On Forgetting and Trauma

[Trigger Warning: Violence and Sexual Assault]

For those of you who have been reading my blog for nearly four years, you may know that its content is mostly lighthearted and optimistic (with very few exceptions). Today though I felt the need to write about my research. Some of you may not know that my literary and theoretical specialization is on memory and trauma studies.

My dissertation is a cross-examination of Videla and Pinochet’s dictatorship and the concentration camp experience in Western and Eastern Europe. The main question, however, that has always been of interest to me is how/what we remember and how/what we forget. Trauma affects memory far more than we like to think. Does that mean that what survivors and victims forget should be deemed more important than what they remember?

“In order to remember one must have forgotten; the forgotten is always an integral part of memory,” cultural theorist, Gunnthorunn Gudmundsdóttir, emphasizes in her last book, Representations of Forgetting in Life, Writing and Fiction. Gudmunsdóttir is speaking from the perspective of the repetitive nature of memory. Memory is indeed shaped by forgetting. Our memory creates a series of gaps for a reason. The hippocampus, which is the center of emotion, memory and the autonomic nervous system of our brain, allows us to remember based on emotions. What trauma victims forget is not the wound inflicted, but the details surrounding it.

From all the testimonies I’ve read, one thing has always struck me, victims shape their stories around a significant episode in their lives. For the Argentine women who were viciously raped by officers, it was the names these officers called them whilst being raped. For the Holocaust survivors, it was the witty story they said to the Nazi SS guard before entering the camps or the smell of burnt flesh as they spent hours working outside. Each event was shaped by a sensorial and emotional experience.

Holocaust survivors have forgotten the fact that there was a music band in Auschwitz.

Holocaust survivors have forgotten the specific details of conversations they had between prisoners or guards.

Argentine and Chilean survivors have forgotten the details of the games they played in detention centers in order to pass time.

None of these victims forget the truth, the real truth: the fact that inhumane and atrocious acts were committed against them.

Non-victims though want to forget.

Amnesia and Amnesty are closely intertwined etymologically from the Ancient Greek,  ἀμνηστία and ἀμνησία (a-mneme= to not remember). While a political power gives amnesty to perpetrators, they encourage the collective forgetting of crimes against humanity. They encourage us that because victims did not “fully remember”, we can completely forget.

In today’s world where some of us choose to not listen to the testimonies of victims, we must not fall into a collective amnesia where we forget the crimes committed against survivors. We must believe survivors. We must believe their words, their experiences, and their honest attempts at recollecting such traumatic events.

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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.

 

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.

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 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.