Friday, 6 May 2011 § 2 Comments
All But Dissertation. (Or, in the re-wording of a friend, All But Dead.)
You say Masters, I say Mistress. This is what a mistress of history looks like:
After the exams, I invited some fellow historians to my
adviser’s office for a little drink. Eileen brought a fabulous hat from the theater shop, which will make a repeat appearance at tomorrow evening’s Harlequin Romance themed party.
The weird thing about these exams, and that I guess nobody can ever know until they’re over, is that the anticipation is so much worse than the actual exam is. The couple of days before my orals were hellish. I went through approximately a third of a box of tissues. I re-read my essays and chased down citations and rehearsed answers to questions I imagined might be posed to me. I frantically re-read notes on Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg and the Bourbon restoration and the 1905 Revolution and Flaubert. I read book reviews for some of the books I skipped. And I cried. A lot.
And then the exam came. I wore my ass-kickin boots. There were moments that really sucked. The Absolute Professor asked me one question that I really should have known the answer to — it’s [apparently] crucial for my dissertation. And I had no. godforsaken. idea. what the answer was. She said something to the effect of, “I can’t believe you don’t know this.” I hung my head in shame. We moved on. There were other moments where I felt totally in control. There were a few where I was frustrated by what was going on but knew it wasn’t actually about me. And there were even a couple of really funny moments. Like when I was sort of fumbling a question, and one of the people on my committee, who is fabulous and was clearly thinking along with me, made a comment about an idea she had. The Absolute Professor turned to her and said, “[that prof’s name]! You already have your PhD! Keep your mouth shut!” It was hilarious.
And so anyhow, we spend three years in reverent dread of these exams. And then they happen. And then they’re over. Weird. Maybe the worst part is knowing that you won’t fail, but still feeling like maybe you actually deserve to. I said this to a professor yesterday, and he said anyone worth their salt feels that way. Which is sort of reassuring, I guess.
The Barefoot Rooster became a mistress of history today, too. This is what the lush life of mistresses looks like:
And this is what te world looks like:
Sunday, 1 May 2011 § 2 Comments
Debut, les damnés de la terre!
Nous ne sommes pas les forçats de la faim. Parce que nous avons brunché. (Seriously? How can the French not have a word for “to brunch?”)
Oh hai! I’m back. I finished my last written exam last Wednesday night and have been a slothful wretch ever since. I was doing that thing where you hide under a rock with your elbows out and have ’60s protest music playing on endless repeat. (You mean you don’t ever do that?) So I invited my buddies over for May Day Brunch this morning.
It was the absolute best way a person could spend a May morning. This week instead of baking my bread dough into loaves, I rolled it out into a half-sheet pan, retarded it in the refrigerator, and stamped out english muffins. I couldn’t find my round cookie cutters, so I used flowers. Clearly. (Then the Barefoot Rooster reminded me that canning jar lids work very well when one can’t find cookie cutters, so I made some round ones, too.)
I used these to recreate my favorite breakfast sandwich from a restaurant in Providence: toasted english muffin, olive tapenade, goat cheese, roasted red pepper, griled tofu. Mmmmmm.
Anyhow, socialism and socializing: perfect post-exam-funk remedy.
My oral exam is this Thursday, and while I meant to spend the intervening week preparing — I just can’t bring myself to. I definitely put at least two books I haven’t read on the syllabi I wrote for two of the exams, so I figure I probably ought to read them. But oh gosh. My eyes are still bloodshot from the last few weeks. I ran into an anthro comrade a few times in the wee small hours at the library last week, and each time he asked if I was okay, because it looked like I had been crying. And — at least directly before those encounters — I hadn’t! But I’ll have to force my eyes to read again soon, at least to review what I wrote, I guess.
And so what have I been doing in my slothful days? Knitting! I’ll post a picture tomorrow once I weave in the ends, but, inspired by the lovely Eileen’s shrug, I knit a similar one. Because (I can’t believe I’m admitting this) I’ve decided what dress I’m wearing to my orals, and it’s sleeveless! And any southern lady worth her pearls knows that you don’t go to places of worship or places of work with bare shoulders; it just ain’t fittin. So I knit a little sweater-ish thingie to go with it. Gender: ur performin it right, lulz.
Monday, 18 April 2011 § 2 Comments
Dear Fancypants University,
Thank you for admitting so many students to your incoming class that for the entire month of April, it is impossible to turn around on campus without taking out at least three pre-frosh and their parents with your bookbag.
Thank you for demonstrating how totally great and so
unaffordable Fancypants U is by having a book sale to coincide with visiting weekends!
But most of all, thank you for taking those students’ [parents’] money, giving it to me in the summer, and sending me to France to learn French. Because when this book was on sale for $6 at the come-to-fancypants-u booksale:
Je l’ai compris. Et —
Oauis, j’ai hâte de faire bon usage de ces compétences linguistiques.
Friday, 15 April 2011 § 4 Comments
Briny. Pitted. Dark.
Anyhow, I wrote a whole long post processing the first round of exams, but it was the sort of dark and whiny and wallowingly despairing thing that, at second thought, is not really meant for public consumption. (Insert big melodramatic sigh)
On the upside, I guess, instead of drowning my despair in alcohol, I’ve sublated it through stress baking. Two nights ago after I decided to give up on comprehending anything I was reading, I whipped up a batch of — wait for it — olive biscuit cookies. At first you might think, “quoi? Olive cookies?” But just run with it. They’re the perfect grown-up cookie: a mix of savory and sweet; a little pouty but also indulgent.
I didn’t bake them off that night because I didn’t think any of my cookie cutters were up to the task. I stopped by the kitchen gadget store on my way to campus yesterday, though, and found the PERFECT one:
Yes, dear readers, that is a screwdriver. For Screw This cookies. The end result:
Yeah, sure, they look a little wonky. I blame the olives (which in turn blame me for not chopping them finely enough). And is it not fitting that I sort of screwed up my screw this cookies? (nb: Heidi over at 101cookbooks suggests baking them for 12-ish minutes for little tiny cookies; my screwdrivers wanted closer to 17)
I wish I had time to muse more over the semiotics of screw this cookies, but alas: time to conquer the day and the reading list. With a screwdriver.
Sunday, 10 April 2011 § 2 Comments
Have no self-control? There’s an app for that! No, seriously, there is: it’s called Freedom, and it only costs 10 cashdollars. I’m using it to sequester myself pretty much around the clock as I write this first exam. Also, I’ve picked a name for the chair of my committee, the adviser for this first field: The Dubious Oracle. People who know me/him in real life, does this seem fitting? (And is it too obvious who he is?)
Anyhow, the experience of writing this exam is disconcertingly surreal, and is something that I will process at greater length later. I’ve been having a lot of those “what the hey-nally am I doing” moments, and unsurprisingly, they don’t really help when one is trying to write a syllabus. All this to say, I’ve spent entirely too much time fantasizing about my alternate life plans. One of them is just to marry rich and become a trophy wife (again, more on that another time). Another, and likely more viable one, is to live in a VW Bus at the dog beach at Ocean Beach in San Diego. I stumbled upon this plan when I was visiting my older brother there during the AHA last winter, and it seemed like a really good idea. Like something I could manage. I’m not even much of a dog person, but still — it seemed appropriate. (The not-funny backdrop to this story is that I was very seriously considering dropping out of my program because I was so. godforsaken. unhappy. On the lighter side, part of my criteria for what I wanted in my ideal life involved being closer to the sea. I first considered becoming a pirate. Said brother: “Pirates are terrible people.” Said I [choosing not to make reference to the excellent Marxist historiography on pirates to my military law enforcement brother]: “No, not the Somali/boat hijacking/killing people kind. More like the yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum and sea shanties kind.” “I don’t think they’re hiring.” “Damn.”) Piracy thus rendered untenable, voila: VW Bus.
My obsession with that escapist fantasy was intensified when I stumbled upon the blog I Live In My Van. I don’t know him — I found the link through another blog — but this man is pretty much my hero. Last year he was denied tenure and then had his house burn down. And so he’s taking his insurance cash-out, moving himself and his dog into a VW Westfalia, and goin’ drivin’ for a while. He has emerged from the scenario that for most of us is our worst nightmare and is literally living out my wildest dream.
I’m saving the files for this first exam as “VW” and “dog beach.” I’ll change them before I send them to The Dubious Oracle.
UPDATED TO ADD: This tumblr makes me really. happy. and also assuages some of my ideal-life fantasies. Oh hai kitteh!
Friday, 8 April 2011 § 1 Comment
Colloquium went really well yesterday! Not least, I think, because I wore my ass-kickin’ boots:
(Also, the game only really progressed into its earliest stages. I was distracted by the pesky necessity of fielding questions, and by the time I worked up the nerve to go for it, I didn’t trust myself not to break into a fit of giggles. And you know, that just ain’t fittin’ when you’re talking about Nazis.)
And I’m on such a roll — and so. desperate. for part of my exams to be over — that I’m starting them… tomorrow. I wasn’t going to start writing until late next week, but I think this will be like a pressure release. I hope, anyhow. The first round, for my major field, is a 3-day, 3 part exam, the components of which I’ve known for some time. (As in, since I was a prospective student.) So here goes!
My sweet friend Barefoot Rooster, as some of you know, is knitting the funkiest, coolest shawl during her exams. At first I had planned on not knitting during mine — I’m too easily distracted even on a good day. (This is why I sit on a balance ball when I write; it alleviates my need to get up and fidget and fuss.) But then I decided… why punish myself? It will be good for me to have something to do with my hands while I step away from my impassioned argument that not only does Hannah Arendt advance a philosophy of history, she does so in a way that is useful for intellectual historians. So today I cast on my exam project:
Best part? The leaf detail is in a skein of handspun yarn the Rooster gave me for my birthday last year! I had been saving it for something good; this is fitting, no? Also, this will keep me from my other fall-back break activity, which would have been obsessive checking of the government-meltdown-news-orgy. And y’all, I just cannot abide that clusterf*ck.
So! Off to enjoy the Last Supper, if you will (shaved asparagus pizza nom nom nom), and maybe do some paper journaling to the effect of “ohmygodicantbelievethisdayishere.” You know. The usual.
Thursday, 7 April 2011 § Leave a comment
So, in my last post I was bemoaning the fact that there wasn’t Twitter during the Revolution of 1848 in Germany. Now, this is probably an inappropriate confession for a wannabe-historian to make, but I get really worked up about that revolution. (1918/1919, too, but for different reasons.) They get SO. CLOSE. And then bam! Revolution thwarted by the resurgence of elite and military power, which had never receded as much as the revolutionaries seemed to think, and by the fragmentation of the broad, piecemeal revolutionary coalition. And then the Badenese try to give it one last go! But then the newly-formed Imperial Troops come in and bam! Dead dead dead. Repression repression repression. Ugh, it’s just crushing, not least because it is so. easy. for flat-footed observers to draw a straight line from that crushing of the liberal bourgeois movement to, oh, I don’t know — the Nazis. I’m not so much about lines as threads. Maybe it’s because I can’t cut in a straight line? Anyhow, back to the revolution — there wasn’t twitter. But you know what there was?
Caterwauling. Or, in German, Katzenmusik (cat music). Like the French charivari, or English rough music. And it is so. much. better. than Twitter. Why? Oh, let me count the ways.
First, as a form of social commentary and control — Katzenmusik happened when the general public wanted to reproach individuals who had transgressed social mores, like in cases of infidelity, or a widower marrying a young woman much younger than himself, or, as in 1847/48 in Germany, bakers engaging in grain speculation — it lacked the passive-aggressive quality of Twitter. There was no 140-character, “Isn’t it a shame when people have no sense of propriety? #cradlerobbers” No, caterwaulers owned it (and maybe pwned it, too): it was outright aggressive. They’d show up at your house one night, noise-making gear at the ready, and sing and screech and generally humiliate you the good old fashioned way. The caterwaulers’ acts themselves were scandalous — disrupting the peace! singing tawdry songs! breaching the sacred divide between public and private (are you listening, Habermas?)! — but their scandalousness functioned to call out and correct someone else’s.
Second: It understood itself as a form of the carnivalesque, unlike Twitter, which just takes itself way too damn seriously. Actually, the carnivalesque thing is more complicated than straightforward. If we borrow Bakthin’s formulation, which involves turning the world upside down, mixing high culture with the profane, the subversion’s demand of equal dialogic status vis-à-vis the norm, we have to recognize that his theoretical point of reference is the Mardi Gras/feast of fools acts of resistance and transgression that nonetheless are circumscribed within the knowledge that this is just one night and that tomorrow, today’s “jolly relativity” aside, things will still return to normal. So it’s a kind of acting out/working through that consciously acts within its own limitations, even as it claims to contest those limits. So back to the Katzenmusik: it was definitely, in its earlier manifestations, more carnivalesque, and in fact functioned precisely to reinforce norms (don’t be a cradle robber, asshat!). But later, as in the food riots of 1847/48, it was less so. It didn’t play at destroying boundaries of proper behavior and hierarchy, it actually did: lower- and middle-class burghers showed up at millers’ and bakers’ and lords’ houses and behaved in ways that irrevocably upended the Vormärz social order. As they got more ballsy, so to speak, they pushed even further: ransacking bakeries, breaking windows, burning manors. (Note to Revolutionaries: you thought that because there wasn’t an immediate and violent crackdown, there wouldn’t be at all. That was not the case. #revolutionfail)
Third: My unsavory reference to ballsiness aside, one of the coolest things about Katzenmusik is that it was one of the few arenas of political action or demonstration in nineteenth-century Germany in which women and men participated on relatively equal footing. In fact, women often instigated the Katzenmusik (the gendered implications of women’s “shrieking” and the yammering of cats is clear, no?). Men participated, too, and when it devolved into violence against people or property, it was almost always the doing of the men. But women were the driving force, and an example of actual proto-political agency in a story that, in the historiography, is often just a sausage fest. (Well, to be fair, women usually get one page toward the end of the chapter on “others,” either right before or right after the Jews.)
Fourth: The pictures are so much better. To wit:
Anyhow, I could go on, but alas! I have to go prepare for colloquium. I’m presenting my dissertation prospectus today, or at least a draft of it. The Absolute Professor won’t be able to make it because of a meeting she can’t get out of, but she sent me a long email in response to my draft. It started out: “This is a big improvement over the first try. It is much more coherent and interesting.” Which is generally how her praise goes (for me, at least): it makes reference to your previous shitshow of an attempt, and tells you what you did well and what you could do better. So I’ll take it. This round of feedback pretty much lacks the snarkiness of the last one (“You can’t seriously think that the theory/practice thing is a legitimate objection. Kant would blow that to smithereens. “) The receding of the snarkiness is pretty much tantamount to high praise. (At my last colloquium, she pretended to shoot me with an imaginary gun. Apparently I really flubbed a question on interwar German conservatism.) So, anyhow, off to re-read her comments as a way of cribbing my own paper.
Oh, but sticking with the theme and the title: The colloquium carnivalesque. In years past, my close friends and I played this [really immature but still absurdly amusing] game where the discussant had to work a certain bizarre phrase into their answer to a question, but in a believable way that didn’t draw attention to itself or seem ostentatious to anyone not in on the game. The prize was the grad school standard: a drink. So, one time, a friend had to make reference to “street cred,” and once to “the non-human animal,” (she blew that one), and I had to make reference in my first colloquium to the movie “The Sandlot.” Now we’ve got a new game; one so wrong I can’t even describe it. But oh, will it be fun. I hope I can keep a straight face. If not, I’ll just caterwaul.