Hesitancy, but no pause

March 21st, 2009

I think I have made it through the night.  [[God, I hope so.]]  The similarities of dusk and dawn, to the casual observer like me, could be playing tricks on me, but I do not have time to question it.  Thus, with hesitancy, I say “Moving on…”

The workload of the last two months of my undergraduate career is astonishing.  Not that I’ve been slacking off, I just seem to have amassed extra work all at the same time for no apparent reason – other than, possibly, not paying close enough attention to the syllabi in the midst of crisis.  Alas and alack.  [[Knowing that other people are in the same workload situation, I have to wonder, “Why?”  As much as I want to get a PhD, I sincerely doubt that much good can come of these “character-building” exercises in sleep deprivation and hyper-stress.]]  But in spite of this, the thesis seems to be going along decently.

Chapters 1-4 are mostly finished, to be shuttled off to the Editor for corrections.  I’m not entirely pleased with certain phrases and paragraphs, and need to really think about how I present certain arguments.  I want this crafting to be perfect.  But of course everyone says that – and what special person am I to actually get time to stop for two hours a day?  I could only perform that feat of magic in high school, when my extracurricular load was ten times worse than now.  (Yes, I do indeed know how to stop time.  See me for details.)  The due date is strict, and I will stick to it.

Chapter 5 is also progressing, since I’ve reviewed all my notes, and am currently in the final stages of acquisition.  The more I ruminate, the easier a time I’ll have writing this last meaty section.  This chapter will argue that Haitians had become embedded into Quebec society by 1995, in spite of such a short germination (30 years, roughly).  It is evidenced through the religious establishment, as well as the cultural output (books, poetry, academic writing) of the Haitians in Montreal.  The way I see it, the first section will discuss religion, because it is a bridge between the two national cultures and is often referenced by historians of Haitian immigration to Quebec.  Missionaries were sent to Haiti from Quebec, and taught the generations of upper classes (in French, not Kreyol); theologians from Haiti studied in Quebec, and returned to Haiti (eg Jean-Bertrand Aristide).  Etc etc.  There are places for Haitians to worship as a community (in a Catholic Church, and in “cultural heritage” vaudou ceremonies) as well as with the greater community (in other religious denominations and in public fairs/festivals).  The second section will discuss the cultural evolution of Haitians in Montreal, since literary production is an easy way to look at how Haitians felt within their new society.  Critics have already examined the progression of themes in immigrant works, and others have examined the progression of themes in native Quebeckers’ work throughout this period, roughly 1960 to 1995.  All I need to do is retell the story, pulling data from the many Reports on Haitians’ and immigrants’ integration into society (unemployment, education, pay rate, etc).

And Ch 7 should be fairly easy to craft during my final editing stage, since it summarizes the conclusions of my work and synthesizes/predicts future behaviour.  I can’t wait to write this chapter, since it means I get to watch a TV show again that makes me laugh so much I have to pause the video constantly.  (I wish it had an English subtitle option, but no…)

So there.  I’m slowly slugging through coursework, and thesis work.  Things will get done, and, as I’ve heard so many times now, things will get better.

Thank you, Life, for easing up.  Much appreciated.

Suitcase and etiquette

February 13th, 2009

I came to a realization this week, or rather, I came to an analogy.  My thesis is like a suitcase.  An overstuffed suitcase.  In fact, I think there’s even a kitchen sink stuffed into this suitcase, so overstuffed is it.  I’ve been writing my second chapter, in which I examine the development of Quebec national identity over the years.  After slugging through an entire (mental health) day with this section, I found that I couldn’t say everything I wanted to in 12 pages.  Twelve.  And I wanted to say more.  And this is a background chapter – not the meat of the thesis!  Oy.  I never thought I’d be able to be accused of wordiness/verbosity.  Seriously.  On the positive side, I think I did an okay job at stuffing every bit of pertinent information into the prose, while also making it understandable.  (That can be verified in a few days when I go back to make Round One of revisions…)  But, like I said, it made me think of the paper like a suitcase which I’m trying to cram full and still get it checked on the airplane, without going over the poundage limits, for free, both of which seem impossible in today’s day and age.

While I was writing this suitcase, I got really frustrated with the authors in the field.  Now, I know that I know what I’m talking about.  I started the work on my thesis topic two years ago, after freshman year.  (Yes that makes sense if you’re me.)  I’ve read tons of literature on this stuff, taken two courses that are near or direct hits on my topic (“French Canada” and “Intro to Caribbean History”), done an independent study on Canadian history (thanks, Dr. Blouet) and lived in Montreal.  But when footnoting the background information to my actual project becomes a problem, there’s something wrong with the existing literature.  Everyone had something different to say about how Quebec has evolved – diverging so far as to say that the Catholic Church did and at the same time did not have a heavy hand in influencing early nationalism.  So far as to say that French Canada (Quebec, really) did and at the same time did not urbanize, modernize, and industrialize at the beginning of the twentieth century.  So far as to say that Maurice Duplessis, the leader of a very conservative nationalist party that controlled Quebec government directly before and directly after the second world war, was at the same time well-intentioned and an evil backward person.  Um…  I don’t think that interpretations are supposed to get that diverse, even in a field where modern political/ideological biases heavily affect the way authors look at the earlier time period.  Some wise wisdom was bequeathed to me: Pull out what you find to be constants, and, for the rest, make your best judgement.  If things get really rough, make a note of the dissonance and move on.  Moving on…

So, I finished Chapter Two, and made a considerable effort today on Chapter Three.  By that I mean, I wrote the chapter from my head and will, perhaps tomorrow evening at work, start going through it intensely and footnoting.  I have one major goal for the chapter:  I have to cite Carolyn Fick.  There’s no real reason I should, since she writes about Revolution-era Haiti and admitted herself that she wouldn’t be any help to me.  But I met her in Montreal, and she took me under her wing, and for that I am very grateful.  (She met with me, accompanied me at a conference at McGill, introduced me to fabulous people, and checked in on me throughout the month… Above and beyond what any random acquaintance should do, especially a busy woman like her.)  So I want to cite her.  I guess I actually have two goals for the chapter, the second one being more academic and goal-oriented.  I want to be able to explain to the reader with authority why Quebec identity evolved the way it did, compared to how Haitian identity evolved. …

Alright, let me try to clarify.  In Quebec, there haven’t been any “real” instances where the French Canadian population was repressed.  I’ll concede that the early period, from Conquest (1760) to Confederation (1867) was a little rocky.  I mean, there was the whole Acadian expulsion thing… but then there was the whole Rebellion thing too…  For the most part, Britain adopted an accommodationist approach to the French habitants.  Accommodationist meaning the British accepted and enabled the French to continue practising Catholicism, speaking French, and also using their own civil code.  It wasn’t until after Confederation that the English Canadians started to completely ignore the French Canadians’ wishes (although I’m quite sure people would disagree with my statement).  And even then, “repression” is too strong a word – the English Canadians were seeking the same national unity that the French Canadians in Quebec were, just oriented to a higher political structure: the entire country (not the province).  So Quebec national identity has really grown up in relative wealth – there haven’t been many oppressive measures taken against them.  They were allowed to assert their independence in a calm, orderly fashion by taking greater control of their economy, immigration policy and language policy in the mid-twentieth century.

Haiti’s case is different.  Slaves, in the modern sense, are not allowed to assert their cultural diversity and develop sub-societies of their own – that is seen to detract from productivity.  Haitian religion, language, and even political mannerisms are all bastardizations of French colonial imports.  Vaudou, the “national religion” (most practised), combines several types of African belief systems and gods with certain Catholic motions.  [[Check out Maya Deren’s “Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti”, an early documentary complete with the beheading of chickens and I think goats…]]  Kreyol, the “national language” (most understood), adopts French terminology in an African grammar structure.  (Seriously, if you know French well enough, you can sit through a Kreyol Catholic mass and understand everything; reading is somewhat easy after a while; you just can’t necessarily respond in Kreyol.)  There was real repression in the case of Haiti’s national identity development, not just “unfairness” like in Quebec’s case.  And, once Haitian slaves got control of their own government, more repression helped create the rest of their identity.  Corrupt, patronage-led governments encouraged Haitians to rely on family and friend rather than official programs, because these blood linkages were more constant than the regimes were.  (Seriously.  Haiti has averaged a coup/insurrection/military or peasant uprising once a year since 1804, just about.)  And inconsistency in which language and religion were the “official” one of Haiti allowed them to keep practising vaudou and speaking Kreyol, while the elite could also be Catholic and speak French.  It kept changing so much that there was no way to fully habituate Haitians into one or the other.

So, I don’t know if there’s space to say all that, but I think it’s something worthwhile.  Now you know.

Finally I want to leave you with an etiquette lesson.  This week I presented my thesis to an audience for the Honors colloquium.  I was the second person of a two-person panel.  After sitting through an incomprehensible and very abstract (and overly long) presentation, about two-thirds of the audience left, the first speaker and his advisor included.  Now, I know this might be a common occurrence in professional conferences and in non-professional settings.  But it is still rude.  Just like you don’t clap between movements of an orchestrated work in concert, you don’t leave the room until the entire session is done, whether or not you’re interested.

So, for the weekend: Footnote Chapter 3.

For Monday/Tuesday: Elaborate and footnote Chapter 1.

By Wednesday: Send to unsuspecting victims for disapproval.  Cope with criticism.

Power cord woes

January 6th, 2009

So, just before Christmas, when I began writing my second chapter (actually, Chapter Four), the power cord to my old G4 Mac laptop died.  Not the computer, just the cord.  You’d think it’d be easy to fix, but about two weeks later the replacement I bought has not yet arrived from Hong Kong.  Grr.

In spite of the power cord woes, I’ve tried to keep up with my schedule for Winter Break work.  Chapter Four got written in a very rough format (since I didn’t have notes, only memories to go by) on someone else’s computer, thanks to a flash drive which I’ve managed to keep track of since I last lost it mid-semester.  And I’ve been doing my best to get through the large, daunting and heavy reading on the development of Haiti as its own nation.  The book I’m using – Written in Blood – will be the base for the chapter on the Haitian national identity, since it provides a continuous narrative of Haiti’s development since 1492.   There are other texts – mostly articles, and one book – that I will use to round out the chapter and support some of my arguments.  For instance, I can’t just say that Haitian identity is grounded in a confusion of cultural identities – French/European, African, native, and foremost Creole – without providing some sort of facts.  WiB shows the reader what a fine mess the young nation was in when, between 1791 and 1804, France, Spain, Britain and some slave groups were all fighting for control of the Western half of Hispaniola (aka Saint Domingue, Kiskeya, or Haiti).  But modern situations, like the class difference between light-skinned and dark-skinned Haitians or the language barriers between the masses (who speak Kreyol) and the elite (who speak French), reinforce the same class distinctions that distinguished the first Haitians who supported, say, the French from those who supported other factions.  Bringing in multiple sources will definitely improve the Chapter’s quality and believability.

I’d hoped to be working on the other major section of my thesis, Chapter Five on the cultural production of Haitian Montrealers, but a good portion of that work was done in Montreal.  The notes for the books I read and other comments I made are on my laptop hard drive.  And what I could be doing either requires me to go to Swem, which I’ve avoided since it’s a long walk in the cold wet weather for a girl trying not to get sicker, or is cultural stuff that takes place after 1995 – the key date, the last referendum on independence in Quebec.  So I’ll do more background stuff.  Even though the plan got changed, I can still make things work.  And if I get antsy to write things up, I will just start pulling out the old papers I wrote for an independent study and – with the wave of my magic wand – transform them into Chapter Two on the development of Quebec national identity/problems therein.  [[Sounds like a plan for later in the week…]]

Other than that, I’m trying to audit a German language class so I can jump ahead on grad school language requirements (and amuse myself), lining up job interviews so I can maybe stay afloat this semester, and enjoying the break.  Except the part where I have to do dishes all the time.   I’m not particularly looking forward to my last semester at WM (unless I can get into the German class which has about thirteen open slots).  So the longer this break lasts and the more I can accomplish without the hindrance of taking classes and writing papers, the better.

On a personal note, I was in a bookstore near my house today (the Book Exchange on Jamestown Rd, next to Fresh Market) and spotted a James Michener book I might like to read, Caribbean.  As I’ve been going through WiB I was disappointed at how much it seemed to miss.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a fantastic textbook for someone taking a Haitian history course, a good refresher (if long) for someone like me, and it aligns quite well with the conventions of the field of Haitian/Caribbean history.  The authors clearly state that their starting point was picked because of the lack of records due to sanctioned burning of official documents over the years.  But I think Michener’s book could at least satisfy my urge to know more about Haiti as it was before European involvement; most of the Caribbean histories are written as if European discovery was the only thing that made the islands worth talking about.  *shrug*  That’s my two cents for the day, I guess.

It’s creepy to think that at the end of this semester, I will have graduated with two Bachelor degrees and will need to prepare a manuscript to send to publishers who requested copies of my finished thesis…  Just creepy.