Vindication tastes like oranges and peaches

April 6th, 2009

This weekend I went to the Colonial Academic Alliance conference held at Towson with a group of students from WM to present/share our work with other undergraduates from the 12 schools in the Alliance.  Now, I’m not at all a social person – very much the introvert, confidence issues etc – but when I go to conferences, I’m on.  The main point of conferences is networking.  [[Networking – the bane of my existence!]]  Unfortunately, most of the other students there didn’t quite “get that” and so everyone segregated themselves by school.  The only non-WM people I got to talk to were those who asked about my poster, and those whose posters I asked about while we walked around the little, well-lit hallway at the school.  It was definitely fun, but I wish I’d been able to mingle more beyond the, “Hi, tell me about your poster,” small talk.  [[I did get beyond that with one woman, the head of the CAA, who was tickled that I use statistics in history work.  Apparently, she got her higher degree from Carnegie-Mellon in “Applied History” – history with stats – and now uses it regularly to look at gender issues in higher education based on the institution’s history… Very cool.]]  Some of the other girls and I did employ the “friend attack” strategy developed by my next-door neighbor, which got us into some interesting conversations about science-y things (in spite all of us being rather humanities-oriented).  But the most exciting thing to happen was to get the “birds and the bees” talk from a guy my dad’s age.  But the trick was, he wasn’t talking about humans – he was talking about frogs.

I thought the fun was over when we got back to WM and I headed off to Swem for homework and a group meeting.  Lo and behold, in my inbox I got an invitation to skip class and listen to a professor from American University talk about constructivist things.  (That’s Poli-Sci/IR speech for a sociologist-in-political science.)  Dr. Jackson’s talk was exhilarating for a couple reasons.  First, vindication [[which tastes like oranges and peaches, like the drink I sipped while listening]] because his theories explained my thesis perfectly.  If I can come up with ideas that match what a PhD’s come up with, then I think I’m doing okay.  Second, his original research interests (and first few articles/books) touch on a topic that I could easily add to the reading list I’m going to develop to stay in touch with the graduate school world even though I’m going to enter the real world in about a month.  He started out studying post-conflict reconstruction, which would just so happen to incorporate ideas of identity, problems/policies on immigration and a toning-down/-up of nationalist sentiment.  And third, I could follow his weird and tangential references to all manner of philosophers and scientific/theoretical ideas without much trouble – in spite of his rather patronizing comments like, “This probably makes more sense to the PhDs in the room.”  I have a feeling that, if I end up in Washington, I will want to stop by his office at A.U. on occasion (after having read some of his work) to *ahem* network and pretend like I’m still a student.

And, last but not least, the initial results are in: She likes it!  My thesis advisor actually liked my final draft.  After some minor corrections, I’ll be printing it out for the committee members next week.  Without trying to get my hopes up, her comment was, “For the bibliography alone, I’d push for honors!”  A sigh of relief, a celebratory round, and some sleep before another big tomorrow.

Pas trop satisfiant…

March 30th, 2009

… mais ça suffit. I have officially finished typing my thesis (YAY!). But, alas, being a Monday, I now have to do more homework – and tomorrow I have to create the Bibliography, edit all the footnotes, add some in just-in-case, and do a final breeze-over before sending it down the pipe to my Director. All while doing still more homework.

Do you see why this isn’t terribly satisfying? *Sigh* It will have to suffice. (I bet having a printed copy in front of my eyes will make the joy bubble over, even if I have other papers to write that day.)

I propose a toast: To the beginning of the end! At last.

[[Addendum:  On presenting.

Today I gave an awkward, haphazard fumbling-through of my thesis work to a small but dedicated crowd of observers in the CC lounge.  Thanks for the support, but I know I messed that one up.  I appreciate your patience and kindness, and your questions that kept me on track.  Lessons for the future (definitely for my Real Conference):

1.  Just in case, have two prep sheets.  One can be the normal brief comments outlining a trajectory for the speech, but the other one better have a more detailed explanation, facts, figures etc. to pull from should something happen to make you less able to talk off the top of your noggin.  For example, if you are suddenly fatigued.

2.  When you bring examples/pictures/graphs to show, SHOW THEM, for goodness’ sake.  You spent time making them, why not share them with other people?  It could distract them from your poor showmanship, too.

Thankfully, there’s another Monroe talk tomorrow about presenting at conferences.  Though I know where I went wrong this time, it can be useful to review the basics from time to time.  Even pro baseball players warm up before they play.]]

The end of the tunnel

March 25th, 2009

It either speaks poorly of me, or honestly of the way this semester’s been going: Apparently, I have two fewer weeks to work on my thesis than I’d assumed.  *Doh.*

Chapter Five is now mostly written.  There are gaps in the text where I’ve made notes for myself about what to write later.  I’m not good at this procrastination/last-minute work thing anymore.  I like to sleep.  So, as per usual, I’m behind the reasonable schedule I’d set for myself because there’s SO MUCH to do. (Goodness the coursework!  Goodness gracious!)  I’ve had a headache from the tension in my neck and back for the past week or so.  Oy.

But, on the good side, now that Chapter Five is (almost) finished, I can write Chapter Seven.  I’ve been waiting for this forEVER.  I mean it.  This is the chapter where I get to watch TV and think about the future and generally gloss over the last 15 years of Haitian-Montrealer history, in terms of everything else I’ve already talked about (actual history, political participation, literature, etc.).  And it will mean I am done.  I’m SO EXCITED!

I suppose I should write a list about lessons I’ve learned while doing this project…

1. A “let-it-be” approach is acceptable in research, because it means you are perhaps more likely to let the data speak for itself (rather than cherrypick).  However, it is not an excuse not to think about the parameters of the research you’ll need to do.  I wish I had had a better idea of what kinds of sources and materials I’d need to collect, so I could have done more reading in Montreal.

1 -a. When taking notes, do not feel rushed or bored.  If you’re bored, take a break/get a snack/go on a walk.  And after every little meaningful/-less piece you work with, write a short summary of at least a paragraph outlining the author’s main point, the examples s/he uses to support the argument, and where this might fit into your current or future research projects.  This would have saved me so much time!  (Although I might not have gone back and read a couple things as thoroughly as I ought to have.)

2. Do not underestimate the power of the first chapter you write.  It can be the toughest, but it really helps frame the writing style and flow of the rest of the work – no matter which chapter is written first.  It’s also the first chance to really think about the gaps you’ll have in other sections, so the sooner you write it (well), the sooner you can fill in other blanks spots.

3. Peer feedback is good.  Reading other people’s work is good.  The first bit gets you an outsider’s opinion, and the reading part allows you to think about how you write your own work.  Learning to edit your own work is a good thing- editing other people’s work is a good place to start that process.

4. Strong topic sentences.  Active voice.  Concise.  All good.

5. Amusing yourself while writing – my favorites are deciding to cite someone because I like them (don’t worry; it makes sense when I do that); and alliteration.   Also, skipping around the chapter – you don’t have to write a book the same way you read it, which can help get out the ideas you have before you forget them regardless of where they’re supposed to go.

I guess that’s it.  I need to do homework as I fall asleep.

Docket: 1) Finish thesis!  2) Try to stay on top of things. 3) Learn to be tough-skinned, and take things lightly (not personally).  4) Find a job.

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.


March 2nd, 2009

My goal had been to have all six main chapters written by now, so that I could have a full month for revisions.  Instead, I’ve got all but two chapters (of seven) written for my thesis.  I’m largely satisfied with my progress.  Granted, there is work to be done on the written ones, and there is a LOT of work to be done on the unwritten ones.  I’ve procrastinated a little bit, out of frustration with the way my chapters were turning out earlier.  And I’ve procrastinated because I’ve been bogged down this semester with coursework and, to a lesser extent, work-work.  Thus, chapter five – one of the meaty parts of my thesis – has had nothing done to it.  [[I lie.  I’ve thought about it, and scribbled to myself, and made comments about what to do, and pulled together a set of sources.  But I haven’t necessarily thought about more of my primary sources or even thoughtfully read the secondary sources strewn about my desktop and browser bookmark bar.]]  Oh well…

If you’ve ever seen the Futurama episode where Fry drinks 100 cups of coffee, then you’d know what I feel like.  Replace coffee with stress.

Tonight I’m getting together with some Hist 490-c alums to go over our thesis chapters.  We decided it would be a good idea (or at least helpful) to trade our writing to get comments and feedback on everything.  For me this is especially helpful, since I’m only supposed to turn in polished work to my advisor.  [[Not knocking it, it just can be hard to tell what other people consider “good” when you’ve immersed yourself in the subject.  And yes I fully admit that self-editing is a skill that requires work and patience to master.  I just haven’t got there yet.]]  So I get to trudge roughly 2 miles in the snow/slush to meet up at the Leafe.  Yay, snow!

And, if that weren’t good enough,  I found out last night [[before the extreme disappointment of the early closing of a bowling alley due to ‘inclement weather’ that would not have even fazed my previous neighbors in Halifax]] that my paper was accepted to a conference to be held this summer in Calgary, Alberta.  Hooray!  I feel all grown-up now.  Fingers crossed that I have time to stop by the rodeo while I’m there…

So, things to do in the midst of mid-terms: 1) get back edits on ch 1-3; 2) edit up ch 4; 3) outline ch 5.

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.


February 3rd, 2009

I don’t know why, but I’m pretty good at working myself up about things.  Call it a family trait [[To show why “geekiness” made it on the list: one summer reunion, we actually developed a list…]] that I’ve inherited from both sides.  However, as I was contemplating (more like moping) if I should keep trudging along on my thesis, as little as I feel I know about the subject, I realized: I’d do it anyway.  Yes, even if it weren’t for a grade or a degree, I’d keep writing my paper.  (Remember, geekiness is on the list.)  Thus I am once again on the road to a defence.  On the bright side, after this month’s mental trip-up, the world seemed to answer my cry for help.  Friends appeared that I’d not seen in months, even years; my financial worries were somewhat assuaged for the moment; and clouds lifted.  Creepy, but comforting.

Anyway, so I had meetings etc and worked out some kinks in the plan.  Since the immigration chapter/section was giving me such troubles, I’m moving elsewhere to at least accomplish something before I re-tackle the obstacles in Chapter Four.  This afternoon after classes, with just an hour or two free, I think I managed to hash out a solid draft/outline of the chapter on Haitian national identity.  This evening, assuming I can get back to work-mode, I will either hash out a draft for the Quebec national identity chapter, or just keep fleshing out the draft I wrote for Haiti this afternoon.

One of the things my advisor reminded me of was I CAN’T SAY IT ALL.  I’ve only got so much space to fit the argument in, so simplicity is paramount.  I don’t know why, but that made me feel better.  It means that I don’t have to write like the Heinls, whose book is so densely-packed with primary source references and quotations that it’s a bit hard to understand Haitian history unless I skim.  It also means that I can consider only the twentieth century, even though I will need to reference some points in the older past to talk intelligently about the development of Quebec’s and Haiti’s national identities.  Entertaining the idea of making this a book is just that – entertaining.  It’s not real, and it’s definitely not now.  I need to focus on what the task actually is – a paper of no more than 100 pages – rather than on dreaming about the Montreal publishers actually liking the manuscript etc etc.  [[And why would an undergrad get a book deal when most grad students are reserved that honour?]]

And another thing – I’m more open to ideas about organization now.  Cindy keeps saying how I’m writing a lot of chapters, which is fine by me.  It makes sense to me to keep things separate like I have.  But on my walk home from a work meeting today, I figured: I could put all the theory chapters (Intro/Ch 1, Ch 2 and Ch 3) into one single chapter, and have sub-sections.  Then, all the “experiential” chapters (Ch 4, 5 and 6) would go into a second single chapter, with each part as sub-sections.  The conclusion will still be its own chapter; lonely.  I am sure I will keep writing like they’ll all be their own part, but maybe later, if I have time during my revision phase before the defence, I can consolidate.  Interesting mental note for the future…

The Plan: 1) Flesh out/finish Haitian national identity chapter; 2) Flesh out/finish Quebec national identity chapter; 3) Send said chapters to unsuspecting editors; 4) Enjoy a nice Diet Coke bought by a scary man.

Hidden meanings

January 27th, 2009

Chapter Four came back surprisingly quickly, since it sucked… Well, to be fair, the prose itself wasn’t all that bad, but it needs a good sit-down and comb-through before it’ll be up to snuff. The comments I got back on the first three pages of it (all my advisor would read, at first) smarted. I fully admit I have trouble taking criticism well when not expecting it. However, the comments were quite helpful; I’ll fully admit this, too. Another professor and I were talking about it, and the problem I had was apparently a “conceptual” issue: I didn’t know what the heck I was saying, when I was saying it, and where it all fit into the Big Picture. Chapter Four – the immigration history chapter – seems to be a sort of transition point in the larger narrative. Before it, I’ll have to talk about theories and concepts and abstracts, approached from a Canada-Quebec perspective in order to really draw out the distinctions that made Quebec national identity what it is today. After it, I’ll have to talk about the real people, their stories and lives and experience in Montreal during the last few decades. So with the immigration chapter I have to transition both a prose style (dry and boring technical stuff, dates and “important people”, to exciting vibrant lives with statistics thrown around for good measure) and a geographical orientation (Canada-Quebec to Montreal). I had no idea this part was so crucial to the narrative.

Honestly, I wasn’t going to pick Chapter Four to write over the break; I wanted to do something else that I can’t remember – probably the earlier sections so I could just get them over with. But I’m glad I did. Combing through all of my notes, jotting down some new ones, and getting a couple of “aha” moments helped me place the material into their appropriate chapters. It’s still shaky, but I think I have a better idea of when I’m going to reveal certain things in the narrative to make it interesting and follow-able.  And having done that, the Big Picture is more clear than before.  It seems that all the chapter really needs (aside from gap-filling) is re-organization.

There are two ways I can re-work the immigration chapter to make it flow/fit better.  (The first one is my advisor’s idea; the second is mine.)  1: Integrate the material that would go into this chapter into Chapter Two, where I explore the Quebec national identity and the conflicts that arise from nationalism.  Because immigration was part of the way the government of Quebec modernized and eventually “French-i-fied” the province, it makes sense that I could attach it to the end that chapter.  It would also provide a way for me to transition to a discussion of Haitian national identity.  Something like “Though the government saw immigrants as part of the improvement process, they might not have jumped on board as quickly as the nationalists would have liked.  Haitians, for example, had their own national history and identity.” The chapter on Haitian national identity would then transition into exploring Haitians’ experience in Montreal…  2: Split the immigration chapter into two sections, rather than disperse it.  The first half would talk about immigration policy and history from the dry-boring part, keeping the Quebec-Canada orientation.  The second half would transition to a Montreal orientation and develop the more personal tone, where I would talk about different immigrant experiences and end with the Haitian’s patterns of migration to Quebec.  This would transition well to the next chapters, which discuss the experience of Haitians in Montreal using culture and political participation as major examples to illustrate my points about their embeddedness in Quebec society.

This week, then, I really have to work on two things.  The first, of course, being the revision of this chapter.  The second is getting my sense of history (Quebec identity, Haitian identity) settled, and notes wrapped up to the best of my ability.  I won’t go so far as to say I’m ‘down to the wire’, but I certainly cannot dally about this semester.  The thesis really is due in a few months, whether or not I’m ready.  Five more chapters to go …

Hi ho, hi ho…

January 23rd, 2009

it’s off to work we go.

Snow White was one of my favourite Disney movies as a kid.

About the thesis, I didn’t quite match the goals I’d set for myself last week. Chapter Four did get written and cited, although there are a few blanks here and there still. It’s been sent to its doom to the editor after being read by an unsuspecting bystander for clarity and cohesion. This I am very proud of, since it means “two down, five to go” for my thesis overall.

The book Written in Blood did not get read, although by now I’ve started picking it back up. Last Saturday, I was interrupted at work by my half-boss who likes to chat and comment on my life choices, as well as watch television on the internet while attempting to finish her own projects. That was a big distraction – although it meant I got Chinese food for lunch instead of WaWa. And then I realized that I had two (thesis-related) books due this week, and hadn’t read one of them. Lucky for me it was astonishingly helpful – way more important to read The Identity of Nations (Montserrat Guibernau) than the Haitian history. Aside from a better understanding of the theory background, I got a lot of good insight into the causes-and-effects of Quebec politics circa the late twentieth century. Hooray! That means I’m even closer to finishing both Chapter Two and Three (the “history of” chapters describing the development and expression of Quebec and Haitian national identity, respectively). Having turned in that book, I have got back to reading the Haitian history text and am stewing over the organization of each chapter slowly. [[Although, I wish I could have read the entire book, not just parts – the stuff about European identity, and the case-study of Austria would have been helpful to address a comparative aspect in the introduction. But I’m confident that in grad school (God willing I get there) Guibernau’s stuff will be a main course, or at least a hearty side dish, for my studies.]]

And yet another good thing to come of this week: The opening lecture to one of my classes was the history of the “state” as a political unit/form/whatever. The theory chapter is the “easy” section I am the most worried about for my paper, since I have to cover a lot of debateable material in a short amount of space: What is a state? What is a nation? What happens to the nation when foreigners/outsiders arrive? What happens to the immigrant when they arrive in a new state? What about Quebec, and why is Montreal so special? But after Clemens’ lecture, I’m able to see how I could organize the chapter chronologically and address each issue as it develops over time: the state, then the nation, then nationalism; then transnationalism, and right-wing-nutcases; then Montreal in Quebec.

I don’t know why I’m so excited about this semester. As I told the guy who drove me in on Wednesday, I feel more like a kindergartener than a college senior as I get into classes now. All the shyness I have tried so hard to get rid of came back with a vengeance this week – one of the reasons I couldn’t defend myself to the German professor who wouldn’t let me audit her class because I have never taken any German. (I should have told a white lie – elementary school counts…) Alas, I won’t be waking up at 7 every morning to go to a 9 o’clock lecture or 8:30 drill. Instead, I’ll lounge and learn Dutch, which, by the way, means I’ll be able to understand German. How ’bout them apples?

So the Plan: 1. Have Ch. 4 edited [Done, sort of.  She didn’t like it, so instead I get to revise it (again)]; 2. Begin revision of notes on the cultural insertion of Haitians in Montreal; 3. Organize notes and begin writing the “history of” chapters, Two and Three. Oh yeah, and 4. Course readings/assignments; 5. Work-work; and 6. some sort of life? Ah, the joys of being educated…

Finding motivation

January 16th, 2009

So I get to work tomorrow from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm – which, in this case, means I have a lot of free time alone to work on the thesis. (Yeah, I get paid to sit around “just in case”. I am quite grateful for that job.) The problem is that it’s cold, so I’m tired. And I’m bummed about having to go back to classes – I rather like playing in books all on my own, bouncing ideas off the literature I read and the people who can stand to listen to me talk about the subjects. The only thing classes are good for is they provide structure, which, in my case, brings increased productivity. Anyway, the point is I need to get motivated.

The plan for tomorrow’s freedom is to edit Chapter Four, the one on immigration to Quebec (Montreal) with a focus toward the end on Haitians. I wrote the whole thing already, but I need to go back and edit some points and put in ALL the footnotes and references. It sounds harder than it probably will be, since most of the ideas are floating in my brain and I made a list of sources to reference (if not all of them).

I also want to keep going through Haitian history. In the Big Book (Written in Blood) I’m up to the 1840s, but I’ve taken a break and gone to view some other articles. I’ve got to keep reading the Big Book, though, since it’s the most comprehensive one I’ve got and therefore provides a continuous narrative. I find that without continuity like that, I get lost when first trying to understand a “History of”. The book is helpful since most articles focus on either the Revolution or the modern period, with very little in the middle. It’s not surprising that this would happen. First, everyone (Europeans, Americans, Asians etc) ignored Haiti for the whole of the 1800s – so Haiti wouldn’t really be an ideal focal point in any Western narration. Second, Haitian history is a repetitive cycle of juntas, insurrections, revolutions and coups – picking the two most interesting or poignant parts (the beginning, and the ever-popular sixties/seventies) to focus on is not surprising. I hope that I’m just not using the right search keywords, because I think there could be a lot said for the nineteenth century in Haiti.

On a final note, I think I’ve done a lot more work than I thought, which means I have a lot less work to do than expected. I have a tendency to sketch and jot. Whenever I feel inspired to write, I will (if possible) – whether this gets me a few paragraphs or just a few ideas I want to remember to draw out. Still, I was surprised to go back through my working thesis document and find I’d written 45 pages. I only actually attempted/finished one chapter. But every chapter (except one) is pretty well thought out, if not fleshed out. The first two chapters are written sort of, because I did papers on similar subjects for coursework – all I’ll need to do is modify.

So, tomorrow: Chapter Four. And Chapter Three. If there’s time, think about Chapter Five.