Writings on another blog

One of my jobs at Marquette University is copywriter and editor for the Digital Scholarship Lab blog. On this blog, I write about using digital media in the classroom and highlighting some of our students’ work. I’ve also covered topics like copyright and accessibility. To see some of that work, you can go here.

I’m behind on two book reviews — N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and Elizabeth Kerri Mahon’s Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women, but job hunting is demanding too much of my time! I hope to write and publish those soon. Meanwhile, I’m reading M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

I’m not one who willingly picks up a book that takes place in the American South. I usually read books that help me escape my reality, not remind me how awful the present is. My reason for picking up Hillary Jordan’s Mudbound is pretty shallow. Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan, two actors I’m big fans of, are starring in the adaptation and I’m the kind of nerd who needs to read the book before watching the movie (I still haven’t watched PBS’s Wolf Hall because that book is on my shelf waiting to be read). I have no idea when the movie is coming out, but I borrowed the book from a friend so it moved up on the list. I wasn’t expecting to love this book, merely read it as part of my nerdy desire to know the book before the adaptation ruins it. Well, you can probably see where this is going…I absolutely loved it. I read it in one sitting during my 7 hour shift at the library. Don’t get me wrong–this isn’t a happy, feel-good book. This is the book that will wrench your heart out and make you eat it. Which is why I loved it.

mudbound-cover

Mudbound takes place in post-WWII South. Jordan brings to life not just the blatant racism against black Americans dominant in the South, but also the hypocrisy of sending out black men to fight for a country that rejects their humanity. Jordan writes about two families: the McAllens (white farmers) and the Jacksons (the black tenants). Laura is 31 when she meets Henry McAllen, a 41 year old engineer who uproots her from her comfort in Jackson and moves her to a farm in the middle of nowhere. Henry was cheated out of a house he rented so the family of four with Henry’s awful father in tow have to live in a broken-down house on the farm. Jamie McAllen and Ronsel Jackson are WWII veterans who face different realities when they come home. Both traumatized from their experiences, they struggle finding their place outside the war. Ronsel, who was in an all-black division that actually fought (most all-black divisions were forced to do manual labor), had an affair with a woman in Germany. Here is where Jordan highlights the complexity of race. In WWII Germany, a place not very welcoming to non-white, non-Christian people, a white German woman could be seen having an affair with a black American soldier. Jordan shows a black soldier being treated better in Germany than at home. The book is not for the faint-of-heart; there is an attempted lynching, which while the character survives, he is maimed. This is a man who fought against fascism, but is not shown the civility and honor of the white veterans. As someone interested in trauma theory, I was also enthralled by Jordan’s depiction of PTSD. With just two characters who suffer from war trauma, Jordan manages to show how trauma affects people differently and how those who didn’t experience the war first-hand react to the broken men who return. While the novel is relatively short, it is complex in its themes and depictions of its characters. 

Jordan presents the narrative from each main character’s perspective. I’m personally a fan of that technique; it’s probably why I enjoyed A Song of Ice and Fire and Dickens novels while many of my friends got annoyed. By weaving through the past and present of the characters, Jordan builds up the story slowly. You kind of know where the plot is headed, but the journey is just as important as the climax. Typical to the multiple point of view narrative technique, you sympathize with each character. Henry is the 1940s version of the “good” slave owner and while you still hate his ideas, Jordan makes it clear that he is the product of his times and you end up pitying him. In fact, I ended up pitying all the characters, just for different reasons. I think I loved this book so much because both the plot and the characterizations worked so well that I was lost within the text. It’s not easy reading a plot taking place in the late 1940s and realizing not much has changed in 70 years, but Jordan wrote such a beautifully-crafted book that the sad realization didn’t stop me from enjoying the novel. 

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

In need of what I knew would be a heartwarming story, I picked up Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman. Having read A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (in which Britt-Marie makes an appearance), I knew Backman would be able to make me feel, something not all books can do. Like Ove, Britt-Marie is not a new story. In Ove, we get the foreign, “colorful” woman bring life to a grumpy old man; in Britt-Marie, a recently separated woman finds herself (and purpose) in a small town devastated by the recession. While these stories are not exactly original, Backman has a way with writing characters that it doesn’t matter. All his characters are interesting and multidimensional.

britt(Source: Goodreads)

In Borg, the fictional small town in which Britt-Marie finds temporary employment as a caretaker of an abandoned recreation center, we meet the characters who feel love for their town and a hope that things might get better. The town’s love for soccer seems to be what gets them through. Backman writes of orphaned children who are more resilient than anyone their age should be; an older brother caught halfway between being parents to his younger siblings (and, as Britt-Marie points out, puts his cutlery in the correct order and therefore must be a good man) and protecting his criminal best friend; a crippled woman who runs the pizzeria/grocery store/post office; and a cop who loved to paint and make sushi (I imagined him as Louis CK’s character from Parks and Recreations). Britt-Marie gets caught up in the town’s love of soccer and starts understanding how the townspeople see the world (who you support says a lot about you). All the characters are captivating, whether they are funny or tragic.

Britt-Marie’s struggle as she tries to make sense of a world that she never understood and her grief over her sister’s death so long ago makes the reader care for and respect a character who was so annoying in My Grandmother…. Her fear of being found dead days after her death, possibly chewed on my dog/cat/rat, drove her to find a job for the first time in 40 years. Her logic was that if you don’t show up for work one day, someone will know something is wrong. She left behind her cheating and abusive (to be discussed later) husband, but could not let go of the comfort of having a clean home and balcony. Backman’s descriptions of her internal struggle of living by her own, possibly obsessive-compulsive rules, and learning to adapt to a new life can resonate with anyone who has had to be outside their comfort zone for the first time.

The story gave me the warm feelings I was expecting when I picked it up, but there is one aspect that bothered me. Britt-Marie’s husband, Kent, was verbally abusive. Britt-Marie recalls being told that she’s not “socially competent;” he would regularly dismiss her opinions and mock her openly in front of others. As someone who has witnessed verbal abuse and the damage it can do to one’s psyche, I felt that this aspect could have been dealt with better. When he comes to Borg to try to get her back, the others can see — through his actions and his preferred soccer team — that he is a jerk. But no one tells Britt-Marie that his treatment of her is wrong. Throughout the text, Britt-Marie blames herself as well Kent for their marriage falling apart. It is typical for the victim of abuse to blame herself for “deserving” the abuse, but we don’t get a clear cut moment of her realizing that none of it is her fault. While the maybe-not-as-ambiguous-as-it-could-have-been ending implies that Britt-Marie realizes her own worth, I think — in response to such a toxic relationship — a more clear-cut rejection of Kent was necessary.

Despite my annoyance of the treatment of Kent, this was a very enjoyable book. Again, it’s not a new story, but Backman writes in a way that it doesn’t matter. The plot doesn’t need to be very original, because the characters and narrative are. Plus, she gives a rat snickers on a plate and provides it with a napkin. What more does one need in a story?

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

As a fan of WWI novels, I was excited to read The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. I have Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand–have had for 4 years now and haven’t read it yet, story of my life. There are some very positive aspects of this book. I think Simonson, by describing the countryside and country living, captures the idealism of the idyllic summer of 1914, or at least as it has been romanticized since the beginning of the war. An older woman (Mrs. Kent) sunbathing naked in her backyard, garden parties, and pageants all work to capture the peace and tranquility felt by the upper- and upper-middle class in that June and July.

summer
(Source: Goodreads)

Simonson writes some interesting characters. The main character, Beatrice Nash, is newly orphaned and comes to the village  of Rye to be the new Latin teacher. She is stereotypically a New Woman: she rides a bike, she’s more educated than any woman of her class “should” be, she’s independent, and she’s a suffragette. If the story focused solely on her, I think I would have enjoyed the book more. Instead, we get the view points of several characters: Mrs. Kent, who fights to get Beatrice a place at the school; Hugh Grange, her nephew, who is a medical student and goes off to the war as a medic; and Daniel, another nephew, who is an in-closet gay poet and joins the Front Lines when his lover dies in a flying accident. Other characters include Mr. Tillingham, an American author who lives in England (based loosely on Henry James), a couple of Belgian refugees, two “radical” women hinted at being lesbians, and an obnoxious Mayor’s wife. In trying to paint a picture of the village through these viewpoints, Simonson ended up diluting the substance of these characters. We get hints of depth in these characters, particularly with Beatrice and her history, but the pacing of the book (another issue I have) prevented me from getting attached to or feeling anything for the characters.

The pacing was a bit rushed. About 85% of the book was before the war and the last couple of chapters deal with the Front. We are given glimpses of the horrors of the war through Hugh and his surgeries. At the end, we get the romantic ending Simonson was leading us to, but it felt hollow. We do see the growing friendship between Hugh and Beatrice and some moments of attraction, but the lack of depth in both characters–and the knowledge from the beginning that this will happen–wasn’t enough to make me love this book. I know the book is considered “chick-lit”* so that’s not what disappointed me, but it was the lead up to it.

At the end, I gave this 3 stars on Goodreads, 2.5 rounded up because of my weakness for WWI books. From the reviews I’ve read of Major Pettigrew, I’m looking forward to reading that…eventually.

*I hate that anything with romance is considered chick-lit, but that’s a rant for another day.

Rereading Harry Potter in the Age of Trump

I didn’t think I was a fantasy fan when I was in high school. I read all of Oscar Wilde’s plays, Crime and Punishment (I blame my father), Count of Monte Cristo, and other such classics. When a friend of mine suggested we go see this movie about a boy wizard I was hesitant, but we went with our small group of friends after school on Friday to see it. It might have taken 10 minutes, maybe 20, before I was hooked. Castles! Magic! Ghosts! What was there not to like? Needless to say, I left a fan and purchased the bundle of books 1-4 in paperback the next day. In about two weeks, I was done with the books. I still refrained from calling myself a fan of fantasy. Those covers are weird! Which is why I also refused to read this book my cousin’s husband kept pushing on me; it was a little known book at the time called Game of Thrones. I’m still ashamed that I didn’t read it till 2011, but that’s also around the time I admitted to myself that I like fantasy. But I digress…

hp

(Source: barnesandnoble.com)

I’ve read the last three HP books at least 5 times each, but it had been a long time since I’ve read the books in order. After the farce of the election I needed some comfort and while Jane Eyre is my usual Christmas time reread, I decided it’s time to revisit the books that got me into fantasy. It’s the perfect escape. At least, it used to be.

What changed this year as I reread the series this time is my understanding of Voldermort. It’s not hard to draw some parallels between the rhetoric of fear and othering used by our President-elect and those used by the Dark Lord and his followers. Keeping a registry “mudbloods” isn’t very different from a registry of Muslims. To be honest, it’s scary. Voldermort wanted power for the pure-bloods while being a half-blood himself; Trump speaks out against immigrants while he is the son of one. Voldermort used harsh and insulting language to differentiate between himself and those who disagreed with him; Trump regularly takes to Twitter to insult anyone who speaks out against him, be it a civil rights leader or one of the greatest actors of our time. Voldermort is clearly depicted as a fascist leader (based on Hitler) and Trump’s positions certainly come off as fascist. Once the connection was made (while rereading Philosopher’s Stone) it was hard to ignore. My plan to escape into fantasy failed. I’m continuing with the reread of the series for the sake of nostalgia, but it is now tainted as I see more similarities between Voldermort and my new president.

The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

fate

The final book of the trilogy was the weakest. While I enjoyed the sections that showed us the past as it builds the world, there was less of Kelsea who, by the end of book 2 (The Invasion of the Tearling), had so much potential. In this book she was merely a tool to show how Tear’s idea of utopia failed instead of being a worthy character herself. To be fair, the past was just as interesting as Kelsea’s present (at least in book 2). Johansen did a great job showing that utopias are an idea to strive for, not necessarily something that can be achieved. By working towards equality, we work towards a utopia. It was important for Kelsea’s character to understand this by seeing the past so that she can make the decisions she needed to in the future (another great point: we need to understand our history to not repeat the same mistakes … this applies well to our current political situation).

This book suffered by making the secondary characters more interesting. Like I said before, Kelsea had the potential of being a great character. Johansen built this character over the first two books only to collapse it in the third. And while the characters from the past, Row, Katie, and Gavin, were interesting, you end up wanting more but then being pushed back to a present with a passive Kelsea. I rarely say this about books, but this is a book that could have been longer IF the length provided more depth to the characters.

The plot was also just meh. After a fantastic ending in book 2, book 3 was anti-climactic. Again, this could be because of the back and forth between past and present, but that wasn’t a problem in book 2. There was a great deal going on in the present that we really only get glimpses of, but if you’re going to show the failure of a world, then I wonder why that didn’t get the attention that it deserved. Also, did we need another YA book with vampires? That came out of nowhere. We get no information on why they were created, except for a power-hungry rejected son wanting an army. But why vampires? There was an audible “ugh” when I reached that part of the story.

Unlike many other reviewers, I did not mind the ending. In fact, considering how much time Johansen spent on focusing on the past, the concept of time, and the mystery of time travel, it seemed like a natural ending. However, the present again suffered. There was only a glimpse of Kelsea sitting on the floor while the crazy vampire children where fighting her Queen’s guard and killing them. The characters Johansen helped us care about were merely collapsed into a few second glimpse before moving on. I like it when a book punches me in the guts with emotions and more than liking it, I wanted this book to give me that, this ending did not provide do that. Unlike the other books in the trilogy, when I finished this one I easily moved on to the next book on my to-read list.

Overall, while Johansen provided a decent ending to the story and the trilogy, I was disappointed in The Fate of the Tearling. I wouldn’t mind rereading The Queen of the Tearling and The Invasion of the Tearling again without ever picking this last one up.

 

Gilmore Girls Review

I am a millennial who grew up watching Gilmore Girls. Mom and I had to watch it in her bedroom because the fast-paced talking really annoyed my dad and brother. My mom and I really connected to Lorelai and Rory, because, like them, we were friends as well as mother and daughter — although we have a healthier relationship than them. We travelled together, we went to museums together, and we loved shopping together. Like Rory, I am an avid reader who prefers staying in to finish a book than go out to the bars. I felt comfortable talking to my mom about my relationships (without the sex details, because I have some boundaries).

Naturally, like many others, I was ecstatic and impatient for the Netflix mini-series. I watched all four hour and a half episodes over two days (I’m sure that seems slow to some people). Once I finished I needed some time to process my feelings before writing them. While I enjoyed the series, there were definitely many cringe-worthy moments. On the whole, I think the show ignored — or mocked — a lot of the struggles that the shows original watchers are currently facing.

The Bad

Rory’s struggles as a writer

It was refreshing to see a character who knew what she wanted to do with her life, but realize that it’s not that easy. As someone who is the character’s age, I am also struggling with the life decisions I’ve made so far and wondering if I took the right path. However, this important and relatable situation was later mocked by the “30somethings club” in Stars Hollow. The club consists of 30-somethings who had lost their jobs and had to move back home — a current reality for millennials. Instead of showing sympathy and empathy for this club, the characters were mocked; they were depicted as silly and needy. Forgive me for not seeing the humor of feeling that your hard work and education have not provided you with the job you were promised, that the idea of the American dream seems further away than ever. Rory, who everyone in the town thought should join the club, scoffed at the idea, repeatedly saying that she’s “not back,” even though she has no job, no prospects, no car (though we see her driving), and no underwear. Sorry, pal, but you’re part of the club now.

Fat Shaming in “Summer”

One of the most out-of-character scenes was in the third episode, “Summer.” Lorelai and Rory are at the public pool laying down on chaise lounges while two kids hold an umbrella over each of them. Since when they did become such princesses? But, fine, I can be amused for a second and move on. What really pissed me off was the comments about the presence of fat rolls, the grimacing and disgusted faces in response to the fat, and the horrified faces as a larger man in a speedo stops in front of Lorelai and Rory to talk to them. I’m not an idiot; I know such comments happen ALL the time. I’ve heard my friends make the same comments when we are at the pool in Palm Springs or Las Vegas, but does it need to be in the show? What did we gain from these interactions except showing an incredibly petty and superficial side of characters we thought were better than that? This was the scene where I was cringing as I watched. Unlike Rory’s story line, which got worse each episode, there was no arc. It was flat out awful.

Race and Class

When Rory was introduced to us, we recognized how lucky she was to have rich grandparents (“privileged” wasn’t a part of my teenage vocabulary). She went to a great prep school, got a car, went to Yale, etc. Lucky. Except now, she’s 32 and seemingly unaware of her own privilege. How is she flying to London (to cheat on her boyfriend who she emotionally abuses) when she doesn’t have a job? Maybe Logan pays for it, but that makes me feel really icky — like she’s being bought. How did she afford a place in Brooklyn? Unlike many of our generation, she’s privileged to have a place to go when she’s jobless. And instead of being grateful, she shuns the “30something club.”

When it originally aired, Gilmore Girls wasn’t exactly known for its diversity. Sure, Lane and her mom are Korean, and Michel was, to reference 30 Rock, a toofer — black and gay, but that was pretty much it. It’s fine; that was then and, luckily, diversity in media has come a long way (and still has a long way to go). But Lane was barely in the new series. We see a beautiful black woman be berated by Paris. Then we have Emily’s new maid, Berta. We never know what ethnicity she is, but she has a big, brown family who start moving in with Emily. Where to being? Well, at first, it was funny that Emily didn’t know what ethnicity Berta is because of course the rich, white old lady won’t know. But then? Why did it need to continue? We see Emily become dependent on Berta and even heat up soup when she’s sick (though Berta makes it clear that Emily can’t even do that), but that does not solve the problem of erasing an ethnicity issue.

Other

At the beginning of the first episode we meet Paul, Rory’s boyfriend of two years. She forgot she invited him for dinner. Lorelai and Luke don’t remember him. This is the joke for two (or three?) episodes. Rory forgets him, ignores him, and doesn’t break up with him. The guy seems really nice, so what is Rory doing? Who is this girl who strings along a guy for two years? Who forgets to break up with a guy? Maybe “emotional abuse” is a strong term here, but that is what this relationship (if you can call it that) reeked of.

Lastly, what was up with that musical? I really have no idea what the point of it was. Those 15 minutes really could have been used better! Like, maybe Emily finally understanding Berta, showing Lane rip Rory apart for being so whiney, etc.

The Good

Lorelai’s Grief

After her father’s death, we don’t see a great deal of Lorelai dealing with her death. Her focus (which is forced by Rory’s concerns) is on her mother’s grief. However, in “Fall,” we are given a look at Lorelei’s grief and her journey there. After reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Lorelei decides she needs to follow that path and go hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It helped Cheryl, so it should help her, right? Well that is what several other women thought as well. Recently divorced, lost, and confused women flock to the trail and bond over their reasons for coming there in the hopes of finding inner-peace. There is a strict divide between the movie and book aficionados. On the day the women are going to start, Lorelai can’t find her permit and is forced to leave. Not finding an open coffee shop, she talked a small walk and is stunned by the incredible views of the mountains. There, she calls her mother to recount the story that best represents her father (there’s a great backstory to this… you should watch it). As she tells her story, Lorelai cries for, what we assume, is the first time since her father’s funeral. Lorelai didn’t need to hike the PC Trail (an activity she would never have willingly agreed to before) to find her inner-peace. She didn’t need to do what several others were doing; she found her own path … literally.

That’s it. That’s the only moment I was emotionally connected to anything in the show. Needless to say, I am pretty disappointed with the show, but did manage to enjoy it if I stopped thinking too hard. There should have been more depth and growth, but there wasn’t. I understand Amy Sherman Palladino wanting to please the original fans, I do. But those fans have grown up — the characters had not.

For some more in-depth looks at criticism of the show, Jen Chaney from The Vulture wrote this and for a break down Gilmore Girls and white feminism, Aaron Kappel and Jessica Friday from The Establishment wrote this.

On Feeling like the Token Other

When I told my friend Vicki, who at the time was in her first year of Master’s at MU, that I got accepted into the PhD program she was incredibly happy that I’d be joining her. We got our B.As together from CSUN and were (are) good friends. Once the shouting and planning ended she said to me, “Just so you know though, you’re going to stand out here. I’m the exotic one because I’ve lived abroad.” Vicki had done two years of the Peace Corps in the Philippines. I heeded her warning, but it didn’t bother me too much. After all, in my MA program at Duquense, I was one of the four “brown” girls, really the only diversity in the graduate program. But after being back in Los Angeles and adjuncting for two years, something had changed. I got used to a diverse culture again. I didn’t stand out for my dark complexion and people knew from my last name that I was Armenian (Thanks, Kardashians. I think…).

In August 2012 I got the first email from my DGS addressing all newcomers. One could have easily played the game of “One of these is not like the others” with the list of incoming students. Bridget, Emily, Brian, Sarah, Heather, Andrew, Sareene…

I was a little weary, but still thought “It’ll be ok.” Except, it wasn’t. Nothing racist has ever been said against me (at least from what I know), but there have been moments in which I felt uncomfortable and when I feel uncomfortable I have this awful habit of bringing attention to that through what can be deemed as inappropriate humor.

In my Romantic and Gothic literature course, the late Dr. Diane Hoeveler was discussing Orientalism and showing painting of whitewashed and hypersexualized “Middle Eastern” women. Then she asked, “How are these images different from how the West views the East now?” Queue awkward silence and downward glances. [Necessary sidenote: I am Armenian, but I come from the Armenian diaspora so my dad is from Syria (though all throughout high school I claimed him as Lebanese, a story for another day) and my mom is from Egypt. And because of genetics, I guess, I’m also of a darker complexion than many Armenians.] After a few seconds, I straightened up in my chair and said, “Well, as the only brown person in this room, I feel comfortable saying that those images of the ‘East’ were never realistic, but neither are the only-burqa-wearing images of women we see now.” Two people giggled; Vicki, cause she knows what I felt like, and Andrew, who found it hilarious that I would make others uncomfortable. Dr. Hoeveler picked up on that thread and went along discussing the racism behind Orientalism. See? Not a big deal. I can move on.

Except… I needed a haircut. I had been living in Milwaukee for three months and I couldn’t wait anymore. But being a non-White-but-really-I’m-Caucasian-but-I’m-also-ethnic woman means I can’t just walk in to a random salon. I needed a recommendation from someone who also had thick, curly hair. This shouldn’t have been a problem. And it was. I found one. That’s right, one woman in a graduate program of roughly 35 students who had curly hair. Many people might not think that this instance is even worth mentioning, but there are people who do not have straight hair who can understand my struggle here. Thankfully, I met the hairstylist who I’ve religiously gone to for four years now. This could have been something I discovered eventually on Yelp, so again, maybe not a big deal.

AND THEN, Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri came into my life. Well, sorta. it must have been a day or two after the pageant when I walked in to say hi to our department secretary, an amazing woman who always has tissues ready for the graduate students and a sympathy crier to not make you feel alone. She’s awesome, seriously. But, she was the one who, inadvertently, exposed just how little people knew about the only dark-skinned person in the graduate body. I walked in and she smiled at me and said, “Congratulations!”
Me: For what?
Her: The Miss USA winner! She’s the first Indian-American woman to win!
**awkward pause**
Me: Um, I’m not Indian-American. I’m Armenian.
Her: Really? Oh, my son’s best friend is Armenian.
If I could have done it, this is where I would have face palmed myself. If someone actually knows an Armenian, wouldn’t the -ian from my name have been at least a clue of my ethnicity? I was a little peeved, but determined to find the humor in the situation. I get it: I have a long name, long (at least then) and dark curly hair, and an overall dark complexion. I shrugged it off as an easy mistake to make in a place where there are probably 100 Armenians. Ok, move on. Go to class. My PhD literary theory class. I was telling Andrew the story of what had just happened, because I knew he would laugh and shake his head, acknowledging that the situation was sadly comical. Well, I’m loud, so as I was saying this story everyone started to listen in, even the professor, the professor who is an African-American literature scholar but as white as they come. She laughed at the story and said “Of course you’re not Indian! You’re Iranian!” “I am?” I asked. “You’re not?” “No, but you’re at least closer in terms of location. I’m Armenian.” “Oh! I didn’t know that.” Clearly. But I love this professor. She’s one of the two professors at MU who I loved learning from. She was also our DGS and was always blunt yet comforting when I needed help. And I expected better from her. Shouldn’t someone who studies racial discord in America be more sensitive about making assumptions on someone’s race or ethnicity? And now, the humor was gone. I wasn’t angry. I’m still not angry. I’m sad.

I’m sad that since August 2012, the only other person-of-color in the graduate program is an Indian Jesuit. It’s been 4 years and we can still play the same “One of these is not like the other” game with the list of student names. Sure, no one has been overtly racist and, besides that moment in theory class, I’ve never actually felt uncomfortable. But it’s not really comfortable either; I’m somewhere in between. I know it is not a conscious decision among the faculty to accept only white students. I know several faculty members, including the one who assumed I was Iranian, mourn the lack of diversity in the graduate student body. But, we are at a small, Catholic school in the most segregated city in the U.S. It’s not exactly the most welcoming fact when POCs look for prospective universities. I applied here because Vicki told me about it and I thought that since it sounded really similar to Duquesne I had a decent chance of getting accepted.

But I’m the token other. Sure, no one else says it and they laugh when I jokingly point it out (jokingly because what else am I supposed to do? yell?). But I’ve seen most of the names of the students coming here in Fall. Looks like I’ll keep being the token other until I graduate.

 

Louis Raemaekers, WWI art

I just finished Chronicle of Youth, the published diaries of Vera Brittain. I may be a soulless cynic, but the incessant “my Beloved” and the capitalized “He” when referring to her fiancé, Roland Leighton, made me roll my eyes a bit. Perhaps it brought up the bad memories of my diaries as a lovestruck teenager (Brittain was 21). Still, it must have captivated me because as late December 1915 came around I found myself dreading what was coming (SPOILER ALERT: Roland dies). It’s unfortunate that she doesn’t write regularly in 1916 through 1918 while she was in Malta then France.

That aside, the diaries introduced me to Dutch artist Louis Raemaekers. In 1916, Brittain and her mother go see an exhibit of his work and she writes that Raemaekers will be remembered as the artist of the war as Rupert Brooke was the poet of the war (it can be argued that Owen’s anti-war poetry has replaced Brooke’s patriotic and idealistic poetry).

Having never heard of this artist, I naturally googled him and found his postcards/illustrations very dark and moving. Some images remind me of Otto Dix’s work.

Below are some of his darker works (taken from this site), and I encourage you to take a look at the other illustrations! As I type this, I’m also looking for a book of his art.

 

Writing, or trying to, when my brain can’t.

I was diagnosed with clinical depression and general anxiety disorder in 2008, though if I had been brave enough to seek help, I would have been diagnosed a lot sooner. While I am on medication that helps me a lot, it is not a cure and every day is different. Some days, I can clean, do laundry, write, revise, grade, and lesson plan. Other days, getting out of bed and moving to the couch is the most I can accomplish.

As a PhD candidate, I have limited funding and limited time to finish my dissertation. I know that I want to defend in a year. I want to defend in a year, but when moving to the couch is all I can accomplish then no writing gets done. It’s not easy, and I know I still have it a lot easier than many other people.

A friend of mine who is also a PhD candidate and suffers from severe depression posted this article by Katie Rose Guest Pryal on having to work when your brain won’t cooperate. She describes the struggle of not just having to write, but also being a parent and a wife, and how mental illness can slow things down and make you think that everything is terrible.

Perhaps the stigma of mental illness, particularly depression, has lessened while more people publish on the realities of dealing with it, but what can you do when you are on a time crunch and you literally cannot do the things you are supposed to? Is there room in academia for people like me and my friend who may not be able to work as quickly as our healthier peers?