I’ve always heard the saying, “A girl can change her mind, can’t she?” -Unknown, from television and movies. However, when it comes to my academic studying and thesis, could I actually change my mind? Is it too late?
Lemme break it down.
The day after our Valentine’s Day class I was not only excited about the further steps of my thesis, I was energized by the unknown knowledge that I still have to discover. It seems as if my mind has become “obsessed” about language and identity within the African American community. It’s not because I am not interested in other languages and culture; it’s more because there is, in fact, a name, a coined term for the way I speak at home that goes beyond “just talking English.” It’s not Ebonics either. African American English or African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is what I heard in my house growing up and even when I went to my grandparents’ house. I never thought they spoke incorrectly. It was as simple as, I heard, I understood, I communicated back. As I became more passionate about the power of this subject and newly found territory, I was eager to share what I have studied so far with my family. Unfortunately, this approach took a wrong turn.
As I expressed specific concerns and questions to a couple of family members, very close ones, and my thesis was…well…ripped to shreds. Pulverized. Torn apart. Torn from limb to limb. (You get the idea.) Now, these family members are brilliant with multiple degrees in THEIR particular field of study. I delivered the very early foundation of my thesis, which was how AAVE has not been given the opportunity to evolve as a means of declaring something that’s ours. Long story short, I had not one but two breakdowns. I doubted myself and was hard on myself. I live for my family’s approval, and when I don’t receive it, it’s almost as if a switch turns off in my brain. I’m not smart enough. I can’t do this. Blah Blah Blah. I spoke to my boyfriend about this and basically brought my breakdown to him. (I mean, I was very ugly crying and hyperventilating.) After he calmed me down, he told me, “I don’t expect you to have the answers to everything. Nobody does!” That’s when it clicked for me.
I have decided to not include my family in my thesis, and I have a few reasons why:
From before I was born, I had a swarm of support from family and even non-family members who just knew I had a great purpose in my life. I mean, why else would I be born 14 years after my brother? There had to be a reason. However, I never had the chance to breathe and figure it out on my own.
For as long as I could remember, I was told, “you’re so smart” or “you know better than that” (even though I was seven). I never had the chance to stop and think, what am I smart in? What is something that could be just for Vee and not something that everyone has an opinion on? My family is my life, but I think it’s time that some things in my life need to be just for me.
My whole undergraduate thesis was about my family, for 90 pages. It’s not because I have nothing else to write about, but it’s like I mentioned before. My family is my life. Also, there are some pretty interesting stories that I felt was important to write about. I think for this thesis, it’s time to separate from my family and see what I can write and produce on my own.
Now, on to a more lighter note; I have been reading and studying the books, articles, and authors that were suggested from last class along with some articles I found on my own. I also took the peer review notes from class and have been trying to make a clearer thesis statement and focus on what I am trying to accomplish with this thesis. Specifically something my fellow classmate Kelli said, “Make it clearer how you are going to approach this issue and how much you is going to be in this?” What’s making me nervous at this point is that I still don’t have a clear question. “The burning question,” as Dr. Zamora would call it, is what I lack so far. What I am hoping is that my reading list and early research will help me develop a clear question and thesis statement.
Since I am separating this thesis from my family, I am wondering if simply using my own experiences will be enough. I will check back in a week and share my notes from my research.
Last week after class, there was a spark of creativity and inspiration that came from talking about the next steps for my thesis. The critical moments within my family that adds up to language and the power of language seems to be the main topic that keeps coming up. I had to research what an autoethnography, memoir and autoethnographic narrative was and the differences between them. Then, I had to figure out which one of these styles would fit the type of thesis I want to write. Before I go into that, there were two readings I had to research to get my juices flowing. Victor Villanueva wrote Bootstraps, which unfortunately I was only able to find the abstract. It states:
An autobiography detailing the life of an American of Puerto Rican extraction from his childhood in New York City to an academic post at a university. Also, ponders his experiences in light of the history of rhetoric, the English Only movement, current socio-and psycholinguistic theory, and the writings of Gramsci and Freire, among others.
The other reading was Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom by Lisa Delpit. Although I did not have the time to read the entire book in one week, I did manage to find an article that wrote a review and critical points about the book, which you can see by clicking here. I was amazed by what Delpit says and the points that she makes concerning students and their disconnect in the classroom because of language and writing as students of color. Delpit, “explores how teachers, especially those with ‘progressive’ teaching methods, need to examine how they are helping or impeding minority and low-income students’ access to the power that mainstream society and institutions have invested in ‘Standard’ English” (Harvard Review). What I found interesting was that Delpit recognized that in these situations, it’s not just racism that causes these issues, although it’s one of the main factors. She points out that it’s the ignorance of people who have power and privilege who always sees themselves differently from others with a blinded vision.
This inability is particularly destructive in classrooms where teachers view low-income and minority children as “other” and “see damaged and dangerous caricatures of the vulerable and impressionable beings before them. -Delpit, pg 13.
The Harvard Review sums up another main point of her book stating, “her thoughts about the failure of process writing approaches to provide minority and low-income students with access to the ‘code of power’ of ‘Standard’ English emerged from her own experiences as a classroom teacher committed to ensuring the success of African American children.” Delpit focuses on what teachers should be teaching students instead of teaching what they think should be taught. (In a more eloquent way of saying this would be from Delpit herself.) “It is important to teach our children to read and write, but it is more important to teach them to be proud of themselves, and of us” (Delpit, pg 89). Education should not overshadow or disconnect from a student’s culture and identity. What I realized is that so far my thesis seems to focus on how education, class, power, and language has, in fact, overshadow and disconnect a specific group (African Americans) from their culture and identity. I believe African Americans from the time they are students to whenever they finish school, has been stripped away from their power and pride when it comes to how language affected their lives and how that has passed on to the next generations or how it affects their life in general.
What Delpit wanted her readers and teachers to take away is, “classroom teachers lead the way to offering diverse groups the opportunity to learn about each other without the presumption of privilege or domination by any.” I thought this was such a powerful statement. This proposal was something I have never heard before coming from a scholar. This is the type of source I would love to use for my thesis. (I would have to double check first of course.)
I thought this was going to be difficult considering the potential I have for each of these styles. I was more focused on autoethnography since I took a memoir and women’s autobiography class during my undergraduate years. Before I reveal my final choice, let me show you my research.
*Warning: I did use Wikipedia for a lot of this research because I couldn’t find the material I needed but all articles used will be located at the end of the blog!*
Beginning with autoethnography, it is a form of qualitative research in which an author uses self-reflection and writing to explore anecdotal and personal experience and connect this autobiographical story to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings. Sarah Well from the University of Alberta, Canada wrote “Easier Said than Done: Writing an Autoethnography” said this about autoethnography:
Autoethnography is an intriguing and promising qualitative method that offers a way of giving voice to personal experience to extend sociological understanding.
It emerged from the postmodern philosophy, in which the dominance of traditional science and research is questioned, and many ways of knowing and inquiring are legitimated autoethnography offers a way of giving voice to personal experience to advance sociological understanding.
Now a memoir is different from an autoethnography. A memoir is a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources. It’s a collection of memories that an individual writes about moments or events, both public or private, that took place in the subject’s life. I wondered what the difference between a memoir an a biography was. A biography or autobiography tells the story “of a life,” while a memoir often tells a story “from a life,” such as touchstone events and turning points from the author’s life. After reading what Wikipedia had to say, I decided to make a chart of memoirs and autobiographies that I have read. After making the chart, I did notice that these groups had different writing styles.
Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Another BS Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? By Jeanette Winterson
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
My Lord, What a Morning: An Autobiography (Music in American Life) by Marian Anderson
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coats
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Night by Elie Wiesel
The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls
Before I made my final decision, I stumbled across the genre of Narrative Inquiry. Narrative Inquiry is a way of understanding and inquiring into the experience through “a collaboration between researcher and participants, over time, in a place or series of places, and social interaction with milieus. (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000, p 20.) It uses field texts, such as stories, autobiography, journals, field notes, letters, conversations, interviews, family stories, photos (and other artifacts), and life experience, as units of analysis to research and understands the way people create meaning in their narratives. (Wikipedia). However, it is criticized for not being “theoretical enough.” Before reading about Narrative Inquiry, I wanted to write an autoethnography. Now, I seem to be stuck between the two. Autoethnography allows me to incorporate just enough theory to support the point of my thesis but not overbearing the creative process that goes along with writing it. Narrative Inquiry would allow my thesis to be multimodal, which is something I think is an excellent opportunity to take advantage of while writing this thesis.
The last prompt I was given for the week was to think of five specific moments in your family history that has to do with power/language/race/identity. After doing some digging, I had a difficult time finding only five specific moments, but then I had an idea. I figure it was an original idea and something that I think could turn into something pretty great. It may seem ambitious but here’s my idea:
Within my family, there are five different generations. Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. Within these five groups, I have the same amount of family members that I could speak to get the information I want for my thesis. I am interested in the different comparisons of power, race, language, and identity as they see it. Is there something that the Traditionalists went through concerning language that still effects someone from Generation Z? (It’s a far stretch for now.) My point is that since all five groups come from the same family, same culture, same language, it would be easier to compare and contrast and truly see how the oppression of African American language affects not only one person, but an entire family. There’s so much that could be done with the interviews and gathering research to formulate an interesting thesis. Also, this is something I am not only interested in but have become passionate about.
Pictured in this post’s featured image were my main companions this week ^.^ (some were more helpful than others)~
So, this week was another productive week. In my last post, I mentioned having a schedule where I work on one of the remaining five sections of my thesis a week until I hit spring break. I’m glad to say I stuck to that schedule this week and was able to basically finish my section on Dadaism.
Now, I say “basically” because I know it’s one of those sections that’s definitely going to be focus in the proofreading/revising stage. There are some more details I want to add (but that require more reading than I was able to manage in between class and work–I picked up more hours ’cause I live in a Capitalist hell bills–this week), some concepts that need polishing, and some transitions in need of smoothing. But, the overall ideas are there.
The further I get along in my thesis, the more I’ve noticed a struggle between the writer in me–who wants to create and generate–and the perfectionist in me–who wants to pause and refine. It’s a little challenging for me to just put the ideas down on the paper and not focus so much on polishing those ideas. I don’t like to leave my work rough. But, this is the time for it. I’m in the drafting stage–in a lot of different areas of my life. Making things sound intelligent and aesthetically pleasing is not a small task but, right now, it shouldn’t be my focus. It’s been hard to let some of my rough and fraying edges show but it may be the only way to move forward.
Some of the sources I’m drawing from for the Dada section of my paper, also, are inspiring me and triggering new lines of thought. For example, in one of my sources, Destruction Was My Beatriceby Jed Rasula, there is this picture:
Degenerate Art Exhibit. 1937, Munich.
I hadn’t seen this picture before but it of the Degenerate Art exhibit. This exhibit was organized by the Nazi party and was used as a way to vilify and ridicule art that they believed was “an insult” and “un-German”. 650 pieces of confiscated Dada art were a part of this exhibit, many considered masterpieces. When the Nazi party began to succumb to the Ally forces, much of the art in this exhibit was either burned, buried in underground vaults still being discovered, or otherwise destroyed. The fate of too much of the work remains unknown.
In this specific photograph, you can see that the Nazis scrawled the words “Take Dada seriously” across the walls of this exhibit. This was an original Dada slogan that the Nazis, like so many other things, twisted. When I read this, I felt this sudden pang. Not that the rest of the exhibit and its existence at all doesn’t upset but it hurt me on a different level(?) to be able to see just how much derisiveness–no, hatred–there was towards this movement and towards artists who dared to challenge the leading authorities and their world view. There’s something so malicious and downright hateful about throwing these artists words back in their faces like this–literally. Apparently, some of the artist who did not flee Europe and were able to hide actually went to this exhibit and saw their work. Hannah Hoch went more than once. I can’t even begin to imagine what she or any of the artists must’ve felt walking through that exhibit.
Dada was a way to reclaim a world gone mad but what do you do when that very same world reclaims you and calls you the mad one? The degenerate one?
The “writing on the wall” here makes me think of what’s currently happening in a lot of ways. As far as my thesis is concerned, I think there’s a similar kind of vilification of memes and of Millennial culture as a whole. Memes aren’t being rounded up to display in some “Degenerate Art 2.0” gallery yet but they are certainly being slandered across every so-called “authority”‘s platform. They’re being used as examples of the degradation of society. Many emergent forms of digital content creation are being used like this. And, Millennials can’t do a damn thing without a “Millenials are ruining [insert literally any noun, verb, or phrase]” article being posted–ironically–online.
Knowing how the Nazis used strategies like this to retain power make me, too, wonder who is benefiting from the vilification of my generation? Maybe I should wonder who isn’t though….
All this is to say that I got a lot out of the work I did this week. I got more content down for my thesis but I also got to further explore some of the ideas that have been percolating. Combing through the history of Dada is fascinating and also so illuminating. I imagine, as I continue working through my sources, that more ideas will be generated and will be able to really help me connect all of these points I’m trying to make in my thesis.
Overall, this has been a thoughtful week for me. I’m learning not to worry so much about my rough edges and, also, to really pay attention to the writing on the wall. It might spark insight.
Over the past week, I was given prompts and questions to sort out the next steps for my thesis. The first one was:
-How does family plays a part in language and the politics that comes with it?
A family is something that not everybody has. I think about this a lot. I come from a huge family. By being the youngest, I was always around adults. I never understood what they were talking about when it came to sports, politics, or relationships. However, it wasn’t about understanding the meaning behind it, but it was the language that surrounded me.
Besides my parents, brothers, and other extended family members, I grew up with Southern grandparents. Hearing words such as, “ain’t” and “y’all” was normal. Pronouncing “remember” as “member” or “because” as “cause.” Even the use of my grammar and sentence structure when I would say phrases like, “I been seen that,” was deemed acceptable in my household. It was not until I stepped out of my home and away from my family that I realized I spoke differently from others; or as people would say, “speaking wrong.”
Despite the negative feedback and negligence of teaching, the beauty of my family was that when we spoke in our own language amongst ourselves, it was a safe place. It didn’t matter what degrees people had in the room or if someone didn’t finish high school, we all spoke the same language.
Reflecting back on how I grew up and the type of education I received, my grammar was never corrected. For the benefit of learning and being the best students I could be, I believe that opportunity was never given to me. It was not until my first year of undergraduate school that I had an instructor who was honest but passionate and cared. I think when it comes to the educational system, many holes need fixing. Instead of trying to teach me, I was automatically considered “dumb and black” just because of the way I spoke. When in reality, there was nothing “wrong” with the way I spoke or what my language was. I was unaware that not only me but my entire family has been speaking African American Vernacular English so eloquently. It almost feels like someone, in a higher power position, has been withholding important information from us that’s about us to keep us in the same status that we’re currently in. (Boy…sounds familiar?)
Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe when it comes to “rules” in writing in a classroom setting is good. It creates structure and a foundation for the subjects being learned. However, what I don’t think is a good thing is how we go about teaching kids who use Standard English as their second language. The reason why this topic of language in the black community and family has struck a nerve is because of what I see every day. Specifically my grandparents. I have realized that when they are around people who “speak properly,” have more education, or are a different race, they become ashamed of their language. It hurts my heart because of three things:
Their race and the era they grew up in, they were denied access to education. Not because they weren’t smart but because of various laws in the U.S.
It’s not their fault that ignorance goes beyond skin tone but even how they speak.
No one taught them (or any of us) to be proud of their language. They are the roots of how I speak every day, and that is something I am proud of.
The second prompt was:
-Describe my books/story ideas. Is it worth telling?
There are two book/story ideas that I cherish but have been waiting for the right time to pursue it. The first one does not have a title yet. All the characters are fleshed out and what the focus is. The story is about a group of friends who went to college together who are now working in their fields. A new woman who starts working at their job catches the eye of our main character, Nathaniel Lee. However, she is also hiding a secret that puts her, Nathaniel, and Nathaniel’s friends in danger with the FBI. I did a lot of research with biology and science to come up with the main plot of this story. Since this story has more dialogue than prose writing, I would probably want to format this story has a screenplay.
The second story is called, “The Girl with the Red Timberlands”; a realistic fiction story about various stories and events that happens to the main character, Peak. Chapters such as “Little White Casket,” “Virgin Night,” and “The Ibis Hotel” would be in it. It’s the story of childhood, high school years, and college life tying into what the future holds for Peak. The unique twist to this book is that the story is told backward, which means her college life would be told first, then high school, and then childhood.
The reason why I think both of these stories are worth telling is because they will represent not only people who look like my family and me but other races as well. Diversity is a great reason to tell these stories. Both of these stories have been in the works for several years now. I am confident that an overwhelming amount of joy and accomplishment will come from finishing them.
The last prompt was:
-Develop one idea that we didn’t talk about.
Over the past week, I thought about maybe making a documentary for my thesis. I’ll have a write-up and a video as well. It’s not an idea that is set in stone in my heart, but it is something new that I thought about. My goal for next week is to have an even more detailed thought out idea to start writing my Early Proposal.
“Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he [she] is.” ~ Jackson Pollock
No More Just Grinding Gears
So, this has been a productive week for me.
After many weeks of stagnating on my thesis and being unable to bring myself to really write much of anything, I flew through writing almost 20 pages of content. I’ve now got several sections done and only a few more to go. That’s not to say those remaining sections will be a breeze but I’m proud of what I managed to accomplish this week. I hope this momentum continues.
This week, I focused mainly on finishing the section of my paper exploring inspirational Elit pieces for my own work and on starting and completing the digital art section. As of this morning, both can be checked off my to-do list. It’s funny. Once I re-framed what I wanted to focus on–my inspirations rather than trying to make some grand statement–the words came easily. It was like everything I had been thinking about over these past few months was finally given the go-ahead. More, I feel like I’ve got my groove back.
I feel revitalized and a bit rejuvenated. Now that some burdens are no longer weighing me down, I feel like I can finally focus on what’s important to me again. Which, right now, is my writing. It’s my project, my thesis. This subject is something I’ve been thinking about for a few years now and it’s something that genuinely interests me, makes me curious, and motivates me to what to discover and explore. It’s so frustrating that my curiosity and my motivation was tampered down for as long as it was.
It’s even more frustrating that my voice at all was silenced. Like, I believe my work is important and fascinating and that it speaks to a sociocultural shift that is occurring right now and that should be documented. Even if that weren’t true, this tome is important to me. That should be enough.
I’m hoping to move forward at a steady pace from here on out. My goal is to complete the written part of my thesis by spring break, which is the second week of March. That’s about five weeks away. I have about five remaining sections to write. If I complete a section a week, I should meet my goal. I’m pretty confident that this is a goal I can meet barring any unforeseen circumstances. It would remove a lot of stress from my life as well if I did complete this part of my thesis by then. I could focus on proofreading and on the installation aspect of my thesis.
It took until now, but I’m finally feeling like I have enough content to constitute a thesis. or most of this process, I have felt like my work has been fairly inadequate. Like, I’m never doing as much as I should be. Or, I’m not finding what I should be when I should be. It’s like I’ve been experiencing a grad-school-length-lag. I’m still concerned about finding and combing through more research to support my points. Also, I’m concerned, to an extent, about my thesis being too opinionated. But, these concerns are lee pressing to me than they have been. I feel like I can see the end result and it’s enough–for me, at least. I hope that’s enough for everyone else.
This is not an easy or straightforward process and it has been very hard to get even this far. There have been so many doubts, so many that have not made it to the blog. But, I feel like I have the momentum, no, to not only see the end but get to the end. I have a plan and a schedule I feel confident I can stick to. I have a renewed sense of direction. And, I have so much support from so many amazing, wonderful people who want to see me succeed. If anything, that’s the fuel that will keep this momentum going.