Day 92

I’m sitting in a Tim Horton’s in Montreal with literally one more paragraph to add in to a paper and then it’s done, the Wifi keeps cutting out, it’s about 11:15 and a 60-year-old Black man comes up to me and asks if he can have the table I’m at, because he always sits at that table. I can have the table he is currently at which he will clean and it’s better because there’s an outlet next to it in addition. So I agree to move and then he starts to tell me about his college football scholarship at Boise State, his 5 years as a wide receiver for the Montreal Alouettes, his best friend of 43 years Andre Dawson and the pranks he’s played on him (sending him flowers every Christmas), how corrupt baseball is, like the Jewish owner of the Miami Marlins, how baseball will never return to Montreal (this involves a long exposition de texte of the local newspaper’s coverage of plans to build a new stadium downtown. an analysis of how there will be too few seats to turn a profit, and surveys about whether local people want baseball to return – they do but they won’t buy tickets), how the French are liars, how there are too many immigrants in the neighborhood around that particular Tim Horton’s, and how the Pakistanis who frequent the place are too loud [they were speaking Bengali, just saying], the Big Sky conference, state capitals in the U.S., what really is the capital of Kentucky, the Iranian hostage crisis, the brain cancer of one of former Expos who actually was French but he named his son Dawson after Andre, how players make extra bonus money from their former teams by charging them to have their team insignia on their Hall of Fame plaque, and did I mention he had alcohol on his breath? And he just.would.not.stop.talking. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough (45 minutes and one bro hug later). Now it’s 1 a.m. and I JUST WANT TO GET THIS DAMN ARTICLE DONE AND SENT before I go to bed thank you.

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The score is now 0-1-1-0

I also finished my conference paper of the summer and a couple of hours later presented it. This was the one about Nepali indigenous film festivals. The good news is, I did 4 great (as in useful) interviews, and did what prior reading there was in journals, and had the PowerPoint done in advance. The bad news is, I still put off the writing until I drove to the conference, then fell asleep in my motel room the night before the presentation. Then up, wrote a page, then lay down and fell asleep again(!), then woke up with not enough time to even write the paper and complete it before the panel. But then somehow, even budgeting my time at an unrealistic pace, I ended up exceeding that pace because I knew exactly what I wanted to say. It was not as elegantly phrased as I would have liked – that can come with revision into a manuscript – but it was fine enough. Aside from the other panelists, one of whom was from India, there were only 4 other people in the audience. The Indian professor said to me after he knew nothing about the Nepali caste system so everything I presented was new to him.

So, though the writing process itself was painful and horrible, I am feeling good enough about what I am saying, and the multilayered nature of the topic, that I have the raw material to start expanding and I’m looking forward to going back to it. The IVSA journal (this was the International Visual Sociology Association conference) would be a perfect venue for this, and I think it would fit right in, and would be seen by all my peers at the conference. It was good to reconnect with them – it’s a fun, eclectic group of people, and I just found out one of my colleagues/friends from this conference just got a job at Temple, so we could even think about collaborating (which is funny come to think of it, because his last name is the same as the last name of one of my departmental colleagues with whom I have also thought of collaborating).

This week is tied up with a bunch of house stuff and the first week of summer school, then the following week I have 2 lectures to prepare. So I’m not expecting much, but it would be a good time to do my film review, transcribe my other conference paper for the book chapter, and select the photos for my photo essay. I don’t think I can write 1,000 words a day, but that’s not what I need to do next. I need to get these 3 shorter projects out of the way.

A productive weekend!

I spent the weekend doing fieldwork, including 4 interviews for my conference paper next Friday! Three of them were very productive and in-depth, and one of those also included some questions for another paper in October, so I’m actually a little bit ahead of the game. I have another interview scheduled for tomorrow. These are the first interviews I have done in a year and a half! And the most anxiety-less to set up in a long time.

The paper itself only has to be 15 minutes (or 8 pages tops), but I am including a 1:45 minute video sequence, which means no more than strictly seven pages. I have enough ideas to do that.

Then, the important thing, is to expand that in the weeks that follow, to about 15-20 pages and send that off to a peer-reviewed journal. It won’t be comprehensive, but it’s a start, and could be one idea that leads to a book/chapter later on.

The interviews were about Nepalese film festivals, and I found the people willing to talk and very reflective on their practice, so they “got” what I was trying to understand.

I can’t say my block has lifted, but this is the best, most pain-free progress I have made on anything in a long long time.

Behind the scenes, and why I still hate computers

I just spent the better part of an hour going over what I did this past week, and then when I went to save the draft (since I thought WordPress autosaves – at least it did a couple weeks ago when I could neither post nor delete my draft), my computer, as is its wont, decided to crash and I lost everything, and I just had to restart the damn thing 5 times before it unfroze and/or worked properly. This was that kind of a week. I kept going in to the office because my home laptop doesn’t have the capability to work with photos, which is what I needed to do, but in the office I kept getting interrupted with other stuff. Finally one night I stayed until 1 a.m. to the surprise of public safety, who wonder always why I don’t work at home.

It was a bad week. I did not even yet transcribe the talk I gave a few years ago which I need to turn into a chapter, and then I cancelled my five days in Vermont, to which I was going to bring writing and some chapters/papers to share with a friend/colleague and get her advice about putting together a book proposal. I got turned down for conference travel funds, which I kind of expected, although they had said to ask in the summer as money might become available. So now I am going directly to the conference next Thursday, my paper is on Friday. I just cancelled my hotel room for the first night to save another $100, and now that I’m going for just two nights, I don’t have to hire a cat-sitter, which will save me a little more money. But I’ll miss about a third of the conference, which is a shame after shelling out so much for registration. Still, I will give my paper which will be a draft of a peer-reviewed article, and I’ll do some networking.

The main reason I had to cancel was that I hadn’t heard back from the people I need to interview for my talk. This paper is on the Nepali Indigenous Film Festivals in New York, and while I should have contacted people during the school year, for whatever reason I didn’t, and the last six Saturdays of the term were also taken up with a side humanities project (for which I still haven’t gotten paid). People didn’t get back to me until this week and weren’t available for interviews until this weekend when I was supposed to already be in Vermont. In any event, not only do I have three interviews lined up, and another two tentatively, as luck would have it, Sunday there is another Nepali film festival, this time short documentaries, but there will be people there I can also interview and meet for the fuller version of this article.

The other major thing I did this week was to continue to back up all my photo memory cards onto an external hard drive. I had done this once before, several years ago, but the hard drive got knocked over and I can’t access the storage, so I have to bring it in to be fixed. I worked on this all week, in addition to a couple days last week, because I also had to reconstruct the order of the photos and my research trip itineraries for the purpose of identifying which cards are missing or non-functional. I got my first digital camera in 2007, a point-and-shoot, and my first DSLR in 2011, so for most of the last eight years I have been running two cameras and two cards. By the time I finally got everything copied, there was one 4GB card that would not allow access to the 600+ photos on it – nor could I identify which ones they were – and another three, possibly four gaps for which I have no cards. One of these was a significant portion of a European research trip in 2009. Once I came back home, I found two more 8GB cards I hadn’t copied, so I hope those cover the two major gaps. But I brought them into the office then got interrupted with other stuff so regularly that I haven’t been able to sit down and open them. I also found, on an old laptop I hadn’t turned on in a year or two, a complete copy of a 4GB card, probably the one I can’t access, that completes a 2012 trip to Bangladesh with some important pictures from the Rohingya refugee camp when it was very difficult to get access. But over 600 images recovered, so that felt good.

I’m hoping that the other missing photos from 2009 are on another old laptop that I got repaired, but now I can’t find the power cord. Still, I have to find either the original card, or get access to the other external hard drive, or another old laptop on which I would have copied them.

The whole urgent purpose of this exercise is to find all the photos I have taken of the Sikh parade over the years for this opportunity to create a photo essay on the Smithsonian website. I have the pictures from this year (about 400 of them), and last year (only about 75 then I had to leave early), and in my copying I found some from 2008 taken on a point-and-shoot at 72 dpi. I also took some in 2017 when it rained, but my best set is from 2014. Both of those correspond with gaps in my cards, but I’m hoping the two cards I found are in the place they would be given when they were shot. Fortunately, I have kept copies of the best 10-15 photos from the 2014 series, so I could include those in my initial cut even if I don’t find the whole series. Everything is in my office now and I can’t get back there until Monday.

I also realized I am going to have to label all these photos so that they can be of use to researchers after I am gone. But what a challenge for archivists and curators. I have dealt with flash drives that have failed, floppies (of course), memory cards that have failed and even an external hard drive, which is supposed to be the most secure! At the same time, on one card I found the undamaged “originals” of files that had gotten damaged on flash drives, but on my laptop I just realized I also found good copies of photos that became damaged on memory cards. And I backed up some old flash drives that have the only copies of some photos that may even be lost. So clearly the important lesson is to maintain multiple copies of each photo file.

So in brief: interviews this weekend. Conference paper written and delivered next week – which will be a draft of an article to finish this summer. Transcribe the conference talk I gave for the book chapter. And find the remaining Sikh parade photos and winnow down to the best 35.

Summer school begins on the 24th. We also began our junior faculty writing group meeting at the university. Three of us got together out of the full ten who expressed interest. We will follow up with weekly email check-ins and biweekly skype sessions.

Days 11, 12, 13 – nicht so gut!

Day 11, didn’t write a thing. Sat down to write after a long day of running around, still feeling a little high from finishing that proposal – and lay down for an hour, only to wake up the next morning.

Day 12, pretty much the same thing. I did spend a few minutes finding a file that I want(ed) to revise for the Indian book chapter (non-peer reviewed, based on conference proceedings from 2012 at the University of Manipur, but a quick, guaranteed publication). Tried to get into the office to copy more photo memory cards, but I had a couple of financial matters to tend to, and by the time I finished there wasn’t much point to go in for just an hour. Will go in tomorrow (Friday).

Day 13, stayed at home because I’ve got to get this place tidied up, as the cat sitter, mortgage appraiser, alarm repair/upgrade people, and quite possibly insurance assessor and refrigerator repair all have to come up this month. Also did some laundry of sweaters and other things that need to hang up to dry outside in the sun. But I did carve time to go to the local library and reactivate my account, work on the computers there where there is A/C. So I did that and actually read through part of the paper I want to revise for this book chapter, and it’s terrible! There is no way I will be able to revise this into a publishable short article in a week or ten days. Let me rephrase that. There are some intriguing ideas if they were only worked out (which would take a book and a hell of a lot of literature research), but not in just 3,000 words. I don’t remember what I was thinking when I gave this paper, except that given the timing (early 2012), it was right after my big bad yea r of moving in to take care of my mom, leaving my full-time job, and having full-blown writer’s block. So it reads like I was scrambling for something to say. The good thing was, probably no one was paying attention, and I remember at that conference that one of the Indian academics confessed to me people couldn’t understand our English in our deliveries, so I’m not feeling embarrassed in retrospect, but there’s no way I can go to print with this, without extensive expansion and revision.

So… what to do? I emailed an archivist who recorded a talk I gave at a symposium in Vermont in 2013, from notes. I have the notes, but I don’t remember where that pad is (I remember the notepad) and I don’t know that I could reconstruct it from those minimal notes. But there is a video, and the archivist has the link, so I can revise from a transcription. But I need to brainstorm about what to send.

Also, I need to do about 4 interviews for my paper at next week’s conference. The first person told me we’ll meet next week. I’m leaving on Friday. I have about 5 other emails and phone numbers to follow up with. I only have part of Saturday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to get these done. Plus, I am worried about leaving the cat for a week without A/C if we have a heat wave while I’m away.

Also, Monday we have the first meeting of our faculty writing group. We are supposed to do a planning exercise beforehand, which I will do in the office tomorrow. As many as six faculty are interested, but not all can come at the set time.

Days 8, 9, and 10

The first two of these days I didn’t get much done. They were the weekend and my body told me to take a rest, but also see friends and get back to photography – which is part of the creative process too, right? I photographed the Philippine Independence Day parade in NYC which is part of my series on immigrant parades. (Tonight I just found photos I took from the 2011 parade – didn’t realize it had been so long ago.) So each day I only spent 15 minutes to an hour on my proposal. But today (day 10!) the proposal was due and I just submitted it about an hour ago. It’s for a PEN writing fellowship, and my proposal is for the Golden Venture book project I have been mulling for about 25 years, and several failed book proposals. So this was the first thing I have knocked off my summer writing to-do list. And I met the deadline with over an hour to spare.

As I group my summer projects, I have to divide them into 1) peer-reviewed manuscripts sent off, 2) proposals, 3) non-peer-reviewed articles/chapters, including a conference paper, a book and a film review, and 4) creative and mixed-media projects. Or PRM-PRO-NPR-CMM. Current scoreboard now reads: 0-1-0-0. It’s a start!

Am now working late in the office for the second time transferring old photo memory cards to my new external hard drive. By the time I leave tonight I will have copied 19 memory cards (I never reuse them). I just found the card from my 2011 trip to Bangladesh with some of the best photos I have ever taken! (Or at least some of my favorites.)

Another of my all-time favorites (not taken by me) I found tonight:

Day 6 and Day 7

The good news is, I am doing something every day, so I managed to finish one whole week with at least 15 minutes of writing daily (as a minimum) and some other research/tech related tasks too. The bad news is I’m progressing too slowly.

Yesterday I brought my memory cards and new external hard drive into the office and started backing up photos, in part to search for the photos I need for this photo essay project on New York’s Sikh parade. I had 2019 on my computer, and I found the card for 2018 (when I had to leave early). But only after I got home did I find my full cache of memory cards (I think), with the 2014 parade photos which along with this year was my most extensive photo shoot. Monday or Tuesday I have to finish backing these up then selecting my top 25-30.

I’ve also been working on that fellowship application. I have now 850 words for essay one (limited to 750) and over 900 words for essay two (500 hundred words max). This is not bad because it’s been a while since I’ve given myself enough time to draft something and then cut it down to size, which always makes my writing very tight. Lately I’ve been writing everything to deadline, which is much less effective for good writing. It’s due Monday night at 11:59 and I’m busy in the city all weekend (friends, films, and more photography), so while I may work on it Saturday and especially Sunday evening, that means it’s going to be Monday I have to spend cutting it down and submitting it.

On a side note, last night I exchanged messages and then a phone call with a writer friend in Bangladesh who confessed his writer’s block to me. It feels like many of the same issues and emotions. This is a journalist I have always respected for being a professional, working writer, so it was a little heartbreaking to hear these issues from someone else, and yet oddly affirming too. He was telling me the narrative of his next novel yet he is unable to put anything on paper/pixels. The other day I also heard a biographer of Harper Lee talk about her legendary writer’s block issues. So I am in excellent company, should I ever become unblocked.

Oh, and my computer didn’t crash all evening, in fact not since yesterday afternoon, which is as well as it has functioned in weeks.

I’m definitely moving into new territory.

Day 4 and Day 5

Not a lot done on Day 4. Still spending too much time tying up loose ends with schoolwork and helping other people, so by last night I only had about 15-30 minutes to spend on writing. I did start to copy all my photo files onto my new external hard drive which I need to get organized, especially if this photo essay is going to happen.

Did not do too much today on Day 5, as I was in New York all day, but I did spend a good hour at night on my fellowship proposal, which is due Monday. Because I started a few days ago, I’ve had time to let my brain percolate and do some rewriting in my head. I now have 868 words for the project essay (max. 750, so that’s good, I can cut and make it tight), then I have to adapt the rest of what I have for the 500 word bio essay and then the 100 word summary. I hope to get all that done tomorrow (Thursday) so that I can spend time Friday and Saturday fixing it up and sending it in not at the last minute.

I’m also going in to the office tomorrow with, among other things, a stack of memory cards so I can continue the download. My mom’s old computer is still here and it has sufficient memory capacity (unlike my dying laptop), but it literally hasn’t been turned on in at least 4 years so I have no idea what will happen. But that would make life easier than bringing in the memory cards.

Also found out that the non-peer-reviewed book chapter that was solicited is still a possibility (I’m late but the deadline is not passed), so if I could get this proposal out, that chapter and a rough cut of the photos for the photo essay by the end of next week, that doesn’t get to any of the big pieces I need to finish, but it does get a few things out, and out of the way, early in the summer. That’s actually more than I was able to finish last summer.

Day 3 – An attempt at fieldwork

Today’s plan was to attend a Nepalese poetry and music event in New York. My conference paper in June, which I hope to submit by the end of July for publication, is on the New York Nepalese Indigenous Film Festival, and in short, the rise of Nepali films produced and shot in indigenous languages and regions, rather than standard Nepali. I was planning to meet up with one of the filmmakers, who has since become a friend, who shot the first film ever in the Mustangi language. When I got there and texted him, he told me he had decided to go on a picnic instead. But one of the performers today also happened to be the first Sherpa filmmaker, and I met him at the end of the program and explained my research. He hasn’t shown his films in that festival before, but he was part of the nascent indigenous film movement, so I will get to interview him within a few weeks, as he lives in N.Y.

Then came home after staying for music and dinner and got tired. I may try to write something more on the fellowship application, but I think I’m better tackling it in the morning and bringing it to work. Lots of make-up paperwork to deal with, so I’m hoping to get through as much of that tomorrow as I can, so it’s not hanging over my head. I didn’t write today (technically I did after midnight), but I did work on one paper, even at a distance.

Day 2

Ugh. Terrible day. Did not get started first thing this morning, and did a combination of puttering/emails/other things to do instead. Not good. I did, however, finally buy an external hard drive (2T) which I’ve been meaning to do (but could not afford) ever since my other one stopped working sometime around 2015 when it was knocked off a table by my mother’s home health aide. (I believe the material is still on the hard disk, but it won’t connect to a computer.) I needed to do this, though, because for the photo essay I am working on, I don’t have enough storage on any computer to sort through my many memory cards, since I’ll be drawing on photos taken in 2014, 2017, 2018, and 2019 (400 hundred photos this year). So the plan is to start uploading my memory cards to the external hard drive this week, so at least I can start with the photos for this photo essay, and then work on organizing the rest of my thousands of photos all summer. I don’t know where the files are of the ones I’ve already cropped and edited. So at least equipment wise, I took two steps forward but also one step back as my laptop crashed repeatedly throughout the day, oh at least 6-8 times.

Then ended up doing other stuff this evening, helping out two friends, not feeling good about my work, and finally forcing myself to get back to my fellowship proposal so late in the night that it’s actually tomorrow.  (Note to self: Draw firmer boundaries this summer. When I was trying to calculate where the day went, I realized I had spent 3 1/4 hours in the evening helping out these two friends through phone and text, and that wasn’t counting the two hours I didn’t start anything because I was waiting for one of them to call.  So that’s 5 1/4 hours spent on other people’s needs – which I ordinarily am happy to do, but it’s not writing.)  I was thinking in my head all day about my proposal, and wrote some good stuff, but it all needs to be edited by Friday.

Output, day 2: 325 words.