One of the reasons why I started the Daily Chicana was because I am trying to develop a daily writing practice, which is the only way I’ll be able to produce the required number of journal articles for tenure. I have been in a protracted writer’s block for several months now (and yes, I know there are many people out there who argue that writer’s block does not exist). As I have explained previously, my usual mode of producing anything is through frantic episodes of binge writing, with long stretches in-between, one of the most stressful ways of producing anything. And so, grasping at straws, I thought, “A daily blog! If I can write something every day, then I’ll prove to myself that I am in fact capable of producing fair amounts of writing!” Thus the Daily Chicana was born.
I’m starting to panic because I had the entire 2011-2012 academic year off from teaching in order to focus on my research. I set off on this journey with high expectations: I would wrap up two articles that were each more than halfway written, and then complete two new articles that I’ve been planning for quite some time. I outlined my plan in detail to my department chair, the dean of the college, etc. and now I know that when I get back to campus, inquiring minds will want to know: So what did you accomplish? Which articles have you submitted and when will they be in print?
Right now, the answer is zero. So what happened?
Well last summer I decided to leave my husband and initiate a long-overdue divorce. And though I knew it was the right thing for me to do and it felt wonderful to finally follow my heart, it was still a divorce; despite our best intentions to make it as quick and amicable as possible, there was drama. I don’t want to get into all the gory details at this moment, but I can assure you that I felt like I was actually living in a telenovela. I decided to get a fresh start in a new city, so of course the cross-country move and settling into my own place took a lot of time and energy. I dawdled in making professional contacts with local colleagues in my field because I was too busy joining meetups, making new friends and getting reacquainted with myself after spending a decade with my ex-husband.
In hindsight, perhaps my research and writing could have served as an anchor amidst all the upheaval I’d been experiencing. Maybe I could have dedicated an hour or two every day to my projects, and then spent the rest of my time cuddling my dog and doing everything else fun to explore my new surroundings and identity. Maybe even if I hadn’t figured out anything else about my life, I would have arrived at a place where if someone asked me who I am, my first answer would be, “I am a writer.”
Alas, that’s not what happened. I felt too overwhelmed by my journey to do anything about my research. It was always on my mind, for sure, but I am not the most disciplined writer even in the best of circumstance, when there’s nothing unusual or stressful going on in my life. What’s done is done, and I’ve always felt that, as the saying goes, there’s no use crying over spilled milk. All I can do is pull a Scarlett O’Hara and say, “Tomorrow is another day.” Like her, I’m sure I’ll somehow muster the chutzpah to get my publications submitted on time for my tenure review (minus, of course, Scarlett’s notorious racism, classism, self-centered nature and closet full of velvet gowns).
So anyway, let me try to get back to the title of this post. Starting the Daily Chicana has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in this crazy year. I am so truly excited about and thankful for every single reader who visits this site and spends any amount of time sorting through these posts. For those of you who don’t know, when you have a blog here on WordPress, you get daily stats about how many people have visited the site and what countries they come from. (You also get to see what search terms lead people to your site; for example, today someone came here by googling “Chicana baby clothes”; yesterday it was “Rosario Dawson’s ass.”) Moreover, I am especially grateful that Latoya Peterson, owner/editor of Racialicious, came across what I had to say about Latin@s in academia and reposted my writings on that site. I had at most ten views per day until last week; thanks in part to Racialicious, now the numbers are in the hundreds each day. (Other blogs may have many thousands of times that number, but like I said, I’m just getting started here and so any number higher than zero is a major thrill for me!) I’ve really loved reading the many different thoughtful and humorous responses people leave on my posts, both here at Daily Chicana and on the two that were reposted on Racialicious.
And here’s what struck me: In the one month that I’ve kept this blog, I’ve found more readers and received more feedback than I ever will from all my other publications–current and future–combined.
Enter the bitterness, then. I am passionate about my research; yes, I do care about the topics I write about, even if I’m having trouble doing the actual writing. But what–or who–is it all for? I have to publish my work in specialized, peer-reviewed scholarly journals in order for them to “count” for tenure. Usually, these journals are read only by a handful of other academics in my particular area. Of the essays I’ve published, I have never once received any kind of response to them, either positive or negative. Years ago, by googling my name, I discovered that one of my publications was assigned as a reading in an undergraduate Latin@ Studies class, and I was heartened that at least one person out there thought my work was useful enough to get some kind of discussion going. But such feedback or interest is usually hard to find.
The academic publishing process is long and arduous, characterized by anxious waiting. Once you have completed an essay, it takes, at best, three or four months for the journal editors to decide whether they will move forward with it. If it’s accepted, then the essay goes through a long revision process, which could take six months to a year (or more!). And then to finally see it in print? It could be another year after those final revisions. And that’s assuming that everything goes smoothly. Often your work it just rejected outright and so you have to start all over at another journal. One of my favorite books, Donald Hall’s Academic Self: An Owner’s Manual, explains that because the publication process is so torturous in this way, we academics must find pleasure and satisfaction solely in the act of daily writing, precisely because we can’t count on our words ever seeing the light of day and reaching other eyes.
Each day, I try my best to embrace that notion. I just don’t know if it’s enough to sustain me, though. I want more. I write because want to start a conversation with my readers. I am genuinely interested in hearing your thoughts on what I have to say, whether it’s positive or negative, because I learn from your unique perspective. That’s the basis for why I love teaching so much more than I love my (academic) writing: I get to talk to my students, get immediate reactions from them, push my own thinking further because of the insights they share.
I can’t wait to return to my classroom this fall. Yes, it’s been a luxurious, wonderful privilege to have this research sabbatical and lord knows I sure needed the break after everything I’d been through. Yet I can’t wait to work with my students again (even though I know there will be days they drive me nuts with their texting and nights when I’m faced with stacks of freshman papers that all begin, “Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘history’ as . . .” Ugh!). The daily interaction with them sustains my spirit in a way that nothing else can.
And in the meantime, please know that even just by clicking on the Daily Chicana and reading this post, you also are helping me to stay in the game and keep up this daily writing habit. I sincerely appreciate it!