Friday, September 28, 2007

'never say never' and other ramblings

Sometime during the weeks before we moved to so.Cal., I recall hearing the song "It Never Rains in Southern California." I thought that I could deal with this kind of weather after the severe winter and summer Ohio dealt us. I'm happy to report the cliché is wrong. Today is the second Friday in a row with rain - the kind that requires windshield wipers and umbrellas (a novelty most residents seem yet to discover). I really enjoy the rain. It completes the sense that I have finally returned to the West Coast.

On the general subject of weather, I must add that the variety of weather here is dee-lightful (that's the two word version of delightful). Afternoons are warm - almost hot - with a refreshing breeze from the coast; the mornings are cool; and the nights almost cold. Based on only two months observation, I can report a 153% improvement in the weather over our previous home.

Also improved is the food. I cannot completely describe the gastronomic pleasure that came about because of our cross-country move, but I can begin to describe it. The sheer variety of cuisines is matched only by their quality. (The improvement-in-food percentile runs in the range 350+.) Previously, when eating out, we had a lot of meat options, some with sauces, most with cheese (not the good variety). Salt was the most popular seasoning. Nothing was remarkable. Now, we have fresh, flavorful vegetables and spices whose mere fragrance can sustain the soul.* I love to eat and I love the variety of food here.

I feel like offering a toast - to the food and the weather.

*Those scenes from Ratatouille come to mind - where they depict how food-flavor combinations affect the brain/psyche. It's like that.

Friday, September 21, 2007

observations on beginning writing

This week I officially started writing! (Yeah!) I decided to begin with chapter two rather than at the beginning, the material in chapter two I find more interesting at the moment.

I appreciate now why so many PhD students stop at this point. I have an incredible amount of information to manage and then to puzzle through. It isn't just linking it together that is challenging (which is fun) but also figuring out why it is important (other than, it just interests me) and what new things all this evidence says about - and, at this point, there is a grab bag of ideas (indicative of my point in the process) - citizenship, US imperialism, class, race and society, race and economy, or any mixture of the above. And I would say that I've only read (ahem, had random contact with) about 50% of the evidence available. I probably won't see up to 20% of it. Nevertheless, I've read enough to distinguish patterns and so I begin to write.

Writing is not smooth, however. It becomes difficult, especially in two areas. One is when I start to describe something that I think is dull but a necessary part of the story (as in, thousands migrated to the US to find work). I try to spice it up by deciphering the reasons why I think I must write about something that I find dull (and that other scholars have already established). And this leads me into my other roadblock. I re-frame migration as a product of imperialism (and the political economy that the US produced in the Pacific) and "looking for work" as a process of integration into the racial socio-economic order already established in the US. All of this sounds more interesting to me, but it runs me smack into another unwieldy amount of evidence - the secondary works. Explaining these events with support from the theoretical works I've read (as well as the secondary historical scholarship) means I have to slow down and comb through this mountain of books, looking for just the place where they say exactly what I need them to say.*

All I want to do is sit and type. I want the words, pages, and chapters to magically flow from my fingertips onto the screen. I am definitely not there - not yet.

*Here is where the difference between the junior scholar and the established scholar is most stark.

By the way, if you haven't seen this new blog, then you've waited long enough.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Cool things I learned this week:
  • Orange and Los Angeles Counties have a mass transit train network (unfortunately the closest stop to UCLA is 9 miles away).
  • The County of LA Public Library has a huge untapped store of Asian American newspapers from the 1880s to the present (they haven't even cataloged them). I will tap it.
  • An immersion blender can make nearly-perfect whipped-cream in about 3.1 minutes.
  • Hein Online has it all (and just became my favorite source for legal info). It has not only all major law journals but also a complete run of Federal Statutes - all of them, forever. (Previously I had to hunt for a really big law library that had these in print, then drive and drive and drive to get there.)

Other stuff I learned (that wasn't cool):
  • the up-and-coming scholar in the general field of my dissertation did some oral histories some years back. But she won't be sharing those.
  • a full week of kindergarten makes four-year olds very tired (and grumpy).

Friday, September 7, 2007

fourmis... or what I did on a Friday night

Every place I've lived where the winters are mild attract bugs (where the winters are severe, its rodents). Now that we're back on the west coast, we've been visited by weekly invasions of tiny sugar ants. Unfortunately, we're used to this and slip easily into the role of exterminators. We trap, block the entry, and then scorch the earth.

I realized we are too practiced at this when our four-year-old took a piece of masking tape and, emulating her parents, began to clean up the bugs running frantically for cover. (The smushed ants, you see, stick to the masking tape which is so much more tidy than leaving carcasses all over the floor, table, or counter.) With tape in hand, she noted, "they're easy to get when they [are confused and] stand still." Then added, "Ha! I got it!"

Now, we await Tuesday when Raymond the Exterminator (we're on a first-name basis) will come and finalize the scorching of earth. Until then, I will suffer with the feeling - from time to time - that there is an ant (a fourmi) crawling on me. Now I fully appreciate the notion I learned in France of having "les fourmi." It was a common enough phrase that my neighbors used to refer to someone who was twitchy or jumpy, someone who acted strange and could not sit still. But I am not "coo-coo" (again, their phrase, not mine), I really do have ants. I also have a large roll of masking tape. And the night is yet young.