Didn’t I Just Get Here? Or: Reflections on My First Tenure-Track Semester

Whoa. It was August 1st and a chemist friend (god bless you, Ryan) and I are in a U-Haul on I-495 wrapping around Boston ever so slowly creeping to I-90 and then I-84 until we see Hartford on the horizon and I say, “That’s my new city, buddy!” Yes, Hartford has an actual skyline and I was ready to be romanced by this urban tract. As much as I learn and love about the city, I admit it’s tough at times as Hartford is dependent upon and revolves around car commuter culture attached to suburbs (which make up a large part of the State of Connecticut). Over the course of the semester, I’ll make some great connections and breakthroughs, and also connect to activists who want to change that dynamic. Looking for permanent housing–also: whoa and FINALLY–allows you to really get to know a place like you have not before…not to hide the fact that I have been using Zillow as a research tool since I first heard about it years and years ago.

Then suddenly it’s late September and I’m grading my new (and utterly delightful) students first assignments and spending all of my free time scheduling field trips while developing my Community Learning Initiative (CLI) course. For the first fall of about another 25 or 30 to go, I taught American Conflicts and Cultures in the 1980s, paired with my senior seminar The Digital Image of the City, the CLI course. It was first time teaching with Facebook, which I used in the 1980s course to get students to be in a constant state of 1980s culture in order to allow that moment of culture to literally become part of their daily lives. While we started slow, students got into adding great posts and insights beyond the required materials and the comments and conversations led to some real breakthroughs for all involved. My own breakthroughs came too! I admit I have never cared so much for the history of hockey as I did after teaching the “Miracle on Ice” to two top hockey fans. 🙂

Then, again suddenly, it’s October and we actually begin taking those field trips–which prove to be wonderful–while I finish up writing my favorite paper to date. The Digital of the City students and I spent an incredible time with neighborhood and city activist Jennifer Cassidy who is a long-time resident of the Asylum Hill neighborhood. We also attended a local neighborhood meeting and engrossed ourselves in local politics.

Also that month, the paper, “Size Matters to Lesbians Too: Queer Feminist Interventions into the Scale of Big Data,” went off to review for a special edition on critical data studies with Professional Geographer. Could I ever imagine a better title for a paper? I hereby throw down–in an entertaining academic form of hilarious jousting–the gauntlet to engage anyone who would like to top this title. Bring it on!

Blink blink, it’s November. I’m suddenly, finally hosting the Gender & Geography Bibliography Hackathon (GGBH) on the Trinity campus and organizing it as an international affair. I also headed up to Maine to see my incredible group of friends and colleagues from my postdoc and make my traditional cornbread apple sausage stuffing which, unsurprisingly (obviously: cornbread *and* sausage??), was a huge hit. After five years of planning, the GGBH became a reality. It’s still tough organizing but IT WORKED. One year down, and maybe another one or two big pushes before I hand off the Geographic Perspectives on Women (GPOW) webmx job to another awesome feminist geographer. Will the GGBH continue? We will see!

Finally, sigh, it’s December and I’m working on FemTechNet mapping projects with Laura Wexler, T.L. Cowan, and other great scholars in an advisory capacity down at Yale when I’m not grading finals and watching my students share some utterly awesome final presentations about their website, app, and tech infrastructure ideas for the city. When I finally had a chance to sit down and read over my calendar, I realized that I had arranged or been invited to over 50 coffee, lunch, breakfast, and dinner dates with new faculty and staff colleagues as I sought to find my place in the Trinity world my first semester. I know, I know, I do not need to do such a thing but here I am, finally in a tenure-track position and so excited to get to know this world that invited me to be part. I also have another agenda: these meetings and conversations helped to ground and continue to inspire my practice of collaboration of community that I feel is at the heart of public humanities scholarship and teaching.

I accomplished another writing project in November: my chapter on “LGBTQ Spaces and Places in US History” (as in: all of the history, all of the people, all of the places and space) (as in: just that) finished peer review just around the new year. The chapter is among the lead-off essays in the LGBTQ Initiative Theme Study convened by the National Parks Service of the US Department of the Interior. It feels beyond amazing to contribute not only to history of LGBTQ people in scholarship but the material future-telling of our varied and beautiful and painful past through imminent monumentalization. And then that such monuments would shape the course of how we define and tell US history. Wow. In the essay, I recognize and speak openly in the essay of the dangers of making monuments that will further gentrify and financialize lgbtq people out of their homes, social, and political spaces. Rather than being mere fodder for history in a supposed “post-gay” world, we have much work left to do queers.

My January term was spent in this magical place called Florida which has this thing called–audible: GASP!–the sun during the winter hours. Once off campus and out of Hartford, I could begin to catch up with the Bowdoin students I have been missing the whole semester and make plans to have much tea this spring with my new incredible Trinity students. Somehow, I was nearly done my spring semester syllabi (which I will more fully blog about soon) in the fall so that I just tidied up my overly expectant notions of pages per week. How lucky my students are this semester!

Until January, my book-in-progress Queer New York: Geographies of Lesbians, Dykes, and Queer Women, 1983-2008 continued to be a strong undercurrent to my everyday work life–don’t worry, it just directed my interests rather than pulled me under. But all of that changed when I got to sit down and cover tables and beds with pages and pages of scrawled notes I could put in some sort of order. A conversation with my dear friend and colleague medievalist and early Ren scholar Megan Cook led to a significant breakthrough about the structure of the text and, since then, the pages are just flowing. I’m considering creating a CommentPress or Debates in the DH-like site to share my book as I write it. I’m nearly done (as in done done, as the youth would say) the first two chapters of the book and the rest is just around the corner, so much more manageable and focused.

The upcoming spring looks stunning! There’s snow on the ground and I will soon be finishing up a book review for Gender, Place and Culture and I will slowly hash out a follow-up piece to “Size Matters to Lesbians Too” article. I have some blog posts in the hopper to get out about my more refined about the meaning of public humanities as Assistant Professor of Public Humanities. Two brilliant undergrad research assistants are continuing on the work I started at Bowdoin to build the Queer New York companion website. But, wait for it…I am focusing foremost on my utterly delicious book! WOOHOO! I am grateful and proud that I can finally be in a unicorn-level-of-rarity tenure-track position to do this work, let alone at such an amazing, leading liberal arts college in the region of the US I love most. I also have not paused my fight to make more and more actual jobs available to us all, i.e. full-time, with benefits, with purpose. A life of precarity is painful and unjust. And I would be ridiculous to think that the leftover debt from my many years of total precarity has allowed me to completely end that state of wonky unknown-ness, total frustration, and sudden panicked nights for me at all. In the neoliberal era in which we find ourselves, only the 0.1% can claim any sense of full stability, or so I imagine.

Last but truly the opposite of least, I am blissfully teaching Data Driven Cultures and Queer America at Trinity this spring. DDC is my own rift on the previously co-taught Data Driven Societies course at Bowdoin, which I taught for the last two years with the lovely and brilliant Eric Gaze. Since Eric handled the statistical and mathlete qualities of the course, I highlight my interests by focusing on how the internet works while still engaging in our collection and spatial, graphical, text, and social network analyses of a Twitter dataset on a hashtag of their choice. Queer America is my first full semester lgbtq studies course and I’m using a new approach to examine how the various scales of what we imagine to be America are formed and informed by lgbtq bodies and spaces, primarily since the latter half of the 20th century. It’s a wonderful adventure and incredibly engaging as I write the book.

Another AAG lies ahead, in San Francisco come March. I’m to be part of the digital humanities / digital spaces conference at Bard & SUNY New Paltz come April. Summer looks like book, book, book writing, writing, writing timespace as I conclude some earlier research projects. And so many friends. And so many adventures.

Yes! Here we are! So quickly this semester came and here I am doing just this. All of this. All of beautiful this. Onward.