Alienation” at the 2020 MLA Conference. The research I’d like to emphasize in this paper is Writing Anxiety and Writing Apprehension in the Composition classroom. I will begin with a review of recent scholarship and focus on a selection of pedagogical moves to support students who write with anxiety. It will be of interest to instructors of Composition or any class of which writing is a primary component—my hope is that the audience will leave with renewed sensitivity to their writing anxious students and the barriers anxiety can present to their academic success, along with evidence-based strategies for de-alienation to immediately put into practice in their classrooms

Many Composition students continue to avoid and procrastinate writing courses due to writing anxiety that may stem from damaging feedback from past instructors, anxieties around multilingual status and use of dialect or accent, and/or first-generation status. These students may feel alienated from the writing classrooms because of their perceived lack of literacy in the language of academic writing. Scholarship on Writing Apprehension peaked during the 1980s, however, in the last 40 years, our understanding of anxiety has evolved considerably through advances in psychiatry and neuroscience; our pedagogical practices have also evolved thanks to the revolution of Disability Studies, which has transformed academia’s conception of what a scholar and a student looks like and how they read, study, and write. In my presentation I’d like to overview how these recent advancements breathe new life into the somewhat stagnant scholarship on Writing Anxiety, and also draw attention to the research that has yet to be conducted on the painfully common experience of anxiety around writing.

Conference Advice for Introverts

I have presented and attended six or seven conferences. About half were for folklore, the other half were Rhet/Comp, Writing Center, or NeMLA. I love them! I love being with a group of scholars who are passionate about the same topics as me. I love learning about new things, and traveling to new places. I have met so many great people, many of whom are now friends and collaborators. But I am a hard-of-hearing, neurodivergent person with sensory processing issues and social anxiety. So conferences can be A LOT for me. So here are my very biased conference tips!

Funding: I think the most important thing about going to conferences is not paying for them. If you have to fly to get there, I do not recommend any grad student attend unless you are getting at least partial funding for it. I have attended conferences on my own dime only when they were within a few hours’ drive, and the registration was less than $50. (This rarely happens–but, shameless plug–this year’s CTW is free for all of us, and in Hartford!) My former university paid grad students to present at one conference a year, but I’ve learned that’s not the case here at UConn. It’s hard enough to live on a stipend, so I recommend not spending $$ on a far-away conference!

Presenting: Since I am hard of hearing, if a presenter is reading verbatim from their paper, looking down the whole time, quickly, I will likely not get ANYTHING from the talk. If it’s really interesting, I’ll write down their name to ask them afterward. Although most people can hear better than I can, I can’t imagine this is a positive experience for anyone in the audience. I get the most out of papers that are presented the way good teachers teach–dynamically, interactively, slowly, making eye contact, moving around the room, reacting to the audience response, and using visual aids that are helpful instead of distracting.

Powerpoint: When you quote from someone, put the whole quote on the slide in big letters, so we can follow along. Most quotes from academic texts are very hard to follow when just spoken. Throughout the presentation, include pictures and graphics that we can see from the back row–an interactive and/or multimodal presentation is much easier, more interesting to follow. Don’t shy from being funny. It makes your audience happy and more alert. When you reach a main point, put it up on the slide in big letters in abbreviated form. It will help your audience follow along. Never fill a slide with a paragraph of text. This is useless for your audience. Finally, just like we tell our students to do in their papers: give summary and recap statements throughout the presentation. Don’t feel awkward hand-holding your audience through your main argument, as it can be hard for anyone to pay attention during such a sensory-overload day.

Simplicity & Brevity: Most junior scholars (myself included) believe they can cover way more in 15 minutes than they actually can. The reality is you can only make one point, and you’re going to have to cut out a lot of your really cool evidence. Best case scenario, your presentation is so intriguing as a teaser that scholars will want to contact you to hear more. Speaking of which: your last slide should be a short link (use bit.ly) to a page on your website including your powerpoint, your paper, and/or links to your data. This way people can leave the conference and go back to peruse it when they have more time. (Also: people that can’t attend the conference can be sent links!) If you are presenting, PRACTICE presenting at home, and record yourself with your laptop, or rope a friend into listening. You will probably watch the video and realize you’re speaking way too fast, and that your paper is way too long.

Social media: I made a comment about this on Fiona’s post, but I wanted to reiterate here. The social media component of conferences has become increasingly more important. Many scholars who can’t attend will be following the hashtag (every conference has one) on twitter to hear about new research. (If you are the person who is at home because you can’t attend a conference, follow the hashtag throughout the day, and you will be able to catch up on what you missed.) You can network with other attendees by following the accounts that are posting, and you can get into fun dialogues/arguments with people about the hot topics! You can also, for example, tweet at a scholar and say “Hey @ConferencePerson I just watched your amazing presentation and loved what you said about Disability Studies in Rhet/Comp. Can you link me to your site?” And scholars love that! They will re-tweet the heck out of you. Traditionally the hashtags can also become the designated way to coordinate dinner and after-hours events: “#NeMLA20 we are all going to Dennys for late-night breakfast! We’re sitting in the back, join us!”

Rest: At every conference I attend, I think I’m going to see every single panel that is interesting to me, and take no breaks. And I always crash and burn, and have to retreat back to my room or a local Starbucks to unplug for a while. This can make a conference really unpleasant. You’re going to have to say no to some interesting panels. Give yourself time to relax during the day, or to find a low-sensory place to retreat. (Conference hotels are notoriously expensive, but staying at the hotel where the conference is being held does have that one benefit–you can retreat and lock the door at any time you want.) Also, I have food issues, and I can never find things that I can eat, so I love to rent a car so I can go anywhere to get what I want to eat. People are great about giving each other rides, but having your own vehicle can be a nice way to escape the overwhelming crowd and find a nice place to chill out.

Con Drop: This is a very real phenomenon! Going to a conference is a whirlwind of excitement, meeting new people, talking about your research, doing a lot of walking/standing, and many folks stay up late drinking and dancing with new or old friends. Once you get back home–you are wiped out for days. If I could give everyone one piece of advice for conferences, it would be TAKE A DAY OFF AFTER YOU GET BACK. Your body and mind will thank you. You’ll need a day to watch Netflix, do laundry, and catch up on tweets. Do not plan on teaching the day (or the day after) you get back!! Trust me!

Psyche Sorting Seeds

The article I’ll be revising in our class will be generated from my MA thesis. I’m going to attempt to answer some of the questions posed us this week.

What do I want my article to be about? What will it argue?

I want my article to be an analysis of the different narratives of the variants of Tale Type 514 I’ve found. It will compare/contrast the different narratives, and analyze the significance of something I observed in my analysis: although each variant is different, the main story (a woman who dresses as, pretends to be, and then eventually becomes a man) is the same. In addition, there is a “B Narrative” in each one that brings up some injustice against women based on their gender, usually about male control over women’s lives. So the article will argue that the presence of these B narratives demonstrates that these tales are expressions of frustration with gender roles, and demonstrations of the performativity of gender.

Whew. That was exhausting to write.

What needs to happen to the draft I have right now to get it where it needs to go?

It needs to be focused, reduced. I’ll use a fairy tale metaphor here, which only seems appropriate. There’s a recurring episode in European folktales (including the tale of Psyche and Eros from Apuleius) where a protagonist can only achieve her desired goal if she completes a series of impossible tasks. One of these tasks is that she’s given a massive pile of mixed seeds, grains, or beans, and she must sort them into separate piles by sunset/sunrise.

Psyche sorting seeds at the request of Aphrodite. You can see at the bottom that she is being helped by friendly ants. From the Chamber of Cupid and Psyche, 1526-1528 by Giulio Romano, Palazzo del Te, Mantua, Italy

That’s what I have to do with my thesis–you’d think I could just delete a paragraph here or there, but it’s more complex than that: I’ll have to read through it all, and select the bits that are directly relevant to the argument I want to make and put them in a new document, and sift away all that is extraneous. I have to sift through a massive number of words. The good news is that I know the bulk of what I’ll need is in the last two chapters, so I can focus most of my attention there.

The first step in this process will be assessing the argument I make in the original text, and getting a sense of how much I’ll be able to fit into this article.

Visibility & Invisibility

I appreciate the collection of articles and resources Fiona shared. I’m especially interested in the Disability activists listed, and I’d love to add another one. I recommend you follow the blog Anti-Ableist Composition, run by my friend Cody Jackson, a grad student in Rhet/Comp at Texas Christian. The blog has been such an inspiration to me and my work. I met Cody on twitter, along with hundreds of other disability activists, educators, and scholars supporting the good work of making the world a better place.

When I applied to UConn I debated whether or not to disclose my own personal diagnosis with the admissions committee and the world in general. I have OCD and Tourette’s. (Please don’t tell anyone!). I am still not fully publicly open about my own diagnoses, for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest is the associated stigma. These two issues are so misunderstood, and so poorly and weirdly portrayed in the media. I don’t like the idea of people making incorrect assumptions about me.

I am also reticent to share this information with the wider world because it seems like any time we disclose a personal struggle, there are folks out there who want to label it “making excuses” or wanting attention (as if!). When applying to UConn, I opted to disclose that I was neurodivergent (my preferred term) in my personal statement because it was directly relevant to what I want to study, and also because I was interested in working with Brenda specifically, who is very involved in disability studies and supports visibility. It was a risky move, but apparently it worked.

I still have fears about what my students will say if they find out about my neurodivergence. So right now, I carefully restrict who I tell online. However, I’m very open online about seeing a psychiatrist, taking medication, experiencing severe anxiety, and stuff like that. It is very important to me to normalize mental health challenges, and I know my students and others benefit from that.

Being visible in these ways has also connected me to a twitter community of neurodivergent graduate student scholars and activists. I was supported by them through the application process, during the agonizing waiting (I heard from UConn on the afternoon of April 15th, the very very last minute), and through the first few months of this program. I have used twitter to complain, to ask for advice, to collaborate on projects, but mostly to find people with similar experiences to mine, which has been invaluable in keeping me grounded in reality (for example: it’s ok to skip class for a mental health problem) and maintaining balance (it’s important to take a day off every week).

So the visibility is worth it to me for the benefit of having this online community.

I Love Book Reviews

It’s funny that we’re doing this in class this week, because I have a book review due (well it was due like 5 weeks ago) and I really need to finish it! I meant to finish it over Winter Break, and I didn’t. So here we are!

I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to complete I think four book reviews for a Folklore journal Marvels & Tales, which is very welcoming of grad student folklorist reviewers. Here is my favorite one I’ve written, on a really fun book about Trolls:

I love writing Book Reviews. I love reading, I read constantly, and I think I have a good sense of what readers are looking for, in all types of books. I review Science Fiction, too, at The Future Fire. These are more fun to read than academic books, but in a way harder to review, because everyone has different tastes in fiction. Anyway, book reviews feel to me like a low-pressure to write: I don’t need to make a complex argument, I don’t need to impress anybody–it’s just a helpful essay for other people who like to read.

The book I’m reviewing right now is this one, a collection of fairy-tale riddles. It’s a sort of different thing to review than what the rest of you will most likely be working on. The pressures that are probably making me procrastinate is 1) it’s a journal I’ve never written for before and 2) the editor of the book is the most famous living folklorist. So I don’t want to screw it up!

So far, I’ve read it, made a ton of notes on each riddle, and made some observations for myself, like 1) note the beauty of the cover and the images inside–this would be a good gift and 2) make notes of the scholarship included inside, since the readers will be folklorists who care about that and 3) talk a bit about the history of the collection, because I looked it up and it’s super interesting.

Thesis -> Article

For my master’s program at George Mason, I finished a thesis that I am very, extremely proud of. It took a tremendous amount of research in the best way. At GMU, I was studying English Lit, emphasis on Folklore. I was interested in pursuing themes of cross-dressing or gender-fucking in literature as a way to communicate how gender roles stifle us, and to imagine broader or different identities. At the same time, personally, someone very close to me was transitioning, and I could not stop thinking about the importance for them of representation in the media. I dug into old folklore looking for tales with transgender themes. I found a neglected folk tale about someone who is assigned as female at birth, but as an adult “pretends” to be a man to defend their country/protect their family, and ends up being an amazing, heroic character. Eventually they encounter a monster and are magically transformed into a man. Then he marries a princess, and lives happily ever after.

This tale had not been written about much in Folklore scholarship, I suspect because its content related to sexuality and gender identity, and how it describes the constraints, frustrations, and injustices of gender roles for men and women. So for my thesis, I decided to track down every single variant of this folk tale in English. I found 28. Most were in long out of print books, some more current, and some of them were very old, up to a thousand years BCE, and others were collected recently. They appear all over the world. So in my thesis I synthesize all the scholarly work on this tale or similar tales, group the tales by structure, theme, and episode, and then draw some broad conclusions about the significance and persistence of these tales, and what they might have meant to the people that told them. It’s 130 pages. It includes appendices of variants translated to English for the first time.

My university puts all Disses and Theses online, so this mammoth document is out there. Several people have read (parts of) it and contacted me about it. It’s even been cited in some publications and on Wikipedia (this is so cool to me!).

OPTION ONE: I’d love to turn it into an article because this tale-type is still mostly unknown even among Folklorists. It deserves scholarly attention. I’d also get the experience and prestige (?) of publishing. and more advanced scholars can incorporate these tales into their analyses (gender in folktales is being constantly debated but trans identities are often ignored). One important caveat: I’m not in a Folklore program anymore. I’m in Rhet/Comp and I’ll be trying to get a job in Rhet/Comp in 5 (hopefully) years. Will a Folklore pub even matter on my CV?

The most important thing to me about this project is to get these tales into the hands of people who would benefit from reading a bunch of very old stories about (what could be read as) a trans man whose life ends happily. (Queer and Trans happy endings are very much not the norm in most narratives.) For instance, I’ve had trans individuals email me excitedly to chat about individual tales from their home country. Representation is meaningful.

OPTION TWO: So what I’m thinking is, since the thesis right now is pretty hard to find, and obtrusively long, I could publish a succinct clear article online on my blog. The benefits of going the public scholarship route are that it will be accessible to everyone, and I could actively link to the different variants, about a third of which are available online. (One of the best parts of this project is getting to read the actual stories, and they’re all over the internet and in dusty old archives no one’s read but me. Pulling them together onto one page as an interactive bibliography would be really useful).

The best (and only, really) folklore journals are:

Marvels and Tales (I’ve written 3 or 4 book reviews for them, and I know the editors and frequent writers) This is the ideal journal. They focus specifically on what they call Fairy Tales, so folk narratives like what my thesis is about.

Journal of Folklore Research (I’m writing a book review for them now, and I have done editing work for them). They publish mostly about fieldwork and folk arts, rather than narrative.

Folklore. This is the classic journal. It’s a bit stuffy and I kind of doubt they’d be interested in what is basically a literary analysis. They publish, for example, ethnographies by scholars who immerse themselves in other cultures and traditions.

So my 2 biggest questions are:

Publish for public or for scholars?

How do you turn 130 pages of thesis into a scholarly article? How much of the Lit Review do I include? Background info? Or do I mostly focus on the analysis? And how do I make an article that discusses *28* tales short enough for a journal?

Selling Audiences Stories

There are so many directions to turn our thoughts this week!

I found all the readings about preparing for the job market helpful and illuminating, and I’m glad to have that information now, while I’m still planning my program. However, I found myself poring over the words of those articles on making the best of your grad school experience, because this is where I am right now and I am determined to do it well. So much of the grad school process is still mysterious to me–Exams? Teaching upper-level courses? IRB applications? Choosing a committee? So anything I can read about the process I just devour.

I enjoyed the computer scientist’s take on the PhD program very much. Although his program is very different from ours, I still found his perspective–a strategic approach to grad school–helpful. Much of what he wrote is information or perspectives that I think will be helpful to my students–and I love that he emphasizes the importance of communicative & relationship skills when working in industry! Hopefully that will make my students more enthusiastic to write essays!

The grant application process is familiar to me, because I used to write them as a social worker, and I co-wrote several with colleagues at my last university. (And even won a few!) That having been said, I did not know what I was doing then, nor would I be able to write one at present–especially about my own research. Reading the guidelines, tips, advice, and formats of different grant applications really helped clarify for me the relationship between grad students and grants. It also made me enthusiastic about researching and applying to a bunch of grants.

I ask my students to write a proposal for one of their assignments, and I tell them that the rest of their life will be spent proposing things–whether it’s a formal proposal for a government grant for your nonprofit, an email to your supervisor asking they assign you to a certain project, or a speech to the judge asking them to excuse you from your parking ticket, we constantly have to do this–sell someone on what we want. I think it’s such a useful skill.

This reminds me–I have to write a proposal for an Independent Study class for the fall–is this something anyone else is working on, or has worked on before? I don’t know where to start.

The alt-ac jobs I am most interested in are primarily in publishing–I’d love to edit and create textbooks, or help an editorial team publish and coordinate academic journals. (Many journal positions are unpaid, so this is a reach.) My dream job is nonfiction/academic book editor, which is probably harder to achieve than a TT teaching job. To be honest, I’d be very happy to edit and copy-edit any sort of text at all. I have a bit of job experience in this, and I’m hoping to get more here at UConn.