Wednesday, November 30, 2005

autumn and beyond

some places have autumn.

nearly every day i pass two red-leafed trees that grow in the front of an elementary school near my house. we don't get much of a fall here in austin. the leaves don't often turn gently to yellows, oranges, and reds. most of the time, the leaves seem to be scorched off the trees, fall brittle and brown to the ground. but every so often there is a beatiful yellow or red-leafed tree.

earlier this week, i visited a university in a state where there is, apparently, autumn. i have to admit that i was taken by the trees and red brick buildings.

i mentioned in an earlier post how unsettling it is to be on the job market, but this was a good visit. it was nice to get to know another university in another state. to meet other young scholars who are smart and seem to genuinely enjoy their work. and then to imagine my opportunities in a new environment. and while it was a little stressful to present the best--smartest, most personable--version of myself to the faculty at this school, it was a neat experience to see that they were also putting their best foot (feet?) forward for me! and let's face it. the wining and dining is nice, too. :)

anyway, that's part one of the week. tomorrow i'm off to D.C. for the annual anthropology meetings. i have a couple more interviews there. wish me luck!


Friday, November 25, 2005


top five things for which i am thankful:

5. austin. i love this town. nestled in the hill country. eighty degrees at the end of november. today was gorgeous. the leaves turning, heavy clouds crawling across the sky, sunny and blue. and the town is funky and fun. lots of students and/or hipsters. great shopping, great coffee. and we are in the bluest county in texas. :)

4. job possibilities. stressful, yes. but after two years of a whole lot of nothing, that anyone even wants to interview me is something for which to be thankful.

3. a finished dissertation. after two years of drudgery it feels amazing to be done! it feels great. i'm going to disneyland.

2. friends. i have great friends all over california and texas. i'm especially lucky to have an amazing group of girlfriends in austin. there is a critical mass of us who have all been here for ... well, i won't say how many years. but several years. we've been through a lot together. lots of stress and frustration, but also a lot of laughter and celebration, too. and wine! lots of red wine. :)

1. family. despite the fact that i was not able to spend thanksgiving with my family this year, i'm grateful that they have been there for me, especially through all of the graduate school madness. they've given me lots of encouragement and lots of compassion. and in two weeks, they'll all be here for my graduation. that's definitely something for which to be thankful.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

you can take the girl outta bakersfield, but you can't...

i have one campus visit and two job interviews scheduled for next week.

i have to confess that i'm a little bit shocked. it's hard for me to believe that they want to interview me.

growing up in bakersfield , everyone thought that i was a crazy liberal because i self-identified as a--gasp!--democrat. i thought that i was smart and progressive. i couldn't wait to go away to college.

then i got to stanford. i was one of the most conservative people around. i remember my roommates taking pleasure in scandalizing me, the small town girl in the suite. it was true. i was small town. there were so many things that i had never been exposed to before. so many different kinds of people, cultures, divergent politics, different value systems. i realized later that a lot of the difference between me and the people i met at stanford was that they had money (not that i ever thought that i didn't!). but these people had been exposed to much more than i had. they'd traveled, gone to out-of-state prep schools. their worldviews were much more broad than mine were.

i eventually found my niche at stanford. not among the trustfund babies or the young millionaires, as you can imagine. rather, i found community among other chicanos and asian americans. (i'll leave the class and race analysis for that scenario for a later date).

what does all of this have to do with my job hunt?

just this: i'm nervous because i'm at the point where i feel smart and progressive. and there are big universities calling. and i'm starting to feel like that small town girl all over again.


Saturday, November 19, 2005

how to be a chicana role model

my very sweet friend, virginia, asked me the other day, "aren't you proud of yourself?" (referring to the ph.d.)

i thought about it and decided that i was happy, but not "proud of myself."

she told me, "you should be proud of yourself!"

then i had this nice moment yesterday.

i volunteered to speak to a group of students who were visiting UT from texas a & m kingsville . i spoke, along with a couple of other graduate students, about my experiences in graduate school; the idea was to demystify the process of applying and getting through a master's or ph.d. degree program.

i walked into the room and noticed that most of the visiting group was mexican american, and most were young women.

the UT organizer of the panel and one of the deans of the graduate school (whose office we were meeting in) were murmuring about me. then the dean asked me, in a whisper, "did you just defend your dissertation?"


both she and the UT organizer congratulated me and introduced me to the group as "doctor n--." all of a sudden, i was grateful that i had dressed semi-professionally for the occasion.

it was a very surreal moment to be standing in front of all of these undergraduate mexican american women in this context. i could feel them looking at me. i could tell that they were thinking, "she's a doctor?"

when it was my turn to speak, i told them about my research in south texas, asking them, "are any of you from the valley?" several hands went up. one of the young women was excited to learn that i had done my research in her hometown. i told her how i loved it there.

and then a funny thing happened. i started to feel proud of myself. i was happy to have done my research in south texas, home to some of these young women. and i was happy to be a mexican american woman, like them. maybe i'm being over-optimistic, but i hope that they thought, if she can get her ph.d., so can i. she's just like me after all (just older!). i kind of started to feel like a ... role model.

here's to being a chicana role model.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005


the academic job market.

i've already complained about it here .
how stressful it is to assemble the job packets.
each one a little different.
coming to terms with the fact that there is not a perfect job for you.
rather, you need to try to be perfect for the job.

at this point, the process has become mechanized.
printing writing samples. copying the CV on special paper.
printing and copying coverletters on university letterhead.

dear search committee: i'm writing to express interest in the position of assistant professor in the X department at X university. i feel that i would be an excellent candidate blah blah blah.

cut paste print copy stamp mail

i write these letters and assemble these job dossiers almost without thinking.

the more difficult thing now is trying to wrap my mind around the idea that next fall i could be in new jersey. or upstate new york. or oklahoma. iowa. d.c. indiana. illinois. california. anywhere.

or no where. i guess i could get nothing and stay in austin. which actually wouldn't be so bad.

but just to think of the anywhere. it scares me.


Sunday, November 13, 2005

beto driving

the best thing to do when you have a mild case of the blues is to put on your dancing shoes. :) actually, i put on a pair of borrowed black cowboy boots.

friday night, my roommate and i went to see/hear/dance to one of our favorite local bands, maneja beto. these pics are courtesy of the maneja beto website. notice what the percussionist's t-shirt says.

the event was a fundraiser to help support indigenous radio stations in southern mexico, which drew quite a crowd. i saw people there from the anthropology department who i hadn't seen in ages (i tend to avoid the anthro department), folks from mexican american studies, and other people that i've met here and there. i even shared the dance floor with two of my students--one current and one former.

i have to confess that it was a little unnerving to dance in front of one of my current students. but everyone who knows me knows that i am a cumbia fiend. i love to dance cumbia. and maneja beto has such a great sound.

so i said a pleasant hello to my student and proceeded to cumbia the night away.


Friday, November 11, 2005


what would it take to make me happy?

over the past week, several people have asked me variations of, "do you feel this incredible weight lifted off your shoulders now that the dissertation defense is over?" to which i've answered in a very eeyore kind of way, "not really."

i know! i should be dancing in the streets! i was happy when i turned in the diss at the end of september. remember? but i'm now in the thick of fall semester.

i'm teaching, which is great most of the time. i love to teach, especially my class this semester. but it does take a lot of preparation. this past week i had a gajillion exams and papers to grade. ok, maybe there were just thirty-one. but for those of you who have never experienced the joy of grading, it ofen feels like your life is bleeding slowly out of you.

then there is the not insignificant matter of job and fellowship applications. i've got the basic letters and job materials down, but the postdoctoral essays are something else entirely. i've been fortunate to have professors give me feedback about my research plans, so that i can revise! revise! revise! but sometimes you just want to say, ok. enough with the feedback. can't you love me the way that i am?

and finally, the small fact that the guy i thought was my soulmate emailed me last week to announce that he is getting married. this was the day of my defense, by the way. yeah, that was fun. so that also puts a damper on my otherwise always chipper (ha!) mood. :)

but really. i'm done with my dissertation. i generally really do enjoy my work teaching. and i have one foot out of the graduate school door. what would it take to make me happy?


Sunday, November 06, 2005

using my powers for good

friday night at the chevron.

it is the night of my birthday party, and i need to buy ice.

i have dressed in a silky pink shirt with spaghetti straps, grey pants, and black heels. i've taken pains with my makeup, trying to a achieve a smoky-eyed look. but i am 30. and i am dissatisfied with my outfit; i do not feel as put together as i would like. if only i had the right accessories. and the smoky eyes? i feel like shadows make my eyes look tired.

i grab a five pound bag of ice from outside and walk into the tiny chevron, where there is a long line of people, mostly younger mexican men. it looks as if many have just gotten off work and stopped at the chevron for beer. some with singles; others with six-packs; still others with more substantial boxes of beer.

i am conspicuously overdressed. i am also one of two women in the store. the other is older, in lounge clothes, disshelved white hair, and noticeable whiskers sprouting from her chin.

needless to say, i am the belle of the ball. the guys in front of me are casting glances. i think that one of them even mumbles something to me about the long line. and even though i don't feel as "put together" as i would like, i'm beginning to realize that it's all about context.

i'm the most beautiful girl at the chevron off I-35 on friday night.

i approach the cashier, and he charges me $2.05 for my bag of ice. i hand him my twenty dollar bill. as he begins to count out my ninety-five cents in change, i look up at him through my lashes and say, "you're not really going to give me ninety-five cents, are you?'' he looks at me with an "aw shucks" expression on his face, and hands me a dollar.

"thank you."

it's a small victory. but when you're thirty, sometimes you need to prove that you can be queen of chevron on friday night.


Friday, November 04, 2005


it's become a ritual of mine to go for a pedicure on my birthday. i decided to do it a day early this year, and headed to "funny nails" at the dobie mall.

i sit in the massaging chair while my feet are submerged into bubbling warm water. heaven.
mai, my pedicurist, works wonders on my poor feet, which have really taken a beating since i've been running.
i tell mai that i am pampering myself because my birthday is tomorrow.
congratulations, she says.
and then i did something that i shouldn't have.
i asked her. how old do you think i'm going to be?
she studies my face for a moment. 36?
30, i tell her. mai clearly does not know the convention of guessing someone to be much younger than you actually think they are.
or maybe she does!
i'm sorry! she says, embarrassed.
it's ok, i assure her.
how old do you think i am? she asks.
26. i guess down.
oh no, she says. i'm old. 34. i thought you were older than me!
yes, well. you look very young, i tell her. and she does. like many of the vietnamese women working at funny nails, her skin is flawless, akin to fine porcelain.

36?! hmph. so much for my youthful glow!


Wednesday, November 02, 2005


today i wore a blue button down shirt and black pants, black heels. full makeup. thought that if i looked professional, i might feel more authoritative.

i write my dissertation spiel (the presentation i'm supposed to give to my audience before the question period) in the two hours before the defense is scheduled to occur. but i get to campus with plenty of time to print and make copies of my signature sheets and walk over to the building.

i am the first one there. the conference room has one long table with several chairs as well as seats and a sofa along the walls of the room. i position myself at the head of the table.

people begin to file in slowly. my closest friends take their seats at the opposite end of the table, expecting that my profs will be sitting on either side of me. my committee member, dr. l arrives, then dr. m, then dr. f. more friends and colleagues. one of my committee members has emailed to tell me that she will be unable to attend, so we are only waiting on one other professor.

fifteen minutes pass. dr. l calls the missing prof on his cell phone. dr. m goes downstairs to check to see if he is in the wrong room. my friend, veronica, runs (in her very cute shoes) to the history department to see if she can track him down. no luck and no luck. but sometime during this period, a deliveryman appears with a vase of long-stemmed pink roses for me. from las girlfriends sitting at the end of the table.

dr. l begins making phone calls to the tower. we're trying to have a dissertation defense, but are one professor short of a quorum. what can we do? he disappears downstairs and reappears with the anthropology graduatue advisor, a professor i know by name and sight but have never spoken with.

though he doesn't know me and doesn't know anything about my project, because he is the anthropology graduate advisor, he can sit in for a missing professor during a dissertation defense.

the committee evicts everyone from the room to plan to their line of questioning. i am in the hallway thinking, are you kidding? this cannot possibly count. only three people in there have read my dissertation. someone someday is going to call me on this. my ph.d. won't really count because i didn't have a real defense!

one of my friends overhears one of my professors tell the graduate advisor that this is just a "formality" because my dissertation is pretty solid.

i am relieved, but still upset.

we are invited back into the room. i give my spiel and they start to ask me questions. the questions aren't bad. some of them are challenging, but it does seem to be more of a conversation than an oral exam. after the first hour, the graduate adviser has to leave, and, minutes later, my missing committee member appears telling me that he has a good excuse. he has come armed with his questions. more questions. more questions. i'm tired. it seems that everyone is tired. shifting in their seats and muffling sighs and yawns.

the question period ends and they kick everyone out of the room. i am invited back in after some minutes.

"congratulations," my advisor tells me. you passed. they have some minor revisions. four more pages of a conclusion.

everyone is signing forms.

congratulations, dr. n (that's me!).



i'll fill in some of the gaps of the weekend later, but i wanted to share that today is my DISSERTATION DEFENSE. one o'clock, central standard time. any prayers, lit candles, wishes of luck, and/or any other positive vibes you can send would be greatly appreciated.