Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Just a plain old update

This week has been crazy--the traveling month of October is almost coming to an end and I am thankful for that. Though the traveling has taken me away from writing a little, the spaces I have been able to share my new work have been very affirming. As I share more, my new ideas and work, I feel much more confidant and secure about the project. 

I will be focusing on dissertation fellowship applications this week. I had some major breakthroughs last week in terms of writing and writing my way towards clarity. I'm definitely beginning to develop a relationship to writing that is less about the outcome and more about the journey---something that I feel is necessary for getting the dissertation done. I have a lot of fear about writing the wrong thing and sometimes that fear keeps me from writing, but the practice of writing everyday gives me the space to relinquish fear and instead be present. Sometimes you have to relinquish control and let the story take shape organically--what is the archive trying to tell you? What does the archive want/need you to share?

Writing is about articulation, but it is also about listening. 

Do you take the time to listen during this writing journey or is it all about what you have to say?

Just a question.

I wish you all a great week of writing!


Monday, October 15, 2012

Keep Writing

The Traveling has begun.
My writing feels sporadic because it is.
I have a hard time writing when I don't have a stable sense of place, but I still try to.

Keep Writing. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Archive--Poetry in the Finding

I have been spending a lot of time in the archive recently. I enjoy it. I really enjoy the quiet calm convening with ancestors, with moments, movements past/passed. I found a Black Lesbian and Gay Newsletter from Jan. 1985 and I thought, wow--that's the month and year that I was born. Did those folks know they were calling me in to existence as they were also calling upon themselves and each other?


Poetry in the Finding--Our Black Queer Herstories
I find you in folders and boxes stored away
Were you waiting for me?
Because I have been dreaming of you and your stories
Were you dreaming about me and my friends?
Were you thinking of us when asked for Black and Gay?
Were you thinking of yourselves and just how badd you were/are?

From The National Coalition of Black Gays Bylaws, Nov. 1980

They told me you didn’t exist like this
But I have seen you now
I come to you with questions

How did we get here?
I know I can’t go back, but perhaps you can give me some ideas as to how to move forward
I come to you humbly and with gratitude
Thank you for the doing and the writing

1982 NY.

Thank you for documenting your lives as you lived and loved so fiercely
And I know the record is incomplete
I know there are things I will never truly come to understand
But please teach me what I need to know now
For this moment for these people

1979 Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference
2011 Here to Stay Coalition




Thursday, September 27, 2012

Remember, this is about Freedom.

I know it's a little late in the week for updates, but I made a promise and I'm holding myself accountable (weekly updates). So I'm on a plane to Madison, Wisconsin for a Print Cultures Conference. As I mentioned last week, I may have been a bit over zealous with the scheduling, but I will do my best to be extra attentive to my body now because I have a tendency to live in my head its easy for me to forget self care. I've been known to forget basic things like eating and drinking water. I can go a whole day on a cup of coffee and I only realize I haven't eaten because I begin to feel light headed or headachy. We must take care of our bodies. We must take care of our hearts. We must take care of each other.

If you are feeling overly anxious, depressed, or anything that indicates something is wrong--take a moment to check in with self. Why are you so worried? What are you afraid of? And for a second go there. If the worst thing did occur how would you respond? I'm a big fan of alternative plan making just so that I remember that no matter what there's always a way, even if it wasn't the original plan I mapped out for myself.

And what does this have to do with writing? Everything. Writing is my job, but writing is also my spiritual practice, the first craft I ever fell in love with and I must honor that. Writing in the Academy under pressure can make you forget your love of words and communication. We must keep in mind that at the end of the day many of us will write amazing dissertations and finally walk across stages with our much deserved Harry Potter uniforms; yet, we may not get jobs. So what will you do when all is said and done and you're an unemployed doctor who just spent the last 5-10years working towards  this goal? How will you remain committed to and affirmed in your own brilliance even if you never receive any institutional recognition? Will you be okay? I want you to be okay.

I remind myself that I'm a writer. I'm a writer right now. I was a writer when I was 5. I will continue to be a writer after I get my PhD. Sometimes we have to be reminded of the reasons why we do the things we do because it can get confusing. Am I writing this to impress my committee? Am I writing this because I feel passionate about it? If someone told you your work was unimportant, would you have a breakdown or would you continue to write? There will be haters. Sometimes you might not say the perfect word or write the perfect sentence, but keep writing because it really isn't about the final destination(this might change), it's about the journey. Each time you write you get better. 

For me, sharing my work at conferences or with new friends is when I find myself most present to my pleasure in this work. It's about connection, building and creating together. In the academy we are taught to get it done. No matter the cost. No matter how insane you might feel, get it done! And usually you are alone in some dark place trying to write your way to freedom. Alone.  We are taught to strive to create new fashionable language that displaces the old, but I'm still stuck on freedom. I believe we need new language to "tranifest" our new world, but know it's not the new word, rather it's how the new word enables new possibilities for living in this world (not just our institutions) with joy. If we take just two steps outside our academic silos we will see our names don't mean much-and our new fancy words haven't quite hit the streets yet;) And this is not to say that changing academic discourse within the academy isn't important because it is, but we need to be aware of the bigger project of liberation. 

We must recognize our privilege as scholars (in training). Our work is thinking, dreaming, visioning story-telling, teaching, learning, questioning...Yes, it is a challenge, but we are privileged and we must honor that and keep our minds set on changing the world. That is what we want (and if you don't know what I'm talking about read this again at a later date;) The kind of world that I want to live in will not sustain our ego trippin' or the reproduction of trauma (passed down from one scarred professor, to grad student(future professor), to student). A shift in the structures of power doesn't simply effect cis gender white men--we all have to change and become anew. 

On that note...I'll end this update by saying that writing is going slowly but going. I'm experiencing a lot of interruptions with publication deadlines, conferences, and fellowship applications, but I know that it is all going to come together. I have a community that supports and challenges me. We have the power to make it happen and we have a responsibility to change the conditions so that our future scholars know that this work is not about one great wo/man's genius--it's about collectively building  a new university where race, gender, class, and sexuality aren't simply the courses you take to fulfill your diversity requirement. I envison a new university accessible to all, a univesity that won't require indebted souls (student loan debt) in exchange for the right to produce knowledge (that don't even sound right...wait, it's not;). 

Let's go people! Get your write on!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Doing too much?

So writing has been okay, just okay. I am trying to manage writing while also still collecting interviews and archival research and sometimes it seems like I'm being pulled in too many directions. Or perhaps I'm not sure of the direction yet and with every new story I uncover, my major story changes a little. How do you manage research and writing? Do you set aside time for both everyday? 

Another issue that I have been struggling with is that I have committed to too many conferences. Events that when I signed up for them, I thought great this will give me a hard deadline to have something ready. This can be a good way to motivate oneself, but only in moderation. I'm getting ready for October and every weekend I am presenting somewhere (mostly places that require a lot of travel). When October is done I will have to spend a good amount of time completing dissertation fellowship applications. What I am learning is that sometimes I sign up for too many things (boundaries, important skill to have). I believe they will all be beneficial in someway of course, but this does take away from concentrated writing time.

Strategies I learned this week: No Facebook until I have completed a good portion of work.

On a scale of 1-10 I'd give myself a satisfactory this week. I definitely need to spend more time writing, but I also have to reconcile the need to do more research. I had a really great interview this week and I'm looking forward to spending the next couple of days in the archive.

It takes time to figure it all out. Be patient with yourself, but do not coddle. Push yourself, but do not hound. Find balance and find it again. 

Wishing everyone a great writing week!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Try. Try. And Try Again...

I didn’t have the best writing week, though I did accomplish some important things like handing in my final revisions for an article that I’m really excited about. I didn’t do my two pages everyday mostly because I was having a hard time finding the words. When you sit at the computer and nothing comes to you, what do you do? What are your strategies? 
A strategy that worked for me (when I tried it) was to change my scenery--I have created a great work space in my house, but I realize that sometimes I need change. I went to the library a couple of times this week and I was really productive in that setting. Another thing that helps me is a study buddy. I really don't like the loneliness of writing sometimes, it really helps me to be around others who are also writing. Sometimes it's helpful to check in with your study buddy before you write and share your goals for the session--it's helps me to be accountable when I either write my goals down or speak them aloud to someone else. Though this week wasn’t the best for writing I’m looking forward to trying it again this week. Instead of beating myself up, I’ll just try, try, and try again. I hope you all have a great writing week!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Weekly Update:

I am happy to report back that I have been writing daily, at least two pages(weekdays). I started running again at the end of July--I don't really like running, but I like the way I feel after running. I keep a running journal that keeps track of when I run, how long the run last, and a whole lot of other things. I get pleasure from knowing and seeing my running history documented in my running journal/calender. I'm thinking of getting stickers for myself for a writing calender, a sticker for each day of writing. What kind of incentives do you give yourself? Writing and running are similar acts to me, I have to build endurance as a writer in the same way that I do as a runner. It's about creating a lifestyle change so that writing isn't something to be done just in time for a deadline, but something that is integrated into my daily life. I make room for moments when the writing is hard and I have to push myself. I also make room for the moments when it all seems to come together in a divine way--when the words flow easily and it all aligns. As I continue to write daily I am starting to feel a longing for my writing area--I want to write!  Now that's  a good feeling.


I have a hard time with revision. What is your re-visioning process? My approach to revision has usually been to start over, but this makes me feel as though I never really get a chance to trace the history of how my ideas grow, expand and change.

Do you have any helpful tips? Please share. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Writing With Soul

While I was out of the country I decided to read a writing guide, a book that I could never justify making time to read at home because I always rationalized, “The time I’m spending reading this book is time I should be using to write.” The text I brought with me was, How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silvia. Because I was on vacation, I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself to work, but I did have two goals in mind for the trip: 1) Create a new updated schedule for the year and 2) Create a new weekly schedule. I needed to do these two things because I knew they would be the documents I could look to for grounding and boundaries. I needed to recommit myself to writing, which has become difficult for me these days.
How to Write A lot angered me because the author who was anchored in the hard social sciences (psychology) focused on writing as a job, a job that I would never want. Silvia writes:
Academic writing should be more routine, boring, and mundane than it is. To Foster a mundane view of writing, this book says nothing about the ‘soul of writing,’ the nondenominational ‘spirit of writing,’ or even the secular ‘essence of writing.’ Only poets talk about the soul of writing.(7).
Now I believe this is too crass of an approach because I want to write poetry and Lord(e) knows I want/need my writing to have soul. I believe Audre Lorde when she writes “…there are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.” (“Poetry is Not a Luxury”, 39) How can you get someone to feel something that’s soulless? That is definitely not the kind of writing I came here to do. I often times feel like the academy wants our bodies for the diversity we bring (all the work we can do as Black and Queer and…) but it also seeks to destroy our souls, our poetry from the future, our freedom dreams. Silvia’s anti-poetry endorsements are ones that I just can’t get with and I found myself wanting to prove him wrong. There were tools in the text that I found useful, like making a schedule and writing daily even if you don’t want to because the practice of writing daily can only help you to get better. But does the work we do require us to let go of the poetry? I think the academy can crush the poet and leave us with PhD in hand (if you make it), but when you are done are you happy? Or do you feel like you just got out of hell?
I have watched my brilliant friends write their AMAZING dissertations and usually I won’t see them for the last couple of months. When they return they look like they’ve gone through war and are in need of rest and wound reparation (but as academics when you finish one thing it’s on to the next hurdle). Is there a way to do this thing holistically, with love, with health and with friends? YES! I say yes because I refuse to kill my soul and my body in my attempt to get a PhD.
So how do we create new modes of getting it done? I say we must do it collectively even though this is not something our institutions promote. Some of the things that have been helpful for me are finding and creating support with other queer of color graduate students and the folks who have made it through. PhDoula, Alexis Pauline Gumbs is actively helping to make the path to the PhD for people, especially queer people of color, a feat that doesn’t require soul killing. Instead, Gumbs encourages us to find the poetry that we seek in future. She asks us to not only think about the questions that frame our projects, but how do those questions, those problems make their way into our daily lives.
Another important tool is a writing schedule that you stick with. This was one thing How to Write A lot helped me to think through. Sometimes you may not want to write but you have to do it everyday. How you do it is up to you. For me a writing schedule that blocks out increments of time isn’t the best because I am the person who always finds myself checking the time. Instead, I have committed to writing at least two pages a day, making time irrelevant. I have been writing everyday and it’s been a full week now--that feels great! In order to keep this up, I need to be held accountable. My advisor recommended a writing buddy or group where we check in simply to ask, “Have you completed your writing today?” This takes off any pressure of reading and responding to someone else’s work when you are in the thick of your own, but it still creates a kind of community accountability that I can get down with.
I am the person who waits to write until I have some spark of genius, light bulb moment. There is still room for that, but writing daily allows me to make use of another tool that helps me as a writer and a thinker. I have been trying to free myself from the burden of procrastination for some time now (of course the procrastinator would take a while to get to this;). I have found that schedules and lists are the thing that work for me. When I get to cross something off my lists I get a sense of completion. But of course when you write a dissertation, the check mark doesn’t come so easily or quickly. A dissertation is a much larger than a seminar paper and what has been keeping me from writing is the feeling of being overwhelmed and afraid that I don’t yet have all of the answers or even all of the questions worked out in my head. My approach to writing has been to first have a clear idea of the question and the map to a response in my head before actually writing, so when I wrote it would mostly be a transcription from mind to page. But again, a dissertation is much too big to work through in that way. This means that I have had to change my approach to writing and in doing so I realize that through writing you can and will also learn. This kind of writing requires one to relinquish control or for me the idea that I already have it all figured out.
What are some of the things that keep you from writing? What are some of the tools you use to keep writing? Do you write with others or alone? Do you have a particular writing space/time? (I have recently created a writing area in my living room with a simple room divider and having that boundary has really helped me to write) Do you have examples of positive collaboration in the academy?
Please share your thoughts.
I will be writing weekly updates again for this blog, even if it’s just to say I got my writing done this week. Feel free to hold me accountable:-)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On Resting

"I am writing these words as a route map/ an artifact for survival/ a chronicle of buried treasure/ a mourning/ for this place we are about to be leaving/ a rudder for my children     your children/ our lovers     our hopes      braided/ from the dull wharves of Thompkinsville/ to Zimbabwe   Chad    Azania."-Audre Lorde "On My Way Out I Passed Over You and the Verrazano Bridge" 

Rest. Break. Tired. When do you rest? I mean really rest. I have been resting and taking it easy since my surgery a couple of weeks ago. While I was away from home, while I was in Florida I was able to rest without guilt. But as soon as I came home, I felt pressure and no one had said anything to me other than, "Kai, make sure you rest." But when I got home I wanted to clean, unpack,  and get organized because I had work to do, writing to do, archival research, and interviews to conduct. It is hard to rest when rest is coupled with guilt. In fact, that kind of rest doesn't feel like rest at all...stress. Self care is so important for us academics, especially academics of color. I watch my friends and colleagues who are older and more advanced try to balance it all but it is stressful. I see them work tirelessly and we know that Black women especially die young in the academy, but I want to live long and I want my comrades to live long. I want us to be able to take care of ourselves without guilt; that is freedom. Rest without guilt. So how do you take care of yourself? How do you motivate yourself when you're tired?  How do you balance it all?

Please respond because I could use some tips:)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On Writing

“Writing is a tool that enables people in every discipline to wrestle with facts and ideas. It’s a physical activity, unlike reading. Writing requires us to operate some kind of mechanism—pencil, pen, typewriter, word processor—for getting our thoughts on paper. It compels us by the repeated effort of language to go after those thoughts and to organize them and present them clearly. It forces us to keep asking, ‘Am I saying what I want to say?’ Very often the answer is ‘No.’ It’s a useful piece of information.”[1]
We have all been told that writing is a process, but I am just now learning what that means. My experience with writing has, I’ll admit, been one of random light bulb moments. Ideas come to me while driving, hiking, or sometimes even in dreams. Whole poems have come to me in dreams—I wake up just in time to remember and write them down. My relationship to writing has been one where I have felt more like the vessel through which some other voice speaks and I simply transcribe. To become aware of this was a major break through moment for me because it gave me clarity as to why my relationship to writing has often felt so troubled, painful and difficult.
I have deliberately been working to change my relationship to writing—instead of always thinking about a finished product, I am learning to embrace the journey. This is a journey that I enter with intention. And my intention is not simply to be done with the dissertation; it is to give myself permission to explore. I realized that I have been afraid of the journey. I have been afraid to write a sentence that didn’t quite make the point on paper the way I heard it in my head or felt it in my heart. 
As I entered the writing stage of the dissertation, I created a writing schedule that was difficult to maintain because I didn’t know how to engage writing with discipline or with patience—I wanted the dissertation to appear to me in a dream. I have never fully taken the time to cultivate my relationship to my own voice as a writer because I have been holding on to the idea that my ideas come from some elsewhere. I do believe in that elsewhere, but that elsewhere isn’t so far away. It is in me, I just have to learn how to access it. This takes practice, persistence, and patience. This change in my consciousness has motivated me and even given me more confidence in my capacity to write and think.
I am handing in the dissertation introduction to my advisor tomorrow and I feel good about it. I’m not worried about the things that I didn’t say or the arguments that aren’t as clear as I’d like them to be. This is a process, a journey and it takes time. Yesterday I woke up anxious to return to the problem I had written myself into the day before—that was new and exciting for me.
In my research, I’m obsessed with darkness, shadows, the spaces that are difficult to find, the spaces that many mark as dead—but I know life, beautiful life can exist there. Writing is a kind of darkness for me and I’m putting my money where my mouth is by playing in that darkness. I remind you, and myself “If the process is sound, the product will take care of itself.”[2]
What is your relationship to writing? What is your writing schedule like? What are the tools you use to make yourself a better writer? I would really love to hear back from you regarding your own process. Let’s share our knowledge and grow together:-)

[1] William Zinsser, Writing To Learn (Harper Perennial, 1993), 49.
[2] Ibid., 16.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

History, Time, Questions...

Do you believe history can be a type of salvation? Do you believe that without a sense of the past we can't build a new and better future? Does freedom dreaming require rewriting history from below? Is our desire for history connected to a search for some natal home? Why is collecting, documenting, marking time or saving moments important? I feel like it might be the best thing I have to pass down to future generations—stories, tales, and truths of past struggles, victories and losses. In a way my dissertation can be thought of as a letter reaching back to the Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic—my people who lived in the dark, in the ships’ bottoms. Yes, this project is a letter to my younger self who longed to be connected to a part of me that existed in my own body’s history.  How do I make love out of the present and past? I'm writing for the future. I’m writing for the right now and the yesterdays. The way time has been marked upon our bodies and our histories is often times not in sync thus the tales are said to be illegible or impossible. If you've ever edited film you'd notice that if you move the image without moving the audio track the story doesn't make much sense--it becomes distorted. Normativity dominates our world and our time—it encourages us to throw away distortions, but what if we used a different meter? A different time? Might we create a different place?  Periodization standardizes time as it marks clear beginnings and endings, winners and losers, but for those of us who were never meant to survive, those of us who were never supposed to have beginnings, and those of us who have beginnings that start in the darkness as aberrations—well, who can read us? Who can see us? Who can understand audio and visual that might be out of sync, but still in motion? This might be the beginning of a transgender of color analytic...


This blog is a space where I share some of the questions, problems, exciting finds that I come across during this dissertation phase. I will post something at least twice a month. So my project:


Into The Darkness: (Re)membering Black Queer Los Angeles
Neither the existing literature on queer Los Angeles nor the literature on Black Los Angeles have been able to fully contend with Black queer Los Angeles, but my intervention via oral history and archival research will tell some of these lesser known histories of Black queer social and political organizing. Constitutive to histories of Black Los Angeles are the histories of Black queer Angelenos, though scholarship on the subject is scant. Many accounts of Gay Los Angeles are centered upon specific geographic locations, like West Hollywood, rendering the experiences of Black queer folks invisible, as Black queer Angelenos have a different geographical center. Through encounters with the present I discover a past that is not closeted, but rather protected. This is not a linear history, but it is rather through disparate materials, events, and encounters in the present moment that I am able to reach back and tell stories across time and space. The names of Black queer folk and places are often not recognized by any official historical record, and are instead kept alive by local communities intent on naming and (re)membering themselves. My project explores this quest for (re)membrance within the Black queer communities of LA from 1972 to 2000.