archival work: like a virgin

Peeking into this blog to write some about my first archival trip to France.

As a student of early music, it doesn’t take long before one is confronted with the mysterious world of archives. It begins by references to them in secondary literature, footnotes full of mysterious document numbers. Then one finds oneself asking questions that only the archive can answer. Learning how to get from that point to actually sitting down in a reading room in Europe is a massive learning curve in and of itself (which I’ve already written about). So I learned how to find French archive inventories, I made a travel plan, got a place to stay, bought a plane ticket, and ended up in a small town in the middle of France. I didn’t know anything. I had one call number of one document and a small <i>Guide des Archives</i> with general inventory information. I spent the better part of two weeks calling dossier after dossier, never quite knowing what I going to get. Sometimes it would be massive sheets of vellum with nearly illegible church fondations. Sometimes it would be scraps of paper from the 17th c with one 15th c document thrown in for good measure. I sat in the reading room of the archive, surrounded by grumpy old, white, male French scholars, or an old couple coming in to look up genealogical information.

Everything about the experience felt like a mystifying rite of passage. While the archivists were very helpful and friendly, sometimes I didn’t know what to do. It took me a few days before I realized how to call up a document; the first day, they just brought me stuff, and then later they explained how to call up things. And then later they explained how I’d have to look at this one series in a separate office. And then my crappy French speaking skills made every interaction all the more fraught. Just getting out the door, to the archive and back, finding meals–all of these, the simply daily things–made every day feel like an Everest. (though, to my credit, my comprehension skills improved dramatically while I was there.) I have traveled some in my college years, but I’m not a highly experienced world traveler.

I didn’t find anything awesome in the archives. I didn’t expect to, but there was a part of me half-hoping that I’d find another document with Ockeghem in it. I enjoyed the actual work of looking through pile after pile of document. When I was in work mode, the rest of the frustrating life was shut out. I was in my own world. I actually listened to some music on headphones, to block out the noisy silence or the French chitchat that would waft over to me, finding myself less capable of tuning out the language sounds I was less accustomed to hearing. Having the music on helped to create a more familiar work space (especially since I have a sort of general “worky” playlist that already felt familiar).

As I neared the end of the list of relevant documents, I realized that there wasn’t going to be anything of major awesomeness to musicologists. It was disappointing a little. I have some good things and interesting things, to be sure. But nothing that will make me famous. This is okay. And probably more realistic. The archive did have a good library, which I made use of, and as I began reading secondary literature, for the first time in weeks, I began to be able to truly see how archival documents undergird historical writing. It is something I’ve known in the abstract for a long time, but never have quite seen until now. It is kind of an emotional experience—of vulnerability, of awe—understanding with new reverence what it means to write history.


Keeping on

So much has happened in the last several months. I don’t know where to begin even. Just Stuff that Academics will Inevitably Deal with in Universities. Nothing big. Annoying, heartbreaking at times, frustrating at others, occasionally wonderful. It’s the punctuated moments of Awesome that remind me why I get in and stay and give me the strength to push through the Not Awesome.

I did finish coursework, though, and that’s huge. Now I’m preparing for qualifying exams, my dissertation proposal, a publication, a conference paper…

It is helpful for me to write in a blog format, though. Because it’s like a conversation, and sometimes I just need to talk it out. But I don’t feel like I can do this publicly anymore. That’s not say I’m completely abandoning this blog. I think there important things that need to be said about the process of being a parent and a grad student, for instance.

I’ve started a private blog for the dissertation process. As a private blog, it’s invite-only; and I’m happy to invite anyone as a reader, though, I can’t pretend that it’ll be terribly riveting. But it’s a useful place for me to pool, categorize, and tag resources, thoughts/brainstorms, and reading notes in a place that’s searchable. This is especially helpful as I balance two projects on vastly different topics and methodologies.  One thing I’ve been struggling with over the last year is how to organize my stuff. So far, the blog format seems to be a really good solution for me.


Rivers know this

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” —Winnie-the-Pooh

Over the past several months I’ve drafted and deleted several posts, most of them mental posts. And I delete them, because they feel lame. But I think that I will write it down, because I think it will be cathartic and stop impeding my productivity if I do.

I’ve come to the realization that my life as a graduate student has to develop through a natural order of things and that I just have to go through the stages in order. Much like all people, in order to learn to write, no matter how old they are, have to go through certain development of scribble techniques. (There’s a very interesting book about that, by the way.)

So this is where I am: you know how three and four-year-olds want to do things but they can’t quite really, but they almost can? Like pouring some orange juice for instance: my 4yo can get a cup out of his drawer, go to the fridge, get out the orange juice, attempt to pour his own juice, put the juice back in the fridge, and drink his juice. If this is all done successfully, he feels a great sense of accomplishment; however, if not everything is in the right place, his task is impeded. His success is dependent on their being clean cups in the kids’ dishes drawer that he can reach. Also if the juice is too full, it will likely result in spillage, and sad frustration. He is a pendulum of exuberance and despair.

And that is where I am. Sometimes, what I do works; it’s exhilarating. Most of the time, I’m grasping for an independence that is so close, yet so far. On the one hand, I want to feel more confident as a well-functioning adult in her mid-30’s, mother of two. On the other, I realize that there is so much to know before I can start drawing lines between, that I feel like a child. These discordances are disconcerting.


How do I know that what I’m doing is valuable? Or that I’m on track? There are plenty of people to tell you when you’re wrong or off track. Why should I care to know? Is it a “girl” thing? I start using the details of my life as measures of value: conference acceptance? plus one. Not funded? take away…a lot. Even if I know that these things are far more complicated than just measures of value. The thing is that *I* value what I’m doing, so I want to feel valued. But it’s all so arbitrary and unmeasurable.

I wonder, staring at the lacuna of What There is Yet to Know, how I can make a contribution.

I’m sorry for the self-obsessiveness. What I usually do, and what I will do when I finish this post, is just get to work. Because someday, pouring the juice will not be an occasion for triumph or despair, but will just be something I’m confident that I can do and won’t think anything of it.

growing pains

The Garden of my mind is growing a lot, right now. But difficult growing. Growing that takes a lot of work and is hard to measure. When you work out at the gym, you feel and see your body getting more fit. But when you grow your mind, you can’t see it with the same tangibility. I’m tired. But a good tired.

My feminism class is just what I needed. I’m reading the range of literature I need to read, and I’m learning how to articulate things I’ve sensed. And I’m starting to see ways that will what I’m learning there will be relevant to my musicological work. A very fruitful time.

I made another push on the Deaf music paper.

And I’m even making progress on Operation Dissertation Topic. I heart my advisor who has devoted several hours over the last couple of weeks helping me through this. Seriously. All the grad school self-help books are right when they say, get thee a good advisor.

All that to say, this blog is a bit boring. I’m holding back a little. Feeling private about how my mind is developing. Almost like when finding out I’m pregnant, I need to hold that information back a bit and ponder it.

Year 2

About three weeks ago, I started year two of my program. I’m so tired I hardly know what to post.

I’m not teaching this year. Just TAing. I was a little sad about that. But, honestly, I’m so glad to not have preps this year and can really focus on my two seminars and preparing a couple of articles.

My work is challenging me a lot. Field work is a brand new research tool for me. I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate what I’ve learned from the trips I’ve made to meet with these Deaf musicians into a scholarly article. And I’m reading stuff that is blowing my mind…phenomenology of sound!?

And I’m still trying to figure out a dissertation topic. And keep getting faced with disappointments about work I’m interested in or have already invested in in my primary field of Who the Hell Cares.

And that is the state of the union at the moment.

a day in Eyeth

There’s a legendary world in Deaf culture lore. It’s like Earth but it’s for people of the eye, so they call it Eyeth. (get it? EARth, EYEth) In this world, people listen with their eyes with the comfort of being normal, typical, just the way life is, unlike the heavily mediated existence of a Deaf person on Earth. Mediated through hearing devices, pads of paper, interpreters, lip reading, gestures.

I got a small peek into what Eyeth might look like last weekend. I jetted down to Louisville, KY at an unearthly hour in the morning on Saturday. When I got there, the biennial meeting of the National Association of the Deaf was wrapping its week-long meeting and they were launching DeaFestival, a day of arts and fun. My goal was to catch as much music and time with musicians as possible, especially with the Deaf rock band Beethoven’s Nightmare.

When I stepped across the crosswalk of the streets bordering the convention center, I crossed the threshold into a Deaf world. Everyone around me was signing. Every restaurant in the vicinity had a pad of paper on its counter, a few brave servers had learned some signs. I have been in Deaf environments before, like at the Deaf school. But this was different, like a small town, adults conducting business in ASL. There were interpreters and CART at all the events, but it was very much a Deaf majority.

At first I was a little worried. I have a hard time meeting new Deaf adults. As everyone has their own voice, everyone has a unique way they sign, and my receptive skills take a little while to adapt to a new person. Once I got into the groove, though, I found myself able to understand more and more, many different people and many different signing. And my job for the day was listening (LISTEN-EYES in ASL).

A break in the afternoon allowed me to approach the drummer of the band, “let’s talk.” He says “Ok.” And I’m whisked into a conversation about music with total strangers. He pauses in the middle “Are you getting this?” Just barely. A woman about my age said she’s never liked music, she never understood it, and it wasn’t fun to try to lip-read bands. Her friend said, “oh, you need to learn how to feel it. I love music! It’s like a drug!” She’s open to being convinced.

All afternoon I’m whisked around the vendor booths of the NAD meeting, following drummer guy who often introduces me to random Deaf people whom he may or may not know. Another woman was “forced” to take music classes in her mainstream education. (A mainstream education is something to be pitied in Deaf culture.) Many Deaf people haven’t had opportunities to experience music so it is nothing; others love it and over and over again I heard “Once you connect what you’re feeling with what’s going on on-stage, it’s amazing!” After a few hours I was exhausted, had an unanswered list of questions, but had met more Deaf adults than I ever had in one place and learned more about drummer guy (including the fact that he does not ever stop).

So I turned to the bass player, “let’s talk.” We sit down. It was 104 degrees under the tent. He tells me again how much they want to reach out to their Deaf culture with music. He said that things have changed more recently for Deaf culture. I assumed he meant post-Gallaudet protest of 1988. But he said, “No, since Obama.” This surprised me. I asked him if it was the captioning law Obama had passed, and he said, no, that now there is a greater sense of acceptance for Deaf people since Obama. I found it interesting how strongly he felt about Obama that he would put so much strength in this tide of change. Bass player also teaches in a Deaf school. He has middle and high school students and is experimenting with teaching them how to feel different sounds. Like “ear training” for the hands.

There are many more stories, but you’ll have to wait for the article. Much more to process.


Why Women still Can’t Have it all

I’m digesting this article in the Atlantic: “Why women still can’t have it all” by Anne-Marie Slaughter

It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change.

The Half-truths we hold dear:

Myth 1: It’s possible if you’re committed enough.

Um, no.

Myth 2: It’s possible if you marry the right mate.

Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them. In my experience, that is simply not the case.

In sum, having a supportive mate may well be a necessary condition if women are to have it all, but it is not sufficient. If women feel deeply that turning down a promotion that would involve more travel, for instance, is the right thing to do, then they will continue to do that. Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family. If we really valued those choices, we would value the people who make them; if we valued the people who make them, we would do everything possible to hire and retain them; if we did everything possible to allow them to combine work and family equally over time, then the choices would get a lot easier.

Myth 3: It’s possible if you sequence it right.

This is the “women can have it all…just not all at once” myth. I suppose, this is also how I’m negotiating my personal career schedule. It used to be that women had their families earlier and were more available to begin their career by their early 40s, now not so much. And it’s more common for women now to have their kids in their 30s. I had mine when I was 27 and 30yo.

But the truth is, neither sequence is optimal, and both involve trade-offs that men do not have to make.

Then the author offers suggestions for how things should change such that it would be easier for women to stay in the workforce.

1 – Changing the Culture of Face Time

The culture of “time macho”—a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you—remains astonishingly prevalent among professionals today.

Slaughter talks about how technology can allow professionals (men and women) more flexibility with actual location. And that a culture of “family first” and valuing time management and prioritization creates a more balanced, healthier workforce. Not just for women, for everyone.

My husband and I essentially both work from home. Though, I go to campus from time to time in the summer and a couple days a week during the school year. It’s still not easy. And definitely much harder when kids are very young. But it is doable. The key is making boundaries for oneself in the home, too. It’s easy to get sucked into a constant buzz of work.

2 – Revaluing Family Values

Many people in positions of power seem to place a low value on child care in comparison with other outside activities.

…such as running a marathon, or religious practices. The implicit assumptions in society devalue childcare.

I have to wonder why this is? Is it because of its association with women? and women are devalued?

3 – Redefining the Arc of the successful career.

Along the way, women should think about the climb to leadership not in terms of a straight upward slope, but as irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips) when they turn down promotions to remain in a job that works for their family situation; when they leave high-powered jobs and spend a year or two at home on a reduced schedule; or when they step off a conventional professional track to take a consulting position or project-based work for a number of years. I think of these plateaus as “investment intervals.”

I like this.

Whether women will really have the confidence to stair-step their careers, however, will again depend in part on perceptions. Slowing down the rate of promotions, taking time out periodically, pursuing an alternative path during crucial parenting or parent-care years—all have to become more visible and more noticeably accepted as a pause rather than an opt-out.

4 – Rediscovering the Pursuit of Happiness

what’s more happy: working by yourself in a dark, lonely office? or raising happy, kind, productive children to adulthood?


5 – Innovation Nation

Giving workers the ability to integrate their non-work lives with their work—whether they spend that time mothering or marathoning—will open the door to a much wider range of influences and ideas.

6 – Enlisting Men

More Gen X and Y men are looking for better family balance, too.

My husband is a huge champion of  “family first.” Over the years, he’s made many calculated decisions to not pursue certain opportunities (even as recently as last week) because of the toll it would take on our family. There are certain sacrifices he insists our kids should not have to make for the sake of a dollar amount so long as our needs are met. And we are less financially well off because of it. And our kids our better off because of it.

But this article really is about women, who at the end of the day still are at a greater disadvantage…

If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate ourchoices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us.

I thought this was a fantastic article. Really outlines well the problems and the needs of our society to change. Glad I took some time to summarize it here.

Dear Abby, Love Confused

I’m confused about my career. (Welcome to academia, please join every other graduate student on the bench.)

I have two areas of specialization right now: Who the Hell Cares is my primary field and Change the World is my secondary field. This is how they end up being caricatured in my brain. The answer to Who the Hell Cares is easy enough, I do. I’m sure it’s something every medievalist faces at some point. Change the World is seeing the most action right now. I’m presenting, researching, writing about Change the World. I’m not sure what’s happening with Change the World, it’s a crazy ride that I can’t quite control yet. I keep trying to set it aside so that I can focus on Who the Hell Cares, but like I said, I am currently being swept along on the current of Change the World, and I’m digging around in the boat for the oars. This topic is happening to me. It is not a topic that “I’m pursuing.” I’m starting to wonder what I’m supposed to do with it. Should I throw in all my energy and focus on Change the World?

The problem is, I actually really do love Who the Hell Cares. It’s been the focus of my work, interests, and energies for almost fifteen years. Unfortunately, my hiatus tripped up my momentum, and I’ve been trying to stand back up in this field ever since. I had hoped to regain my footing over this past year, but Change the World kept getting in the way. And now what I had hoped to be my dissertation topic probably won’t be a possibility, leaving me even more afloat. Who the Hell Cares has been my dream, has been what got me back into grad school. The faculty/advising situation in my department is a dream team for Who the Hell Cares; nonexistent for Change the World.

On the one hand, I shouldn’t have to panic about what to specialize in so early in my graduate career. On the other, I do. I need to get funding for things. I need to write a dissertation, get a job. It’s different for grad students these days–there’s not a lot of time for letting things simmer. I think of my dissertation as the opportunity to gain skills and begin networking my academic community. I’m more interested in making that investment into Who the Hell Cares.

Change the World is taking me so far outside of my comfort zone that i don’t even know what’s going on. And, to be honest, I think I’m more employable if Who the Hell Cares is my primary field, because I’ll be able to teach the canon, with Change the World providing some nice side show electives. If I were to specialize in Change the World, the kinds of places I could get a job may be places with hyper-specialized study centers.

So what do I write my dissertation on? And how do I tame the wild ride that is Change the World?


The other story I wanted to share from This American Life is the recently rebroadcast of a 2005 Father’s Day special, Go Ask Your Father.

The first major story is about a man named Lenny who finds out that he was conceived through artificial insemination when it was just in the earliest phases of development. Over the course of 20 years, an uncle’s secret revealed, and a DNA test, he finds out that he not the biological child of his father. His uncle most likely is his father. Lenny describes the difficult relationship he had with his father, how he was always being pushed, shamed, upbraided for not being a particular kind of person. Lenny walks the audience through the emotional stages of finding out about his true genetic identity later in life. This is the story. It was moving, interesting, provocative. As Ira Glass is signing off he mentions that “Lenny” is Lennard Davis and a professor at the University of Illinois. That’s it.

I happen to know that Lennard David is a Disability scholar and child of deaf parents. This father that he spent so much time talking about in the TAL episode is Deaf. All the interactions he describes in the episode are in sign language. In his memoir about growing up CODA (child of deaf adults), Davis talks about how his parents pushed him into the hearing world…not to be held back by the social disadvantage that being deaf in the 1950s brought them. The TAL episode doesn’t mention deafness at all. I even listened to it a second time to see if it had been intimated when I was paying as close attention. (The memoir Davis wrote about the experience does mention deafness.)

So many thoughts went through my head as I made the connection between Lenny of This American Life and Lennard Davis, the scholar and CODA. The story that aired would have had to have been so different. So many different shades of communication. Layers added to the complexity of the relationship between Davis and his father. Why wouldn’t he mention deaf in a story about his father? He’s very outspoken about his connection with the Deaf community now. Maybe it was merely to keep the story simpler…to keep the story line harnessed into one track without introducing another. Maybe it doesn’t always have to come out; one doesn’t always reveal that one is Jewish or Italian. But perhaps one would if being an immigrant (and that is best analogy, I think, for this situation) significantly shaded one’s relationship with one’s parent and the episode was about one’s relationship with one’s parent. It was interesting to listen to the episode a second time with this extra shade of information.

on the radio in the head

I am an unabashed, ardent fan of the NPR show This American Life. I listen to it from my TAL app in the car, timing longish rides with newly released episodes. Every show sends of eddies of thoughts through my head that would be great blog fodder, but then I would have to change the blog to be a TAL fan blog. A couple recent episodes seem particularly germane to the current thought soup going on in my head that I do have to spend a moment just referencing them. It kills me that I missed going to a theater to see the live broadcast cinema event. But the timing was awkward. I did listen to the podcast version of the show, though, Invisible Made Visible. What struck me is that two of the three main features were about the character’s relationships with their bodies. The first was from a blind man (and his relationship with his toddler) and the second from a man, struggling with cancer, whose arm was amputated (and his subsequent relationship with dance). I wonder if such an episode would’ve been possible twenty years ago, even ten years ago. I’m interested in how our society has evolved with respect to how people view physical bodies. How does this relate to knowledge? Extending thinking with our heads to thinking with our bodies, too?

These thoughts are especially germane to me right now as I have just returned from the annual meeting for the Society for Disability Studies. Bodies are all over the place there. A huge diversity of bodies and of thought. It was a wonderful experience.