5. time to breathe
thinking about incorporating difficult comments into writing and Octavia Butler
Hi there! I’m Ida, and this is tiny driver, a newsletter about research, pedagogy, culture and their intersections. Thank you for being here. Reply anytime, I love hearing from you.
Last week was filled with scheduling. Scheduling for webinars on how to teach online, scheduling in time during the evenings to learn more about personal finance (something I’m becoming more acutely aware of as I get older), scheduling blocks of time to switch between priority tasks that I need to finish. As the summer is coming to an end, it seems as though the amount of things I’m hoping to get done is constantly expanding. At one point this week, I was getting a bit anxious about it.
One tactic that helped mitigate the feeling of being overwhelmed was creating a list of “What I’ve Done So Far.” This included the work I have already put towards the larger projects that I am working on (e.g. creating course syllabi, re-submitting an article for publication, learning about becoming a faculty member). By physically writing down what I had already done in June and July, it made me feel like I could accomplish what I’ve set out to do this month, as most of it is tying up the projects that I have already been working on. Putting my tasks into the larger context of the quarter has been critical to giving me the momentum to see these goals through.
What I write.
One of the major goals I’ve been working on this summer is the revisions for an article I am resubmitting to a journal for publication. In essence, the article is on strategies of survival after 9/11 for a certain sector of the Iranian diaspora. In it, I closely read different cultural objects and show how they work to assert a connection between American and Persian exceptionalism. It has been a difficult process for me, not just because of the work that I have put into the revision, but also because of the ways in which I have had to engage with some of the reviewer comments I received. While one reviewer had incredibly productive comments that I think have greatly strengthened my article’s argument and significance, the other reviewer’s comments were psychically a bit more difficult to parse through.
To give you a picture of the comments that were written, I’ll share with you all a text that I sent one of my mentors a few days after receiving the comments back.
I’m not kidding. These words were written to describe my writing, and it was so jarring to see upon first read. But here’s the thing. My article’s argument and its anti-capitalist & anti-imperialist framework is precisely what the reviewer took offense to. In other words, the reviewer may be (most likely is?) a part of the diasporic community that I am critiquing. (This community includes some folks who came to the United States in the wake of the Iranian Revolution and were likely of higher socio-economic status.) And while I may have intellectually understood that this was the case, it was still quite distressing to receive. So, I sent this text off to one of my mentors & emailed another—both of whom work on the Iranian diaspora—and I was able to speak with them about the reviewer comments and how I should think about them.
I had a phone call with both of them that day, and they each mentioned a word that I really thought about throughout the summer: trauma. In essence, the reviewer may still be dealing with the trauma of the Iranian Revolution and how it plays into current senses of belonging for members of the diaspora. I had neglected to write certain caveats and specificities that would have made my language (and therefore argument) more nuanced. And while this made sense to me, the comments were still difficult to take in. On top of that, because I kept hearing the comments inside my head while I revised, my thoughts were too clouded to revise without emotion.
So, I decided to do two things that really have come in handy now that I am in the final push towards turning in my revisions. First, I translated the comments into a new document. In other words, I put both reviewer comments into my own words in a different document so that I wouldn’t have to see those adjectives staring at me after I revised. Second, I gave my article some time to breathe. I realized that I was too close to it to be able to really make substantial or meaningful revisions. So, I left the article to the side for a few weeks and did not touch it. I did this in good faith, hoping that the time away would allow me to gain some perspective.
Luckily, upon returning to it a couple weeks ago, I approached it in a much calmer space. The combination of time away from the article and translating the comments really helped me see how to think through my argument in a way that took both reviewers’ perspectives into consideration without abandoning my argument’s anti-imperial & anti-capitalist framework. I still am arguing what I initially set out to say, but I am doing it in a way that (I hope) takes into consideration the perspective of those who may oppose me and extends empathy toward them and their experiences. Although I wish that the reviewer had been a bit more measured in their words, I think that the gravity to which they took their comments was what had me take a step back and talk with my mentors. More than that, perhaps, the strong reaction means that I may be on to something (?).
While I am still working on these revisions (they’re due next week!!), though, I hope to center the empathy I feel toward the reviewer to inform my word choice and make this the strongest article that it can be.
What I consume.
Last week, I began and finished Kindred by Octavia Butler. It was my first time reading Kindred, and my first time reading Butler, and wow, did it not disappoint. I have seen this book of speculative fiction/sci-fi on many American Studies syllabi written by my friends and colleagues. When reading adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy last year, I also noted that Butler was an important thinker for brown’s conception of building better worlds.
For those have not yet read the book, it chronicles the travel of Dana—a 26-year old Black woman—through time and space, between her home in 1976 Los Angeles and Maryland during the antebellum era. While the reason for her time travel becomes clearer each time, the stakes of her safety and those around her get higher and higher. While the entire book is absolutely brilliant, the moment that spoke the most to me came at the end during the “Epilogue.” In it, (*spoilers*) Dana and her husband Kevin travel back to Maryland in their time to see what happened to her ancestors—both white and black. And while there is documentation charting the whereabouts of her white ancestors through various newspapers & documents at the historical society archives, the lives of her black ancestors and friends—those who she met and worked alongside for the many months she was stuck in the 1800s—are lost among the papers. So much of the history that I and those around me write are filled with these moments—this invisibility in the formal archive that leave more questions than we’d like. It is in moments like this that, as Saidiya Hartman writes, we must make room for critical fabulation.
Item(s) of note.
Higgins and Girlie went to Chrissy Field this weekend. Luckily, everyone was wearing masks and were keeping social distance from one another. It felt safe and both of them were able to enjoy themselves too. Girlie got a chance to bound through some very tall grass, and Higgins got to pose in front of a fog-laden Golden Gate Bridge.
What a good boy.
That’s all for this newsletter. As always, thank you for reading though, and I’ll see you in the next one!