ajnabieh: A large orange cat with the text "Christianne Aman-purr, Colbert Report Middle East Correspondent" (amanpurr)
Today was my last day of teaching for this term. (Canadian terms are 14 weeks, so we generally end earlier than US universities.) So, as I settled down to get some stuff done, I opened my "things to do this semester" file that I wrote up in September to see, well, if I've managed to do anything on the list. When I saw what was on it, my first response was to laugh and laugh and laugh with maybe a little crying. But on clearer reflection, it's not so bad. Here, for your amusement, are my results.

CategoryThingComments from the other side
Teaching"Teach everything.  All the things."I did, in fact, teach all the things.
Advising"Work with [MA candidate]"Said candidate is doing well!  She drafted a proposal! Said proposal is being edited! I have hopes!
Research"Map Arab orgs in Ottawa, elsewhere in Canada"lolnope.  Not a thing has been done on this.  Luckily, this is relevant to my research assistant's MA proposal that he'll be writing next term, so perhaps I can get some double duty out of him.
Research"Analysis of tweets on #muslimcandyheartrejects"The coding was completed between me and my RA; this took a couple of versions, so I haven't run the preliminary stats yet or started working on the discourse analysis bits.  We're planning on co-writing the article coming out of this analysis (of a very funny twitter hashtag and the way humor and politics intersect and construct identities) next term.
Research"Auctions: pick long-form coding, design system, code all of it; essay for symposium?"Sadly, little has happened on the fandom auctions research project front, because both my co-author and I have been busy.  Bump that one to next term...
Research"Lots of reading on politics and socialization online"Define lots.  And define whether "reading" includes "downloading articles with interesting abstracts and putting them in the "to-read" folder.  Because if so, definitely.
Research"Lots of reading on expat voting"My library due date is 13 December.  I've got 11 days left.  PLENTY of time.
Writing"Write paper for Borders conference: Sep 20"This did in fact occur, if not by Sep 20.  It was well received at the conference, and I and a few other conference goers are trying to organize some of our papers into a special issue on the topic we share.  So, success!
Writing"Write interview/essay for [academic friend]'s book: Sep 30"Again, done, if not by Sep 30.  I'm hoping the process with its publication will go smoothly, and, in any case, the data I gathered for it is really relevant to other writing I'm doing.
Writing"Finish book revisions: Oct 15"lololol you are funny, to-do list, I find you very very funny.  No, seriously, I have made progress on this, if not as quickly as I've wanted, and January 15 for having a completed draft seems plausible, if not guaranteed.  But it's slow.  Did you know a dissertation introduction and a book introduction are very different creatures?  I do now.
Writing"Expat voting paper: Dec 1"Sigh. No progress got made in taking this from conference paper to article, which makes me sad.  This is definitely #1 priority for next semester.

So the total is not that bad, I suppose.  Not on this list but still relevant is the paper I presented this past weekend at a workshop, which wasn't new material but was a new presentation (in fact, of the one new chapter I'm writing for my book--so this was a good time to try to work it out coherently).  Nor was the roundtable I and a friend are organizing for next year's APSA, which has taken a lot of email time, nor is that special issue that came out of the conference I mentioned.  So this looks like I might just barely have been productive this semester, on balance.

One of the speakers at the new faculty orientation in August said, "look, just admit now you aren't getting any research done this year."  That does seem to be my trendline.  However, I have also learned that if I can carve out time when I don't need to be meeting student needs (and defend it against my desire to be The Most Available Teacher Who Is Always Helpful), I can definitely get writing done.

In any case, I don't get any grading turned in until Dec 11, so between now and then?  I can totally write two syllabi, two revised book chapters, and plan the five articles I want to write next semester.  Right?


ajnabieh: The text "don't ask me, I'm a grad student." (grad student)
I love this icon; it isn't true; I can't bear to give it up. Sniff.


Recs needed: blog posts, articles, books, ANYTHING on:

1) How to choose a publisher to pitch your dissertation-book (or any academic book) to;
2) What the structural differences are between a dissertation and a book (which I struggle with, because I see 275 pages of prose and think "book," yes?)'
3) How to write a book proposal (apart from "to the tastes of the particular press/editor you're pitching to").

Guess what my summer project is.
ajnabieh: The text "don't ask me, I'm a grad student." (grad student)
I hate, hate, hate cutting things. Hate it. I'm assuming those of you who write recognize the feeling at least a little. I especially hate cutting bits I like, when they no longer fit the tone or structure of the piece they're in. Sometimes they're beautiful, or funny, or meaningful, but they just have to go.

Hey, I guess that's what having a blog is for.

This used to be in the fourth chapter of my dissertation, as the introduction to a subsection on my fieldwork teaching ESL in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

I got the question every time I started working with a new group of students, and this day was no exception. "Where you from?" Wilad asked, as I put the children's book I'd been using to teach colors and clothing back in my purse.

I used to answer that question with "Kensington," my Brooklyn neighborhood, or "Philadelphia," my hometown. But that's never the question they're asking. "I'm American," I say.

"You husband 'arabi?"

I thought of my wife, with her Jewish last name, who was at home with our six-month-old son. "No," I say. "My husband's not Arab."

(Linguistic note: Arabic lacks a copulative verb [i.e., to be] in the present tense. Native speakers of Arabic learning English often drop them as well. In my fieldnotes and writing, I try to preserve syntax where I can, because I think how we talk matters.)

OK, now back to the exciting task of finishing my damn dissertation this weekend. *makes more tea*
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (marxist feminist)
At my local library, they're handing out Summer Reading passports. I remember those, from elementary school on: getting checkmarks for books I read, the race to read more than anyone else (yeah, I was that kid), and then, getting older, the lists of books I had to pick from in middle school and high school, all of which were severely below my reading level, and which usually got banged out in the last week of vacation, after having spent the summer curled up with more Serious Works Of Literature. (I had a thing for John Barth in high school. Don't ask me why.)

Like most academics, I think of the summers, primarily, as time to get work done without the regular stresses of the academic year. No students, no meetings, nothing to do but read, write, and research. That's a beautiful thing--especially given that, though I had no teaching commitments this past summer, I did have a number of personal things get in the way of my work.

So I'm making a summer reading list. (And a writing list, but it's more in flux.)

On it so far are:

  • Voices of the New Arab Public,, by Marc Lynch. I am happy to report that, after having wanted to read this book since it came out in 2006, and had it out from the library since January, I have finally read it. Expect a review this week, if I'm organized.
  • Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power, and Performance in Yemen, by Lisa Wedeen. I'm a Wedeen fan in general ("fangirl" might be the more appropriate term, if you catch my drift), and I read a few chapters of this before it was published, and found them incredibly exciting. She's an excellent writer, and Yemen is certainly relevant to the news these days.
  • Democracy, Human Rights and Law in Islamic Thought, by Mohammed Abed al-Jabri. Both Lynch and Wedeen draw on Habermasian frameworks in their two books above. I've been thinking about the necessity of working through questions about the Habermasian public spheres, and about al-Jabri, who also uses public sphere frameworks. There's an article in there, and I think this set of three books is going to poke it out. Inshallah.
  • At least 1-2 recent books to write reviews of.

Why the last? Well, because there was a fairly hilarious, IMHO, piece in the most recent MESA (Middle East Studies Association) newsletter, aiming to guilt us all into writing review pieces for the Review of Middle East Studies. When I say "guilt," I mean it:

Why do we write? Is it for tenure? For the tiny audience of specialists to which we each belong? ... Or, do we write in the hope that someone, somewhere will engage with our imaged worlds? And, if so, do we not then have the responsibility to read and critique the work of others in the hope that our work will receive similar attention? ... You will tell me that we have way to much to do; that there are too few of us; that reviews are undervalued by tenure and promotion committees; that print publications are headed for the trashbin of history....Perhaps. But in the meantime, think about it.

Just for you guys, I went and got it out of the recycling bin so I could transcribe that. I hope you're amused.

The thing is, I do agree with the general point: reviews are good academic citizenship. Plus, I would like to read something new, something to remind myself that I am, actually, interested in Middle Eastern politics and Things That Are Not My Dissertation. I picked up a wide variety of things in my latest library run: an edited collection on Gulf politics and a general reader on women in the UAE to go with my mild obsession with the politics of small states, an ethnography of Moroccan garment workers that seems to be marketed to a mainstream audience, and a book on marriage and the Egyptian state, which I have a suspicion will work its way onto my fall syllabi. My plan is this: if I don't feel strongly one way or another after 50 pages, I'll put them aside. If I find them horrific and disasterous, I'll write a review. If I find them amazing and brilliant, I'll write a review.

Of course, I'm planning on doing a little of that other sort of summer reading...

summer reading

(Click through for a list of titles. I picked them up yesterday. Two of them are ready to go back already. Om nom nom, books with pictures in them.)


Any recommendations for things I should be reading this summer? In either category, *g*.

Also, it's probably a little late for this, but would any of the other academic folks on my rlist want to start a false-deadlines-and-feedback writing support group for the summer? I know there are other similar things going on in blogland, but I'd be happy to coordinate a group on DW.
ajnabieh: The text "don't ask me, I'm a grad student." (grad student)
My dissertation is eating my brain at the moment; one of my committee members wants a full draft in a week and a half (because, very generously, he's offering to read it and get it back to me before he gets his term papers for the semester), and I've got the WPSA all next week, so it's write-all-the-time mode around here.

This has gotten me thinking about the very material aspects of writing: the physical action, and the sort of things we do in order to make it possible. So, for instance, there is the category of clothing called "a writing outfit."

mmm tea

time to write

This is me as I was finishing my introduction a month or so ago. Note the essential components of "a writing outfit":

  • A big comfy sweater (unless it's summer)
  • A men's tank-top (I have these in a variety of colors, and would basically wear nothing but if I didn't ever have to leave the house
  • Pajama pants if I can work at home, my schlubbiest jeans if I can't
  • Glasses with glasses chain so they don't fall off my face
  • A mug which has a positive emotional resonance, usually either this KSU mug or my Star Trek mug

All of these elements are about combining comfort and ease into a single packet, to make the process of writing as simple or easy as possible.

Or this is my workspace at the cafe down the street from my house when I was editing two weeks ago.

cafe time

The essential components:

  • A printed copy of the dissertation. While I almost always type everything I write, I still do find it easier and faster to edit by hand. (I also prefer grading by hand to grading using track changes, but track changes does make it easier to return papers, especially final papers.)
  • A red pen, preferably a rollerball with liquid ink. I could have edited in green or purple, or blue at a pinch, but black would have been impossible--I need the visual distinction from the print of the page. This pen is somewhere between red and magenta, and I rather like it.
  • A notebook for writing down major tasks still to do or things to look up. I could have done this on my iPod, which often does this task for me, but since I was working on paper already, the notebook did the work efficiently.
  • Some means of organization. I am a terribly organized person; one folder which can contain all of the above supplies and keep them in order so all I have to do each morning is pick it up and leave makes my life so much better.
  • Caffeine. I have drunk so much coffee in the last month, you would not believe if.
  • Somewhere to work that's not my house. While I can work at home, I prefer not to. Some of it is that I don't have a good office space in the house; while I did, until just this week, technically have a desk in my bedroom, it both got sacrificed on the altar of needing more floor space as my kid gets older, and wasn't really functional. I find I focus better and produce more material more quickly if I'm doing it somewhere else. Eventually, I aspire to either A Job That Comes With An Office, or the income to rent time at the Brooklyn Creative League or somewhere similar.

  • Of course, the other essential component of these periods of intense workload? Trips to my chiropractor. Oh, the wrist pain, the neck pain, the eyestrain...

    So that's my process. What's yours?
ajnabieh: The text "don't ask me, I'm a grad student." (grad student)
I'm sitting here, with my cup of tea, watching the snow that fell this morning on the half-melted remains of the last storm, and contemplating what the hell I'm supposed to do next.

I just hit a fairly pleasant milestone: I completed the first draft of my final substantive dissertation chapter. (For the record, this means I have an introduction and a conclusion to knock out, and some revisions; some of those revisions will take work, and some of them will involve a good reread and a few days of pacing around and red-penciling.) At the same time, since I'm unscheduled this semester, I don't have pressing needs like syllabus writing, teaching, grading (although, oops, I haven't uploaded last semester's grades yet...I should do that), meetings, or the assorted detritus that fills up one's time. But these two facts conspire to result in a great floundering period. What, precisely, should I do next? Where should I go? What are my priorities? Even once I've chosen a new project, how do I frame my progress on it?

I usually start out using these floundering periods as a way to play catchup. Yesterday, I went on Proquest Dissertation Abstracts and searched for "Arab-American," and did some searches to find dissertations that looked interesting. (I now have two whole dissertations sitting on my Kindle, and a bunch of the Proquest samples, and a couple of others that have made it into print to go find in paper copy. Whoo hoo.) I also used the excuse of a trip to Manhattan with only one scheduled event to run by the library and return old books and pick up new ones. (Amazingly, of the 3 books I went looking for, I only found one. And yet, also amazingly, I left with three books. Oh, Library of Congress system, never fail me with your suggestion of interesting and related texts.) So, that's sorted. But this only gets me so far.

The problem is that these gap moments are a great way to get stuck. Oh, I can't possibly start on $nexttask (and, by the way, that I used that syntax to phrase this problem is entirely due to hanging out with People What Write Code here on DW, so, thanks, I guess), because I have all these dishes to wash/books to read/navels to gaze at. Oh, I should really be making that chapter an article/turning that old paper into an article/writing more abstracts for more conferences/whatever, so I should start on that, except I never do, I just kinda...stare. I don't have time to get stuck. Stuck is bad. Very bad.

So now it's time to break out of Stucks-ville. I mean, maybe I'll spend this weekend reading other people's dissertations and drinking tea and being emo contemplating my goals as a dissertation-writer. But on Monday, I need to sit down and take the train to Productivity Junction.

I've already picked my next task: writing my introduction. (The conclusion I'll save until after I've revised the whole thing.) This is my vague plan for how to get started:

  • Set a clear self-imposed deadline. The one I'm working with right now is "a draft introduction, partial and with gaps where necessary, before I leave for my visit to my in-laws in two weeks." Possible (I'm a fast writer, and I'm planning on having the intro clock in around 25pp, so that's not too many words) but will require concentrated effort, and won't screw me if I don't meet it.
  • Write a detailed outline, complete with suboutlines. By which I mean, I should list the parts of the chapter, and then the sub-parts of each part, and if I can outline the sub-sub-parts that's even better. This is my technique for writing quickly. If it's a matter of filling in holes, then I just fill them as the mood moves me, and eventually fill them all, put them together, and then edit the crap out of it (moving sections, rewriting where I've used things twice or been inconsistent, changing the framing argument where I've written myself to a new one, etc).
  • Um. This is where I start running out of techniques.
  • ...

As you'll notice, I run out of steam mid-plan there. I'm sure that the later steps should be somewhere on the order of WRITE ALL THE THINGS, but...does anyone have any techniques they use, in order not to lose a bunch of time to this transitional moment?

Not that a little bit of tea-and-emo ever hurt anyone.
ajnabieh: The text "don't ask me, I'm a grad student." (grad student)
You know how, sometimes, the writing Just Comes Together? I had a pleasant moment of that recently. I had a hacked-together draft of my conference paper for APSA: I'd ironed out the parts that had been labelled "to be written" in my original chapter-draft, I'd cut everything I could possibly cut, I'd edited for clarity, I'd cleaned up my citations. The one thing I didn't have was a conclusion; the chapter I'd taken it from had a conclusion based in the theoretical argument I was making (which I'd cut from this paper), and I really didn't have any good ideas for where to go with this. In the space where the conclusion should have been, I had the following text:


In conclusion, I'm right? The end?

Trust me, I nearly considered circulating it like that. Hey, it's August; I'm not at my best.

However, I forced myself to sit down, armed with a large iced coffee, and write a real conclusion. Without any real advance planning, this is what came out--and I rather like it.

In writing this paper, I have hoped to describe the way these two groups, Adalah-NY and Al-Awda, engage in political life very differently: their preferred rhetoric, their alliances with other groups, and their relationships to the identities of their members and allies all vary highly, and in ways that make sense given the different segments of Arab’s New York and progressive/radical communities that house them. If, at the very least, I have contributed to an effort to disaggregate the understanding of what Palestine activism is in the contemporary United States, I consider that I have produced useful intellectual work.

At the same time, I’d like to suggest some of the larger ramifications of this work for thinking about social movements. Too often, radical movements with low probability of achieving their goals are viewed only as foils for more moderate movements, the ones who are likely to win concessions, in part because of tensions between radical movements and the nervous centers of power. I want to suggest that there are important reasons for not treating groups like Al-Awda and Adalah-NY as afterthoughts. Empirically, the way that the margins battle over the meaning of their work ends up moving down into more centrist groups: the way the language of boycott, even if substantially divorced from the original context of the BDS call, has moved into mainstream Palestine activism, is a sure sign of this. If we want to see where mainstream movements are going, we must look to their margins. Normatively—and I believe we are as required to normatively justify our work as we are to methodologically justify it—we cannot ignore voices on the margins, because they represent political actors making arguments that demand a full hearing. Without being able to hear the argument within any set of claims made, and being able to address the fundamental question of justice that beats at the heart of it, political society will be unable to aim for full incorporation of all members.

I mean, it says the exact same thing--just more belligerently, really.

In other news, if you're interested in what I have to say about Palestine activism in New York, this paper is publicly available for free. It's called "From the (East) River to the Sea: Palestine Activism in Arab New York," and is available for online viewing via the Social Science Research Network here. Now I just have to come up with a way to present 50 pages of evidence in 20 minutes...


ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
Ajnabieh - The Foreigner

March 2016

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