Durham to Denton: On the road again


Bye-bye, Bull City. 

Some of the best advice I’ve heard about academic productivity (re: publish or perish) has also been some of the most enigmatic to me.


Kerry Ann Rockquemore, whose book, Monday Motivators and organizational strategies were major keys as I finished my dissertation, reliably encourages academics at every level to write every day for at least 30 minutes.

As a trained social scientist, I struggle finding things to write about. Whither be the data for all this writing.

Fortunately, I’m ethnographer. And I believe in autoethnography, the method many of my sister-scholar foremothers used to record their experiences and render publications that have shaped my own epistemology.

So if I’m going to write every day for at least 30 minutes, I’m going to write about my life. I figure it’s 1) an easy way to get in some practice, and 2) a means of turning on the tap for doing more academic writing later each day.

This morning I’m sitting on my boyfriend’s couch in Durham, N.C., preparing to leave him for the third time in as many years, and travel to Denton, Texas, where I work as an assistant professor.

I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping my emotions in check (I think), but looking back at how much I struggled to get work done last week, I know that the return to campus is weighing on me.

I’m returning to a state university system where visitors, students, faculty, and staff can now legally bring their guns on campus. (I have no misgiving that they weren’t illegally there before; I read the campus crime reports.)

I’m returning to a tiny apartment with low ceilings, but great light. Preferred proximity to campus, but a complete lack of privacy — I can hear life unfolding in the three apartments surrounding mine, and I know my neighbors hear my phone calls and other intimacies, too.

I’m returning to a city where I lack community. Reading bell hooks’ “Sisters of the Yam” last year, I saw myself in her own realization that her exorbitant phone bills were a testament to being estranged from community. The phone was a lifeline to people who loved on her, cared for her, supported her.

But Twitter is free. And it’s awesome. It’s the source of several strong social ties for me. It’s where I find Blackademics and allies, old friends, new memes and pop-culture tidbits I’d otherwise miss.

Though my heart wants to be profoundly sad about returning to Texas, gratitude wins out. I have an awesome job, the support of my dean, co-workers who are generally pretty cool (and even better, predictable). I work with students who are curious, driven, and best of all, kind. A smaller apartment means less to clean and more time to practice living with less “stuff.” And being alone means I have space and time to focus on my work. In theory.

Most of all, I am grateful for my ability to relax a bit over the last three months.

Earlier this summer, my boyfriend and I were recounting what our lives have looked like since we met in 2012. I was in the middle of my Ph.D. program. He was soon to be admitted to his cross-continent M.B.A. program – while working a full-time job that kept him bouncing around within the upper 48 for weeks at a time. He finished his degree and began looking for new challenges. I ran out of funding and started working full-time as a newspaper editor in another part of the Triangle. My father died. My father’s mother died. I defended my dissertation one Monday and started the job in Texas the next. Someone recently asked us: “Have you guys had a break?”


The answer is emphatically no. We’re part of a generation of the Black middle class striving to do better than our parents did in a global economy that withstood a recession worse than any they ever experienced. The keys to our mobility come with 30-year payment plans and accrue interest faster than we can pay it.

But by budgeting and sharing space for the summer, we were able to spend quality time together, a temporary remedy for the nine months where the days apart outnumber the days together 10 to 1. And the unbeatable perks of academic life — being location-independent — meant days spent working alongside my girls, or lounging on the couch catching up on Game of Thrones. Date night became a thing again. And instead of driving through the backcountry in the wild West, tiptoeing into my silent apartment after the neighbors had gone to bed, I was picked up at the airport, and welcomed back to the city I love by the man I love. With pizza.

In a few hours, I’ll begin the three-day, 980-some mile trek back to Denton and the #tenuretrackhustle. I will probably cry somewhere between the last Bojangles and the crumbling lanes of I-20 in East Texas.

The key to happiness, according to the audiobook keeping me company for the first few hours, is “want nothing + do anything = have everything.

I’ll try to keep that in mind.



If You Stay Ready… A post about my research on Black Twitter

You know how the saying goes. But this time, I’m caught out there.

I haven’t conducted interviews for my research about Black Twitter since… 2013, give or take. In fact, as recently as May, I’d been told to shelve my project for a few years.

But this week I’m attending the Smitherman-Villanueva Writers Retreat for academic authors of color at Stanford University, and it’s inspired me to get back to collecting our stories.

I’ve been fooling with widgets and sign-and-sends all morning, trying to make this process easier, so I apologize in advance that you have to download this doc on a laptop/desktop. Once I figure out the problem, I’ll have it up for easy sign-and-send that you can do from your phone.

I’ll fill in the rest of this post throughout the day, but for right now, I just needed to get this document up.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

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Nail Polish: My $8 Escape

“… The emotional pull of beauty for its own sake cannot be underestimated.”

– Robin Givhan, The Washington Post

Being a big girl in 80s and 90s suburbia was rough. The dress code was conventional, preppy and label-heavy. Thrifting was only an option for those who wanted to stand out, and at 5’9″ and just under 200 pounds in Lexington, Ky., all I wanted to do was fit in. Or at least look cute.

Wearing a size 16 kinda killed that (mind you, this was before the body-positive movement).

As a girl with a grown woman’s body, I was forced to shop in the misses’ department, and often had to pray there was something left in my size. The only thing I had in common with the models in Sassy magazine that I desired to emulate were my size 11 feet — which ruled out cute shoes.

Existing on the margins of consumer culture of the most basic sort was trying, but I found ways to deal: Purses and polishes.

I’m no handbag aficionado, but honey, may nail polish collection is the stuff of legend.

Where Lerner’s New York and The GAP failed me, polish always came through.

While I don’t carry my purses much these days (it’s more efficient to shove stuff into my Timbuktu bag and K.I.M.), I’m never at a loss for nail polish. Even when I forsake color at my fingertips, my tiny toes sport some shade at all times.

Nail polish (along with cosmetics, but more on that later), is my latte factor, the sum of small purchases that add up to big money I could be saving toward my retirement. I spent years avoiding spending on clothes and shoes, mostly because I couldn’t find things I liked in my size. I diverted that money to the best lacquer money could buy.

In college, friends would come to my dorm room to rifle through whatever bag or box I’d stored my collection in, incredulous that I’d pay $6 for a bottle of OPI (ah, the good ol’ days).

My nail polish collection has helped me bond with some of my best friends. We’d make a date of sitting on my living room floor, trying out different colors and chatting about nothing. Friends can count on receiving a bottle of birthday varnish, and on being tsk-tsked and invited over to get themselves together if they show up with chipped nails. Every now and then, I delight them by purging my collection in foolhardy attempts at minimalism.

But as I read through a copy of David Bach’s book about automating your savings a few days ago, I realized that it’s time to put a freeze on this particular purchase. I’ve got more polish than I’ve used, and rather than spend on more, I’m going to use what I’ve got as a tool to write more. I’m blogging about my nail polish.

I can’t promise pretty pictures or even perfect manicures, just snapshots of the color I’m wearing each week, and a little write up of the beauty I find in half-ounce bottles.


Here’s the first one, my last nail-polish purchase for a while, Lord be my help. I snagged this one while waiting for Target to transfer a prescription. I love this pale mint green; I look at it and think of retro-poolside glamour on an Italian vacation. Yep, I see all of that in this nail color: A white bathing suit meant more for sunning than swimming; a simple cocktail; cat’s-eye shades and big straw hat to take in the Positano sun. Perhaps I’m using it to visualize a vacation of my dreams.

Can you see it? Think this:

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(hello, #bodygoals)

Plus this:

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And this:

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Yep, all of that from a $3 bottle of Sally Hansen Hard as Nails Extreme Wear nail polish. Mint sorbet, to be exact.

As I swipe it on, this shade colors in the daydreams of an Italian escape I didn’t even know I wanted. The semester just ended, and I’m harried from having to correct a bunch grades (DEATH TO BLACKBOARD), and coming to the realization that there is no such thing as a “vacation” for a tenure-track faculty member. A mental mini-break is in order.

So this particular polish stands in as a cheap, quick remedy for addressing an uncomfortable moment in my life. Not every color serves this purpose. Some I put on out of celebration, others to complement my mood. I’ll tell you more about them here.

Project update: #BlackLivesMatter as civic engagement

It’s been nearly a year since Deen Freelon, assistant professor of communication studies at American University, first reached out about applying for a grant to study #BlackLivesMatter as civic engagement.

Together with Freelon and Charlton McIllwain, an associate professor of media, culture and communication at New York University, I’m conducting research on how social media use factors in to personal and community activism. Deen handles the Big Data, searching for patterns and clusters that indicate meaning. Charlton parses the text of thousands of tweets, identifying resonant messages in the conversation that’s unfolding in the last 14 months. My role is to capture the stories of those who used the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, whether online, in conversation or writings, or on signs held high during on-the-ground protests.

Continue reading →

Embracing disconnect, and other acts of self-preservation

Yep, that about sums it up.

There’s an ugly truth about being human that I realized after I wrote this blog and realized it’s akin to my most recent entry. Everyone is fighting a battle, and while people offer support, really, no one wants to hear you complain. Which is often what dealing with depression looks like.  Continue reading →

Dusting myself off to tri again

There are approximately 139 days until I suit up for my first Half Ironman (70.3) in Galveston, Texas. As of this writing, I’m dreading each and every one of them.

2014 has been an unbelievable year, and not necessarily in a good year. This was the year that, after scrapping one dissertation, I decided I’d finish my Ph.D. without the emotional baggage of being a year “behind.” I started tweeting with the hashtag #PhD14, with a mind to walk across the stage with my dissertation defended, paperwork signed and filed, and my parents waving on proudly from the stands.

And then my dad died.

Continue reading →