Paris…a week later

“He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo. Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic. Nothing is more sublime.” Victor Hugo*

Ah, Paris…Victor Hugo does a wonderful job describing precisely how I feel about being in Paris. It’s only been a week since I got to Paris yet it feels like years. This city is a contradiction: radical beauty and sublime history engaging with terrible smells and unashamed disputes on the metro.

I cannot help to be amazed, surprised, and confused at this marvelous city. I am frankly never bored. There is so much to do and I’ve slowly gotten used to the hype of the city. I no longer need google maps to help me take the metro or to find out which route is better for work. I no longer get lost in a sea of unknown brands at the grocery store. I now get lost in the city and I enjoy it.

However, I keep thinking of this quote by Georg Simmel: “The psychological basis of the metropolitan type of individuality consists in the intensification of nervous stimulation which results from the swift and uninterrupted change of outer and inner stimuli.”

Paris is the city that never sleeps, not New York City (sorry, New Yorkers!). There is always something to do. I am never bored. I am constantly being stimulated by motorcycles driving down the boulevard, live music on my street, people-watching from my apartment balcony, watching football matches with mes potes, drinking French rosé by the Seine and simply talking about the wonders (and downfalls) of Paris over some falafel.

I love this stimuli, but I hate it too…and, just like that, I am a living contradiction just like my Paris.

*Qui regarde au fond de Paris a le vertige. Rien de plus fantastique, rien de plus tragique, rien de plus superbe.

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The Art of Flâne(use)rie

La rue assourdissante autour de moi hurlait.
Longue, mince, en grand deuil, douleur majestueuse,
Une femme passa, d’une main fastueuse
Soulevant, balançant le feston et l’ourlet;

“À une passante”, Charles Baudelaire*

We all know this love story: Girl meets city. Girl falls in love with City. The End.

We’re used to hearing the narrative of the City as a character. From Carrie Bradshaw to the amazing cross-dressing George Sand, women  have been falling in love with cities for centuries. What is so appealing about the city though? What makes us indulge in the fantasy of living in a giant organism full of displaced peoples trying to “find themselves”?

This is fascinating to me from the female point of view. Women have been drawn to walking the city, so much that they’ve done the impossible to do it: dress like a man, leave your husband and family (George Sand, again). All’s end that ends well, right?

Perhaps not.

The noun, flâneuse (f), and its masculine form, flâneur, come from the verb, flâner, which is cognate with the Old Norse, flana, which means to act rashly. What is a flâneur/flâneuse and why are we, as humans, so invested in the art of flâne(use)rie ?

Flâneur can simply be translated as “stroller”, but can mean someone who wanders the city aimlessly, observing, and not being observed. Perhaps this is why it’s difficult to ascertain the flâneuse within this context. Women are observed on the street. Cat-called. Humiliated. Harassed.

Paris is perhaps the queen city of flâneuserie, but it’s virtually impossible to not be noticed by men. With the French #MeToo hashtag, #BalanceTonPorc, which places blame on the aggressors rather than the victim, it is quite difficult to stroll the streets of Paris. I try to lose myself in the city, frowning, hoping to not be noticed by the passers-by, yet…it happens.

Bringing back Baudelaire’s male gaze onto the female passante, he reduces the flâneuse to the admiration of her body.^

How can I master the art of flâneuserie when I am a woman myself?

By the Seine, on the rues of Paris, down the streets of Montmartre, it does not matter, the flâneuse is not invisible, but rather seen.

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*The deafening road around me roared.
Tall, slim, in deep mourning, making majestic grief,
A woman passed, lifting and swinging
With a pompous gesture the ornamental hem of her garment (1974, Wagner)

^Some critics argue that Charles Baudelaire’s poems should not be reduced to his misogyny (*roll-eyes*), but rather his views on individualism. I want to make it clear though, he was a misogynist.

**I recommend Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse: Women Walk the city in Paris, New York, Tokyo,  Venice, and London. (I’d skip over the entire Tokyo chapter, for a number of reasons)

 

Lost in Paris: the art of getting lost

Coucou from Paris !

As I had mentioned before, I will be living in Paris for the Summer, which is fantastic and a dream come true, etc etc etc….BUT dang it, it is a hard city to get accustomed to!

It took me three hours to get from Charles de Gaulle to my apartment. After taking a well-deserved nap after a sleepless night, I started thinking about the art of getting lost. In the Catalan-French film, L’auberge espagnole, Xavier is in Barcelona for the first time with his luggage feeling lost and insecure. He says, “Quand on arrive dans une ville, on voit des rues en perspective des suites des bâtiments vides de sens…tout est inconnu, vierge.” [When we arrive in a city, we see streets in perspective of buildings empty of meaning…everything is unknown, virginal].

This short part of the film always always reminds me of life in a new city. Everything can be disorienting and bizarre. Even though Xavier knows the Spanish language (even though Catalonia’s official language is technically Catalan) and has a map that is supposed to guide him, he still manages to get lost. My biggest desire is always to find something to hold onto–something that feels familiar and not uncanny. Nonetheless, it is incredibly difficult to not get lost. It just happens to you. Oh, you were supposed to head west on Boulevard de Clichy, not east. Suddenly, the mind plays tricks on you spatially (regardless of how good you are at directions) and you find yourself in between two other fellow American tourists,  who are trying to find Moulin Rouge, trying to figure out where west is.

This feeling isn’t exclusive to Paris. I’ve felt this way in the many cities I’ve encountered: New York, Rio de Janeiro, San Juan and Madison (the latter two I live/have lived in for years too]. My first time driving in San Juan with my roommate turned out to be a two hour drive around the city trying to find this little bar that ended up being a block and a half away from our apartment. When I first moved to Madison, I went for a walk trying to find James Madison Park and I ended up in a crazy intersection facing Lake Monona instead of Lake Mendota. It happens, but then, magically, you figure out how to take public transportation. You figure out that the 14 in Rio is full of gatunes (thieves), so you try to avoid it. You realize that Lower Manhattan isn’t really that complicated to figure out even though it frankly feels that way after spending most of your time in Upper Manhattan.

My trick is to accept getting lost as a part of your experience in a new city. It’s not [as] tragic if you planned for it..or at least that’s what I tell myself!

 

 

Academia is full of surprises!

Grad school can definitely be a vicious cycle full of rejection, but there are many good things about it.  After a long and tough 2017 (hurricanes, rejections and disappointments galore), I was ready to give up on grad school. I don’t mean quitting because I’m not really a quitter, but rather taking a more easygoing approach to it. I have always been so high strung and overwhelmingly compulsive about everything that I tend to forget that it’s OKAY to have fun, be young and enjoy life.

Last Winter, I made the decision to finish my PhD without the intention of pursuing academia (i.e. academic jobs). I made this decision for a number of reasons: watching many of my colleagues get rejected to these jobs that they were more than qualified for, the unfortunate ghost of adjunct professorships (i.e. making the same lowly salary as a TA with none of the health benefits) that haunts the academic job market, and wanting a life (children, a house, and a livable income).

This resolution completely changed my life outlook, plans and overall mental health. As surprising as it may seem, letting go of academia has frankly been the best thing for my research, my applications and my well-being. How do I know this?

  1. Setting Goals and Meeting Them: I wrote my first chapter in one semester (~4 months) and I think I did a pretty decent job. I work best under schedules, so I planned multiple writing groups, and sketched out blocks of time where I could work solely on writing. I love the research I got to do and cannot wait to do more over the Summer.
  2. Work/Life Balance: Last semester, I got really into setting boundaries around what was my work time and what was my “life” time. One of my friends even got me into a TedTalk Podcast called “Work Life with Adam Grant”, which I highly recommend It discusses workaholic lifestyles, emotional labor, and many other important things. I decided that, unlike other semesters, I was not going to let graduate school become my number one priority in life. I would work 9-5PM (sometimes 6:00 PM) and I would avoid weekend labor…and somehow I managed to accomplish this. I did not respond to emails after 5:00 PM, but instead I did things that I enjoyed like reading for fun, writing or just binge-watching something on netflix.  I actually want to write another post about this specifically because grad school’s work obsession is frankly disturbing and beyond unhealthy.
  3. Grant/Fellowship/Scholarship/Job/Research Applications: In addition to writing time, I set times to work on specific applications that will help me further my non-academic (and academic) experiences. I applied to the same number of positions I do every year without expecting anything from them (I don’t think anyone wants to know the number because it’s so absurd…the amount of work that goes into these applications is crazy).
  4. Relaxed Outcomes Facing Rejection:.Out of  [insert ridiculous number here], I received about [insert adequate number] of rejections. Now, this does not mean that I was like yay, I didn’t get this one job I really wanted, but rather helped me keep myself in check. I went in with low expectations while still managing to dedicate a lot of time to my apps. Overall, I feel proud of myself for feeling OKAY about rejection and the great work I put into my applications.
  5. Actually Getting Awesome Grants (WHAT?!): As I said, I went into academia this past semester with very low expectations. I did not expect much from my applications, my dissertation or even my teaching (my pedagogy friends must be freaking out ). I received a fellowship that will allow me to further the field of public humanities doing a job that is very meaningful to me. I received a research fellowship AND a scholarship that will allow me to do research for my second chapter in PARIS, FRANCE.  This means that I get an all-paid expense research trip to Paris that will allow me to live there for most of the Summer!

When did it all change then?

I set out to find what I really loved and cared for in life: connections, philosophy, friendships, social justice endeavors, and celebrating accomplishments–even the smallest of them. In return, letting go of academia made me become a better scholar, teacher, friend, partner and person. I look into the details of my writing and research without becoming so focused on the general, big-picture outcome. I focus on helping my students enjoy themselves during class and understand tough philosophical concepts or complex narratives…and friends, this has paid off. 

I have made space for things that matter to me and have lessened my burdens. I don’t know if this blog post might actually help anyone, but this approach has really helped me. I feel lighter and less anxious about all the things that used to burden me. I feel like I have made the decisions that work best for me and I feel incredibly content and free!

How to Read Borges

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I remember the first time I came across a Jorge Luis Borges short story. I was fifteen years old and, for many years, I had refused to read literature in Spanish. Growing up bilingual (and having more access to the Spanish language), I thought that my American Lit courses in high school were far more interesting than my Spanish Lit classes, but there was something about Borges that just made me fall in love with the Spanish language. He assembled stories in such a specific way that I couldn’t help myself from becoming mesmerized by his writing.

The short story was far shorter than any other short story I had ever read. “Borges y yo” featured a conversation between the narrative Borges and the real Borges. This encounter between the two selves of Borges opened my eyes to the richness and beauty of modern literature.

Fast-forward a decade and so much has changed! I have a PhD minor in Latin American literature, have taught Borges to undergrads a number of times, presented academic papers on his short stories, and have reread his works hundreds of times, including the story, “Borges y yo”, that introduced me to his literary repertoire.

However, I don’t think I’ve ever figured out a way to read Borgesian literature. His literature is so strange, confusing, and jarring at times, yet its allure will always capture my attention. I want to explore the ways in which we can approach his short stories, for better or for worse:

  1. Obsessions: Borges is obsessed with the same number of artifacts that make an appearance in his literary works over and over again: Mirrors, Reflections, Tigers, Secret Societies, Libraries, Mazes, Labyrinths, Encyclopedias, and so on. As a scholar, I have fallen in love with these same artifacts and will forever be indebted to Borges. When you start to read Borges, you need to understand that the philosophical reflections on these objects have to do with Borges’s own perception of the world.
  2. Detective Stories: I was inspired to write this post due to the fact that I’m teaching a Global Detectives course this semester. Borges was obsessed with detective stories. From Edgar Allan Poe’s Inspector Dupin to GK Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries, he identified the fact that the world is a philosophical mystery. However, his criticism is that, unlike Dupin and Poirot, there is no real solution to the mystery. In fact, perhaps the mystery is better left unsolved.
  3. Combination of Literary Forms: Borges writes in such a specific way. His writing style obviously ranges from his beginnings as an avant garde poet to a successful fiction writer. His short stories may read like academic essays, his academic essays can be read as fiction and his prose style is definitely poetic. As soon as you identify these common threads, you have a distinct connection to his writing style.
  4. Philosophy: Borges was an avid reader and he seemed to favor German and American philosophy. With allusions to Martin Heidegger and John Dunne, Borges delved into ideas of time, dreams, and being throughout his literary works.

This isn’t meant to be an in-depth guide for Borges, but rather a way to identify what makes his fiction so peculiar. How does he manage to evoke such complex feelings? What is the recipe for his literature? What changes do we perceive in his speculative fiction that don’t show up in our world?

These all may be rhetorical questions, but after many years of studying Borges, I still don’t have a one-sentence answer to any of them. Borges, as an author, exploits the Spanish language in such a concise complex way…and, perhaps, that’s the shortest answer I could ever give you.

 

The Importance of Latin

A couple of years ago, I embarked on my ancient language requirement journey. I had, for some dumb reason, decided that Latin would be an easy language to master….I was wrong.

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Latin is a ridiculously complex language. Knowing that, you get to learn so much about your own native language (s). Latin grammar changed the way I looked at the world. I started drawing connections between Latin and English and Spanish and all the other languages I know… and it was quite the adventure.

My question is…why doesn’t anyone learn Latin anymore?

Sure, some Catholics make somewhat of an effort to learn Latin, but it’s still Ecclesiastical Latin (different from Classical Latin) and some just learn the Agnus Dei and the Sanctus. No one picks up a nice Latin textbook anymore. Why?

As a modern language learner, the process of learning Latin was actually quite difficult. It was an entirely different structure. Because Latin is, well, dead, I had to memorize a significant amount of paradigms and take a look at things from a different perspective. Latin shifted the way my brain works. It allowed me to truly break the boundaries of language in ways that I had never imagined.

Perhaps that sounds a little ambiguous. However, it is the closest description to how it felt to approach a dead language like this. For the meantime, I have been trying to pick up Ancient Greek (without much success)…but my heart will always have Latin. ❤

 

 

Grad School Problems: Rejection

I grew up in a small town where I was a big fish in a small pond. I went to a private school, applied and got accepted into my top choice schools. I went to college, applied to grad school straight from undergrad, got accepted to all the schools I was interested in, and graduated Magna cum Laude.

Nonetheless, the second I walked into graduate school I realized that rejection would soon become my new way of life.

In an academic job market that continues to shrink, I decided to pursue a PhD.  My courses were extremely intense and I had to work harder than I ever had to. I have always been fine with this, but graduate school becomes less and less fun when you are also trying to juggle multiple things at the same time such as applying to a billion grants, teaching positions, conferences, fellowships, spots in journal articles, extra funding, and “real” jobs. I quickly realized just how difficult it was to accept rejection…and it still is.

I won’t lie accepting rejection as a part of your job is beyond difficult. There is nothing like that feeling of wanting something so badly and then having to face the fact that there was a better candidate out there. Some people are lucky enough to never know what it is like to be on the side of rejection, but most of us do. I wish I could say I have mastered rejection, but I still have not. Four years in grad school and rejection continues to make me feel incompetent. However, there are a number of things you learn from rejection:

  1. It’s not you, it’s them: Sure, this seems like something your friend tells you after your boyfriend breaks up with you, but it’s true. Sometimes committees have a hard time expressing what they want exactly. I have encountered this in a number of conference descriptions. Academics sometimes think that they’re being clear, but a lot of times they’re not.
  2. Seek help:This one should be obvious, but it’s not for some. Ask your advisor, a friend you trust, the Writing Center, the neighbor, your cat…just a s k. This is extremely helpful and does not waste your time or the committee evaluating your application. I also recommend asking the committee about any questions you may have! They are always more than happy to respond.
  3. Reject Impostor Syndrome: It is so hard to recognize that you are actually quite capable of fulfilling your goals, but I have learned to (try to) reject impostor syndrome. You are in graduate school!! They chose YOU out of hundreds of applicants. The professors in your department believe in you!
  4. Get over it (???): You might be thinking, Hmm…okay, Patricia. That’s not helpful advice, but, trust me! The sooner you accept your rejection, the sooner you’ll get over it! Of course, it sounds a lot easier than it it, but it is quite possible

While this may not have been the most optimistic post about graduate school, it should serve as an indication to the current struggles of academia. With Humanities departments closing all over the country, the threat of the end of abstract thought seems near. Nonetheless, I still see the efforts of extremely qualified graduate students across all departments in the College of Letters and Sciences. My friends and acquaintances work incredibly hard in their courses and their dissertations. It makes me incredibly sad to see them apply for these jobs that they are incredibly qualified for and get rejected over and over again.

There doesn’t seem to be a good outlook on the future of the Humanities, but…for now, I relish in my work, try to enjoy it and tell myself, “It’s not you, it’s them”

Les Cinq Petites Choses #3

knew I would miss a Friday (or two), but this is the latest when it comes down to the five little things this week.

#1. It was about time the weather changed. I have been waking up to crisp Fall Weather while the leaves are turning right outside my window. I am so excited to wear a few of my favorite scarves. I love pashmina scarves ! I get mine from amazon and they’re so worth it: warm, fashionable, and awesome !

#2 I have been going to a Dissertator Group on campus where we meet weekly to talk about our writing struggles and spend three hours working hard on our dissertations ! I love being able to take some time to grab a cup of coffee, focus on my writing and my research. Grad school is a tough balancing act, but it is achievable with fellow grad schoolers who keep you accountable for your own goals.

#3. Lin Manuel Miranda, the famous writer and star of the award-winning play, Hamilton, gathered every single famous Latinx star (from Despacito’s Luis Fonsi to West Side Story‘s Rita Moreno) to sing in his new song, “Almost Like Praying”. Miranda’s song proceeds will go towards disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico through the Hispanic Federation. Listen to it on Spotify or download it from iTunes !

#4 I like to catch colds before they hit. I love drinking Traditional medicinal teas for this. For your immune system, I definitely recommend Echinacea Plus with Elderberry. Try it and you won’t regret it !

#5.  This past week my boyfriend’s parents took us out to his favorite (and what is soon becoming my favorite) steakhouse, Ruth Chris Steakhouse. I love their petite filet with shrimp and a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon or some Spanish Rioja.

The Perils of Teaching

As a graduate student, I  have to get to teach every semester in order to afford tuition costs and, well, living costs. However, teaching is not all it has been made out to be. I have been teaching a combination of college level courses for years. From Literature to Religious Studies to Jewish Studies, I have been working hard at getting students to engage with texts and better their writing skills.

Unfortunately, composition does not come easily to most students. For some reason, High School English teachers have been completely focused on getting the students to engage with awkward opening lines or weird paragraph structures. This means I receive a ridiculous amount of emails with questions such as How many sentences should each paragraph have? Do I need to cite? Is this really vague thesis statement okay?

Don’t get me wrong…as far as jobs go, I love mine ! I love being able to engage with students and teach them about all series of topics. I work hard and I get results, but teaching can be a dangerous, treacherous journey. The perils of teaching are the following:

  1. Spending too much time lesson planning: If I didn’t stop myself, I would spend three hours researching and working on the THE best lesson plan. However, I know that I need to have my priorities set straight. I have to work on my dissertation, other jobs, and my mental health !
  2. Lack of Organization: I have so many friends (and even some professors) who find it hard to structure fifty minutes worth of discussion. I recommend structuring things in ten to twenty minute blocks and leaving some extra time for discussion. Organizing your syllabus and scheduling your reading/grading time are also the key to success.
  3. Boundaries: When I first started teaching, I was very flexible when it came down to extending deadlines, absences, and answering emails at all times. It wasn’t until my second year of teaching when I FINALLY put down an email policy on my syllabus and it has helped a lot. I highly recommend including any kind of policy you deem important on your syllabus. I have grading, email, electronic, and participation policies. This helps establish boundaries from day ONE and it helps you manage your time wisely.
  4. Dress Codes: As a woman of color, I have not one, but two things against me. Some students tend to undermine my authority and I have a hard time dealing with that. However, I establish a professional relationship on the first day of class with my demeanor, but also with the way I dress. Dressing up to teach can be fun and it definitely does not have to be boring. I love choosing fun colorful heels, long necklaces, and fun dresses. If Jess from New Girl can do it, anyone can !

PS. I do NOT recommend standing on top of your desk !

Alas ! There are many more perils to teaching, but I hope that my struggles can help a fellow teacher of any sort.

Broken

After Hurricane María devastated the island of Puerto Rico, I was left speechless, shocked, and broken. There are no words to describe how awful it felt to not have any information on the state that the island was left for hours on end, how horrifying it was to not be able to communicate with my family for days, how helpless it felt to not be able to drive home to meet my parents for a hug and a home-cooked meal or how inefficient I have felt wanting to help out my tiny little country and not being able to…

As a child, I remember not knowing much about hurricanes. We covered them in History class briefly and learned about “hurricane season”,  but I never had a real understanding of them until I experienced one myself. I was merely six when Hurricane Georges, a category three storm, passed through the island. My parents moved their giant mattress to the center of the house and they built a fort for my sister and me. Through the scariest winds and thunder, my mom and dad made sure that we were loved, comforted, and cared for. There was not a joke or a game in sight that my parents spared just to make us feel safe.

It breaks my heart that I was not able to be there with them trying to make it through the day, playing with their pets, and knowing that we were all safe.

Art Credit: The Mommy Lifestyle

I feel lost and broken unable to be with my loved ones. Thankfully, I am not alone. I have received countless messages, prayers and thoughts during this tough time. This unsurmountable amount of love and care that I wish I could immediately pass off to my island, but I unfortunately cannot.

Unfortunately, Puerto Rico is not receiving the help it so desperately needs. There are towns (including my hometown) that completely flooded, there are thousands of refugees without a home, and there is SO much left to do. If you feel inclined to do something, feel free to donate to any of these organizations:

📣 Fondos Unidos de Puerto Rico: http://www.fondosunidos.org/
📣Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico: https://www.fcpr.org/
📣ConPRmetidos: http://www.conprmetidos.org/

OR call Congress or the White House and let them know that Puerto Rico needs our help. The lives of 3.5 million American citizens are at stake. Living without power or running water for months on end should not be an option.

For some heartbreaking images of Puerto Rico, click here.