Friday, December 30, 2011

::2012 Resolutions::


I have never accorded much importance to Resolutions or list-making. I am not a very organized person (euphemism for "scattered"), and lists and such have always seemed a little superfluous to me. I have always believed in going with the flow, to take things as they come, and take one day at a time. I still do. But as I am growing older, I am realizing, I don't have much time left. It's important for me to make the best use of the time I have, to be accountable to myself, to stay focused on things I want to achieve. Lists can be really helpful in that-- I can always log in to this page, and see for myself how much of my own stated goals I have achieved. So, here is my 2012 resolutions, with one caveat. I think, a year is TOO long a time. And the way my life is right now, I cannot really plan an entire year. So, here, I am trying to come up with a list of goals for the next six months of my life.

Academic

Finish my dissertation, defend and get my PhD. This can be achieved by writing and revising everyday. For that, I will also need to read articles, monographs and such everyday. Right now, I am working on my Introduction. I hope to get it done by the end of this break.

Font size
Teaching

I am teaching a class called "Food And Asian-American Popular Cultural Imagination" this Spring. I have the syllabus more or less planned. I am excited about the topic, and hope to do the best job I can. I am hoping to come up with some kind of a pedagogy article from my experience of teaching this class. So, I will try to keep extensive records of day-to-day teaching. I will also use this class as a springboard to conceptualize a conference paper, later to be developed into a journal article.

Writing

I have been working on my first collection of poems while working on my dissertation. A lot of these poems have come out individually in journals, some I am still sending out. Now, I need to make that leap-- collect, collate these poems into a coherent manuscript. I have begun that work during this break. By June 2012, I want to have a collection that is more solid, and send it out to two of my readers. Like the dissertation, for this too, I need to keep working on it everyday. I don't have any lofty goals for it yet, since my first priority is to get the dissertation done. But I want to stay with this project, keep thinking about it, revise the poems, tweak their orders, just so I am in touch. My aim here is progress, not perfection. The latter will come in the post-dissertation stage.

Reading

Three Bengali Novels: Keyapatar Nouko by Prafulla Roy, Epar Ganga Opar Ganga by Jyotirmoyee Debi, Meghe Dhaka Tara by Shaktipada Rajguru

Three English Novels: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Circle of Reason by Amitav Ghosh

I am not making a list of poetry collections here. Since, in my experience, I do a better job of reading poems while working on the dissertation and regular pressures of teaching.

Food And Cooking

Learning six new recipes and blogging about them. Fall 2011 had been plain bad in terms of this. I was so tired that I failed to cook on most nights. Either I was fed by a friend (thanks, Ani) or, I would make some mush of rice, lentils and onions. I didn't even feel like making an one-pot stew. This needs to change. I do have a few recipes memorized which I can cook, improvise on etc. at the drop of a hat. But I would also like to get a little bit more adventurous in terms of my cooking skills.

Find A Job

Keep on applying...and ....er, finish the dissertation.

Developing A Consistent Offline Reflection Journal

I have tried this before, and have consistently failed. But as I am growing older, I feel this increasing need to write, reflect on things. But very few of these can be shared online. I recognize, so many of my reflections, memories, tidbits will be lost if I don't keep a regular log of these. So, I will try it one more time this year. Devote 10 mins. to it. Everyday.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

::{Me}::

The past year has been hard in many many ways-- emotionally, financially. But I have learnt a great many things too. Amongst them, my realization about my own work. I have always felt that my academic and creative work are inter-related. But on a regular day, when I am struggling between grading, conversing with crazy supervisors, multiple deadlines, unpaid bills-- I mean, all the travails of an overworked, underpaid graduate student-- it is very very easy to lose track of those lofty feelings. But then, this past year, while struggling to keep sane, I recognized certain things. As much as I struggle with the institutional work of academia, I Love engaging in knowledge production. Knowledge production itself is one of the most profound political acts, and when done in a mindful kind of a way, politicizes and empowers the producer. There are lots of ifs and buts and complexities within the folds of the sentence I just wrote, but this is something I have come to believe in strongly in the last few months. In the same way, the more I engage with creative writing, art-making, I become convinced, writing a poem too is an act of knowledge-producing. A poem acts differently than a piece of academic essay-- on a more affective plane. But then, isn't my dissertation bound to my life-quest? If I didn't necessarily grow up within the politicized, lefty sub-culture, would I have been interested in writing a dissertation on representation of women in slave rebellions? Isn't my dissertation an expression of my pre-occupation with the ways in which philosophies, discourses, imaginations of class-struggle interpellate women? It is. And that is hugely autobiographical in some very fundamental way.

Apparently, the academic work I do, has nothing to do with me per se. I am not working on Bengali women's writing. I am not working on Bengali or even South Asian literatures. Although there is a strong South Asian component in my work. Yes, in amy academic work I branch out. I explore who I am not. What history is not mine. While in my poems, especially in this collection, in my insistent writing of the private-space, of domesticity, a very specific form of post-Partition, post-Naxalbari Bengali domesticity, it is all about figuring out who I am. Writing in, so to say. But then, isn't my dissertation also about figuring out who I am through an exploration of who I am not? The am exists in the guise of not. Besides, aren't the histories of slave rebellions also mine? Who will determine what history is mine and what is not mine? Is there only one way of laying claim to a history? Through a lens of ethnic-national-racial "authenticity"? I don't think so.

So, right now, I want to stop for a minute, and celebrate the fact that I can both move in and walk out. It's a rare privilege to be able to do so. And I AM privileged.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

(Bleh)

These days I feel everything is a little bit up in the air. I am plowing through my dissertation, trying to finish the Introduction, and once I do so, I will have the entire first draft done. But with the job market stuff, the uncertainty over next year, I am not just in the space to do any kind of serious writing. One thing I have learnt from writing, after finishing the four chapters of my dissertation-- things will always take longer than I think. I cannot really say I know more after spending the last three years on churning these pages. All I can say is:

a. I now know what I don't know
b. I now know the questions

I was really hoping this post would be a New Year Resolution one, but instead it turned out to be a reflection of the state I am in right now. I will try to live with that.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

::In My Kitchen::

I don't have a fancy kitchen. What I have is more of a half-kitchen than anything else. And I am not the most organized person in this planet. But, I like to eat. And I like to cook. And as much as I problematize domesticity, there is something about walking into my (relatively) clean kitchen during the break, grind the coffee-beans, make myself a cup of coffee, sit down to work. This semester had been particularly stressful for lots of different reasons. I didn't have much time to cook at all. On most days, I depended on another friend to feed me. On other days, when I did make something for myself, I boiled rice, potatoes, lentils and eggs, mashed them up and ate them with a bit of butter or ghee. Yes, the classic Bengali shedhho-bhat. So, it would be nice to get a chance to cook some simple dishes in my modest grad-student kitchen in the next few days. So these are the things I am planning to cook during the next week or so:

Some kind of a vegetarian dish (I am not sure yet).

Tonight, I will marinate the meat for the adobo. And then, tomorrow I cook.

Friday, December 23, 2011

~;; Creative Policing;;~

I received some good feedback for my chapbook manuscripts from my friends. So, I am all ready to do the next set of edits. But, as I was reading through some of the comments sent by my friends, I noticed something-- a lot of them said things like "editors don't like this" or "you'll have to do this in order to impress the contest judges." And I recognized, I do it too. It was a moment of recognition, of fright. I know my poet-friends who say that, are trying to be on my side. As I try to be on their sides when I write such comments on their margins. Because, my friends want to see my work published. I want to see my friends' works published. But, at the same time, by doing this we police each others' works. And this kind of policing has nothing to do with creativity, providing rigorous feedback and critique. Instead, by reminding each other of what the editors, contest judges--the authority figures-- like, we create a culture of reinforcing established norms of creative expressions. We destroy each others' capacity to take risks, to push against the established norms of culture-making. Thereby, we take up, without necessarily being asked to, one of the most important works of the poetry industrial complex-- the production of technically competent but creatively challenged works of art.

This time, when I got comments like that, I had to stop for a minute. On the one hand, I am not one of those poets who trivializes feedback. I believe in providing and receiving feedback, revising my poems according to the feedback received, although there have been times when I have rejected feedback too. But these comments disturbed me. Poetry is important to me, it is my vocation. But it is not my profession. I do not expect my poems to pay my bills. For that, I do other kinds of work. And in my day-job, I have to accept compromises, presence of authority figures and lots of other crap, precisely because food and a place to stay are important for me. I like them! But when I come to my poems, I want to retain that little bit of creative arrogance. I do not want to bow down to the rules established by the authority figures, to the rules established by literary marketplace. That does not mean I do not believe in the art of a professional cover-letter or I want to pass my bad poems as "creative rebellion." I want to do the best job I can of my manuscript. I want to revise and re-revise it, and provided I have money, I might also put it up for contests. But what I am not ready to do yet, is to mould my work according to some arbitrarily accepted market-rules. I will try to do the best job I can, and if that is "good" enough for the market, well and good. If not, I will look for other venues of propagating my work.

Monday, December 19, 2011

::In My Father's House::

I have a title for my chapbook:

In My Father's House

A working title, and it might change. But there are reasons why I went for it. Will blog about that later--when I have a more definite plan of action.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

::The Chapbook Manuscript Done::

I finished assembling my chapbook! I have assembled chapbooks before, but never before have I felt this sure of a particular project. During the last three days, I have succeeded to edit a lot of flabs from the poems, attain a specific narrative arc, and an ordering of poems. I just emailed it to a poet friend of mine, for her feedback and comments. I will also hand in a hardcopy to another friend of mine tomorrow. I am not hoping for great things here, since I will have to finish, edit, revise the dissertation, and find a job. Besides, I know, I still have lots of work in terms of strengthening individual poems. But I am hoping, by the next contest and publication cycle (ie, fall 2012), I will have a manuscript to send out to.

In other news, I went to Mi Madres for brunch yesterday with a friend. Their tacos were heavenly. I tried Pork Adobado,onions, avocado and Barbacoa served with picco de gallo. I will definitely go back whenever I have a chance. I need to begin to resume work on my dissertation. It will happen-- tomorrow.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Putting This And That Together

I have begun to work on my poems again. Day before yesterday, I assembled my chapbook. Yesterday, I revised about half of it, taking things out, making notes to myself about the possibility of adding things in. I also made a few edits. I have assembled chapbooks before. But never before have I felt sure about the project in the way I am doing now. Probably because I have worked on these poems longer than I have done with the other ones. Probably because the chapbook-project itself, in its entirety, feels a little bit more complete to me than the previous ones did. Reading them, after assembling them together, I always felt there is something missing. This one feels relatively complete. This afternoon, I will finish reading the rest of it, and do some more edits. Hopefully, by the end of this week, I will have a draft to email to some of my friends.

One of the things I noticed while reading the poems, my lines were short. I have tried to avoid "weak" words at the end of the lines. But when I was writing these poems, I wasn't necessarily thinking about the line-breaks. My attention was more towards developing a language capable of expressing what I was trying to express: the claustrophobia of a girl growing up in an over-protective middle-class Bengali home. One almost characterized by a sort of benevolent patriarchy. Where girls are taught to be economically self-sufficient, working hard in school, while retaining the essential respectability of middle-class gendered norms. In other words, I am writing about a bag of contradictions. Some of these are very hard to pin down. Some of these, depending upon where a reader stands, might not look "oppressive" at all. But the primary focus of my manuscript is the persona-narrator. She is the one who observes, comments upon her own upbringing, her parents' lives, her own sense of claustrophobia. And most importantly, her desire to leave. In other words, in finding a language to express her own frustrations with her own upbringing, this persona-narrator is going through a process of expansion. Yesterday, as I was reading through and revising the poems, I realized my lines are too short. They do not necessarily reflect the process of expansion this girl is going through while evolving this language through which to provide a critique of Bengali middle-class benevolent patriarchy. So, one of the changes I will have to make when I begin to make the changes, is to expand the lines. Make my persona-narrator take up space on page. Visually, materially, metaphorically. I am not sure if that will give my poems the intended effect. But I am psyched to be even able to think this way! I know I wouldn't have been able to think about form this way couple of years back. This is all very exciting, and I am looking forward to my time in the coffee-shop, with a hazelnut latte, my manuscript, pen and collections of poetry.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Back!

Today I got done-- not done done, but done as in grades submitted, no job-application deadlines showing its tongue at me, wanting to be taken care of NOW. Between the last time and now, I have finished a rough structure of my chapter four. Now only the introduction needs to be written. Then, I will have a "complete" dissertation. It will still need lots of work and revision to be what I want it to be, but I am desperate for it to exist as a first draft by the end of 2011. Meanwhile, I have written two poems. Yes, count them-- two. I have submitted to a few places. Some that were accepted during the summer are beginning to come out. Right now, I am sitting in a coffee-shop, and I am hoping I will get some poetry-related work done. At least, a plan of work. It is not that I will be devoid of deadlines during the next one month. But at least, I won't have to teach. And that does make a whole lot of s difference.