Writing through the Holidays: Old School? New School? No School?

Hello again! I certainly hope this blog finds you well.

As the holidays approach, I sometimes wish I could put the research away, silence the keys on my computer, and dry out all the ink in my pens save only for the bit needed to scrawl out a slew of Thank You cards. But most of the time, I just wish I had more time to keep on writing and researching. My mother can sit knitting next to me, my father can work on editing his photographs, my soon to be husband can read another book on theatre history or the latest on hospital management while I sift through a new history of Herman Melville or the NYT archives looking for clues.

Even as I begin the marketing process of my first book, The Trickster in Ginsberg: A Critical Reading, and even as we launch into the holiday season, I find myself now working on two new research projects. The one I’m closest to completing isn’t a book but an academic article on the first United States Congresswoman of color, Rep. Patsy T. Mink of Hawaii. She’s an incredible woman — co-author of Title IX, a major proponent of special and bilingual education, and an early dissenter against the Vietnam War, she witnessed her own father being kidnapped by the U.S. government during WWII for no better reason than his being Japanese; she desegregated the dorms of the University of Nebraska; and was one of the few Congresspersons to oppose the passing of the Patriot Act. I’m currently working on a study of her opposition to the Vietnam War by conducting close readings of several of her speeches through a critical race theory lens.

I am particularly excited about this project because it hits on a number of topics that are near and dear to me while still providing a plethora of opportunities to learn and work with materials I previously knew nothing about.

However, for the latter reason especially, I am encountering a fair amount of resistance from some of my colleagues at the George Washington University. I have come to personally believe that graduate school is not the place for people who want to learn new things but the place for people who want to become hyper-specialized in a topic they are already familiar with. As a student of the inter- and multidisciplinary, I find this frustrating though I can appreciate the value in becoming a hyper-specialist in certain circumstances and areas. Please do not interpret my words here as some sort of indictment  against GW or against graduate schools generally but simply as an observation, as a consideration. I didn’t know until I entered graduate school just how oddly I fit and do not fit into certain academic scenes. Some of my colleagues find it empowering — as I do — to be continuously exploring different areas and times while others of my colleagues find excitement in discovering every detail of the single mountain they’ve dedicated their scholarly lives to. These latter colleagues are also the ones who have suggested I may be wasting time and creating an unmarketable and baffling professional persona/CV/reputation.

I have often heard the old saying, Write What You Know. However, I have never taken this to mean that I shouldn’t write about things that I’m not an absolute expert on. I interpret this phrase to mean — before you write, do your research. And this isn’t a new argument either. It’s not as if specialization is the way of the Old School while interdisciplinary study is the New School — these are old debates and old ways both.

What do you think? I see pros and cons to both sides of this — after all, we can’t all be Noam Chomsky or Philip Kolb. But how should this impact how we teach, mentor, and encourage graduate students as well as professional academics?

My advice? If you or someone you know is an academic writer, give them an extra hug this holiday season.

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One thought on “Writing through the Holidays: Old School? New School? No School?”

  1. I have heard you express dissatisfaction with the graduate school experience before. But this the first time I have heard you speak about it analytically. Well done! My career experiences have been wandering. My father called it “the path of least resistance” method. But I have found that all the disparate learning and experience synthesize to make the next experience richer. They make me more valuable and more completely competent and creative.

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