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.

 

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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. ❤

 

 

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.

Les Cinq Petites Choses #2

It has been a very difficult week for me due to Hurricane María’s devastation in Puerto Rico. However, there are some things I am grateful for.

1. I had cut back on caffeine this past Summer, but being away from my family during this difficult time has left me sleepless this entire week. Thankfully Mayan Super Dark from Just Coffee Cooperative has been a life saver this week. I love getting up in the morning and making a fresh cup of coffee.


2. Being informed has been the most important thing for me this week. I am grateful for facebook groups, American media, and Zello (the app).

3. When I’m under a lot of pressure, I definitely like indulging in some calligraphy. I love the perfect symmetry of lettering and the various combinations of it. Pinterest is my favorite place to find calligraphy inspo. Here is my latest work. 

4. I was in need of a lot of distractions from the natural disaster in Puerto Rico. I loved spending hours on end with my partner’s roommates watching The Great British Bake Off. I highly recommend this mindless and incredibly polite cooking show.

5. Amongst other set of distractions, I LOVE podcasts. My favorite podcast at the moment is The Tolkien Heads. The hosts are graduate students who specialize in historical linguistics, lyricism, Tolkien, and landscapes.

Les Cinq Petites Choses

After being done with some major grad school achievements, I want to do some creative work on my blog. As you know, I started this blog as an outlet for my rambling thoughts, encounters with Midwestern culture, and my life in graduate school. I have mostly been posting intermittently since 2015, but I think this blog deserves a little more than that. Keep an eye out for more posts about academia, literature, and life in the Midwest.

Inspired by Daphné from Mode and the City, I have decided to capture my five favorite little things of the week.

#1. I have been reading an incredible book related to my research (and dissertation).  La mémoire, l’histoire, l’oubli (Memory, History, Forgetting)  by Paul Ricoeur is an incredible philosophical and intellectual masterpiece that discovers and rediscovers the human understanding of memory.

 

#2. I have been listening to the Fleet foxes since I was in college. I absolutely love their last album, Crackup. I got an amazing deal on Amazon Prime Day for a autographed vinyl version of the album this past Summer and I still love listening to it on my Crosley record player.

#3. Last Summer, one of my friends took me to his favorite local tea shop and since then I have been hooked on tea, specifically matcha. I love making iced matcha almond milk lattes with a little bit of honey or some matcha lemonade inspired by Macha Tea Company.

#4. As a kid, I loved the back to school season because it meant new pens, notebooks, and highlighters. While I’ve outgrown this a little bit (possibly because I’m in my 392813901th year of school), I still love beautiful Moleskine notebooks that are perfect to jot down ideas and my to do lists (à la bullet journal).

#5. I love visiting friends so it was an incredible opportunity that I got to visit my friend, Julia, in Ann Arbor. On our first night there, she took us to Detroit Filling Station, an awesome vegan restaurant. I had the tofu Bahn Mi with a side of purple cabbage and it was so delicious.

 

 

Crisp Fall Weather

After finishing my preliminary examinations, passing my oral defense and finally acquiring dissertator status (YAY!), I can finally enjoy some time to reflect on what is to come. As a child, I was always been fascinated by Fall. However, growing up on a tropical island really did not allow me to experience the majestic beauty of Autumn.  I used to watch scenes of movies set in New York and envy the characters’ outfits, warm beverages and point de vue. All of that changed until I moved to the Midwest in 2013 (can’t believe it’s been that long!).

Red, orange, yellow leaves falling on a cool Autumn Day…

I absolutely adore Fall in Madison. I love strolling down the Farmers’ Market and all the produce—cranberries, apples, pumpkins, squash…every single item makes me so happy!

Here are a few of my favorite Fall Things To Do in Wisconsin:

  1. Farmers’ Market: We have the best Farmers’ Market in the Midwest (maybe even the country…ok, ok…maybe not). Our FM is right on Capitol Square, which is already a beautifully constructed building. There are so many options in terms of produce, pastries, and local, organic items. I definitely recommend the Dane County’s Farmers’ Market to anyone.                                              
  2. Arboretum:love the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Arboretum during the Fall. It is so breezy, calm and relaxed. Visiting this part of campus is definitely one of my favorite Fall activities and I wouldn’t change it for anything. If you have an arboretum nearby, you should definitely visit it before the leaves fall off.
  3. Corn Mazes, Hay Rides, and Pumpkin Patches:love going to Treinen Farm or Mayr Farm every year. There’s nothing quite like getting lost in a corn maze with friends, riding in a horse drawn carriage through the beautiful scenery and reaching the best pumpkin patches in the land. I still cannot believe I get to do this every year surrounded by great friends who have turned into my own little family.
  4. Pumpkin Carving: I always have a blast carving pumpkins with my friends. Everyone tends to get really creative and we just have a great time lighting our pumpkins and taking great pics while we have hot beverages.
  5. Halloween: While I have never been great at choosing a Halloween costume, I have always loved the idea of creative costumes and spending time with friends.

Enfin, I love Autumn and all of its little details. What is your favorite Fall activity?

PS. I have a couple more blog posts lined up for you! Hope you enjoy my Fall recs.

Summer 2017

Hello!

It’s been a while. It always surprises me how tougher graduate school gets. I just finished my preliminary doctoral examinations (six weeks of pure hell, three (two-page length) questions, 80 pages worth of essays, and zero relaxation time). Alas, I am done with the writing portion and am anxiously waiting for my oral defense. Summer this year, like many other years, will consist on taking in Madison: more kickball, yoga, sunset viewings, reading for fun, beer tasting, research, writing my dissertation proposal, academic meetings, and knowing that my Summers here are limited.

I cannot wait to see what my next adventure will look like. Right now my life revolves around my dissertation, my research, and self care. Until next time!IMG_3631.jpg

The Problem with Latinx Representation

Last year, I got really into Jane the Virgin. It was originally a Venezuelan telenovela, Juana la virgen, that my mother never really watched, but my grandmother (Mami) really loved. Mami would rave about it all the time about how Mauricio (Rafael’s Venezuelan counterpart) and Juana were meant to be together. I, quite honestly, was never intrigued by any telenovela…Juana la virgen was no exception to that.

However, when I gave Jane the Virgin a chance, I fell in love. Jane the Virgin is truly a brilliant TV show with amazing writers. The TV series stars Jane, a young celibate college student, on her way to big and better things. She lives with her Catholic Abuela Alba, played by Ivonne Coll, who taught her about the importance of waiting until marriage.

What truly interests me about the show is how incredible its depiction of Latinx culture is. They make fun of the ridiculousness behind telenovela plotlines through Rogelio without unknowingly alienating the audience. Plenty of heritage speakers applauded the TV show’s daring move to have Abuela speaking Spanish basically all the time. Nonetheless, I have a problem with certain aspects of the show…as nothing can truly be perfect.

For instance, Ivonne Coll is a Puerto Rican actress playing a Venezuelan woman. Yes, Abuela is Venezuelan and that’s pretty amazing, but her Spanish dialect should be Venezuelan. From its pilot, I was able to quickly identity Coll’s accent and swift use of Puerto Rican colloquialisms i.e. bizcocho (cake), hombre, no! (No way!), etc…

Hollywood has gotten away with this many, many times. In the Netflix original series, Narcos, the main character, Pablo Escobar, is played by a Brazilian man….a Brazilian man, Warner Moura. This would not be such a big deal except for the fact that he keeps his Brazilian accent while he’s interpreting the role of a Colombian man. What makes matters worse is the fact that they hired Paulina Gaitán (Mexican), Luis Guzmán (Puerto Rican), and André Mattos (Brazilian) to play Colombians and they all speak in their respective dialects.

In the case of Jane the Virgin, I understand that the showrunners wanted to write a storyline specifically designated for immigration laws in the United States meaning Ivonne Coll would not have been able to play a Puerto Rican…because, you know, Puerto Ricans are not immigrants. Still, they should have had Coll do a Venezuelan accent or reduce the number of colloquialisms that do not correspond to the Venezuelan dialect. It is truly disturbing to see the flashback scenes with a younger Alba who distinctly speaks in a Central American dialect in contrast to Alba’s lively Caribbean Spanish.

How would you feel, as an English speaker, to have a British man play an American man while he spoke in the typical Brit dialect?

I want Hollywood to break the Latinx amalgamation that exists in the United States of America.  We are Latinxs, yes, but we all have our obvious differences. We are Cuban, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Colombian, Chilean, and we are proud of our heritage. We’re more than Latinxs. We are strong and lively people. We love to be represented onscreen. We just want more.