Episode 86 (Finishing Hold)

 

Episode 86

Click on Sheppard’s face for a hum-dinger of a story.

 

The newest episode of  The Memory Palace is out, and it’s a doozy. 

Quick peak behind the scenes: this was actually the first topic I researched for Nate, not Leo the Lion, the MGM mascot to whom you were introduced in March. As you’ll quickly realize, though, this is a far more complicated story, and the complexity only grew as we waded deeper and deeper into the archives. If my memory serves me correctly, I told Nate in one of our first phone meetings that I was really impressed he was taking this subject on, because the more I read, the more I—as an academic—wanted to “run screaming into the night.”

Nate did not run screaming into the night. Instead he put together nineteen beautiful minutes of audio, audio I feel honored to have contributed to in a small way. I hope you enjoy listening to Episode 86 (Finishing Hold) half as much as I enjoyed researching it!

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

 

A Meditation On My Ghost Clock

Close Up of Wall Clock

Happy Leap Day everybody! Because today is an unusual day, I thought it might be fun to tell you all an unusual story about time.

See, I have a clock that runs backwards. And it’s not a novelty clock. It’s a natural light alarm clock that I’m pretty sure I got from L.L. Bean. I bought it back in 2006, as a sophomore in college, because I was trying to find a gentler way to wake up. It didn’t work. But that was okay, because whatever… it’s still a clock.

Fast forward nine or so years, when, instead of flat-out breaking, it simply decided to switch directions.

The first time I noticed the second hand moving counter clockwise, it freaked me out. I Went straight to Facebook to ask my science-minded friends what was happening. None of the usual explanations panned out, and the next morning, everything was back to normal. The only reason I was sure I didn’t imagine it was because I got it on film.

 

Freaked out as I was when my clock developed a mind of its own, part of me was actually a bit sad when it started working again. I was sad because I–perhaps faster than I should admit publicly–I had found myself wondering if I was being taunted from beyond the grave. Far from being the kind of thing that keeps me up at night, the idea of an otherworldly interlocutor makes me feel safe, like somebody is looking out for me. Who can blame him/her/zi/them for having a little fun in the process? I’m not exactly the most exciting person to watch over. Seems like a fair exchange.

Maybe my otherworldly guardian sensed my disappointment, because about a month ago, the clock started running backwards again. And it hasn’t stopped. I keep the ghost clock next to my bed, and look at it almost every night before I go to sleep, ticking backwards like it was the most normal thing in the world.

gear clock mechanism
I still like to think of my haunted clock as a sign that I’m not alone, but–perhaps because I now feel secure in my weird little relationship with a piece of broken machinery–backwards clock has developed deeper valances of significance.

Now, when I watch Donald Trump spew his racist, nationalist rhetoric (to the delight of David Duke), I share a knowing glance with ghost clock. In response, it keeps on tick, tick, ticking backwards.

When Mississippi declares April 2016 “Confederate History Month,” I feel the vibrations of ghost clock tick, tick, ticking backwards, shaking my bones and rattling my brain.

When the KKK stages a rally in Anaheim—less than half an hour from my home—and the cops do shockingly little to stop an eruption of violence, I hear the clock’s incessant tick, tick, ticking backwards deep between my ears.

Maybe ghost clock isn’t broken at all. Maybe we’re the ones who are broken.

vintage clock

When ghost clock first made its presence known in my life, I thought I was being taunted from beyond the grave. I don’t think so anymore. I think it’s the present that’s taunting me, that’s taunting everybody who yearns for a better world. Ghost clock is solemn reminder of what is.

Strange as it sounds, I wish everybody had a ghost clock. As sad as that is, when that tick, tick, ticking starts to gets loud, and I remember that all our clocks are running backwards, I get to look on my bedside table and remember: if a machine can choose to change its direction, so can we.

Need Context?
Donald Trump and David Duke, and the perils of courting the white supremacist vote.
Mississippi and “Confederate Heritage Month,” from the perspective of a history teacher.
And the issue that hits closest to home… literally
Ku Klux Klan rally in Anaheim erupts in violence; 3 are stabbed and 13 arrested
The Ku Klux Klan’s Ugly History in Anaheim
Criticism of Anaheim police response to KKK rally mounts, hunt for assault suspect continues

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

 

Lost in the Archives, Found on Castro Street

CASTRO5

This post comes to you from a hotel room in San Francisco, where I’ve spent the past ten days doing archival work. I’ve been here for ten days now, and—thank goodness—will be returning home tomorrow. In the past month, I think I slept in my own bed four times… the rest of the time has been spent living out of suitcases at various and sundry points across the United States. It’s been a very long month.

This research trip was incredibly productive. I’m leaving tomorrow with thousands of pages of material.  I’m also leaving in an acute state of information overwhelm. The quantity of information I found in the archives, and the limited time frame within which I have been working, has meant I’ve only been able to actually read about 1/5 of the material I collected in the past ten days. Even so, I know there are at least two more archives that I should have hit up while here. It’s actually pretty amazing; folks in SF have done an amazing job collecting and preserving the history of the AIDS crisis.

Panicking over the amount of material at my disposal, and trying to figure out the logistics of a return trip, are great problems for an historian to have. Trust me: I’ve had the experience of coming up empty, and it’s the worst. Nevertheless, the position I find myself in right now is… uncomfortable. I’m not fun when I’m overwhelmed.

Overwhelm sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. Earlier this week, I was utterly unmoored. That wasn’t the end of the world either, but try telling that to an unmoored-Andrea. Try telling that to any academic, actually.

Much of the past week and a half has been spent in a fog, trying to wrap my head around the outlines, the ethos of the archive, as opposed to thinking through individual documents. In my case, that’s a dangerous place to be… a slippery slope of insecurity. What does it all mean? What kind of conclusions can I make based on these kind of archival materials? Can I really construct an argument on the basis of documents like this? Do I need to change my dissertation topic to accommodate the archive? Could it be that nobody’s done this kind of research before because it’s not actually interesting? Could I have just wasted a ton of time and money? Is it possible I just collected thousands of pages of material I’ll never use? Did I lose my iPhone charger? I DID! Holy crap! What am I even doing here?!

One day this week, my research anxiety got so bad that I was either going to vent, or have a mini-breakdown. I did what I always do when I’m in trouble: I called my mom. She listened quietly as I rambled for about ten minutes, jumping wildly from “I’m seeing this interesting trend…” to “I don’t think I can write a dissertation,” from “I think I’m going to need to do oral histories” to “I can’t deal with all the street harassment in San Francisco!” She then proceeded to tell me exactly what I needed to hear:

“Go home. You could have everything you need in front of you, but there’s no way you’re going to see it right now. Walk away.”

CASTRO4

I was only able to take half of that advice, given the time constraints within which I’m working. I spent a couple more hours taking photo after photo after photo, and then I went home, and fell into bed. At, like, 5 PM. I got a (very) good night’s sleep. The next morning—instead of running to archive A for a couple hours before my appointment at archive B, the original plan—I got on a cable car, went to the Castro, stopped by Hot Cookie, and bought a bunch of food I have no business eating, including a cookie shaped like a certain part of the male anatomy… because it’s the Castro.

CASTRO2

I wandered the streets, stared in shop windows, and imagined what it was like living there in the early eighties, the late eighties, the nineties. I thought about the people I met through my research: the archivists, who told me about their experiences; the dead, whose voices live on in the sources; friends, colleagues, and mentors who once walked the same streets; and those people who, if very much alive, still only exist for me on papers tucked away in folders and boxes.

I wandered the streets of the Castro, and I remembered why I came to San Francisco to begin with, why I decided to go to graduate school, and why I want to be an historian.I also realized why I was so scared.

Rummaging through archives is a wonderful experience, one I wish everybody had at least once in their life, but it’s a space in which one is easily unmoored. Sometimes that means that the people you read about become hopelessly abstracted, other times you lose track of your research question, or realize that question is utterly unanswerable. Still other times, you lose track of yourself. In my case, I think all of those things happened.

CASTRO1The sheer volume of information I encountered in my archive forced me to recognize how little I know. Meeting people who lived the experiences I’m interested in historicizing—while inspiring—left me questioning my ability to tell their story. I realized that my dissertation needed to be radically restructured; some topics were far better documented than I’d anticipated, and others proved to be total dead ends. I realized that the archive is slowly but surely forcing me into work that strays from both my intended path, and the path I’ve prepared myself to travel. I began to feel incredibly small in comparison to the big, big, big task ahead of me.

Once I got myself out of the old musty rooms and into the streets, I remembered why I’d entered those musty rooms to begin with. I remembered that all the amazing people I’d encountered want me to do this work, have encouraged me to do this work. They built these archives so I could do this work. The task before me is very large, and yes, I feel a bit small in comparison, but the answer is to GROW, not shrink. If I became unmoored in the archive, I dropped my anchor in the Castro.

And so here I am, sitting in a hotel room in San Francisco. I’m physically, emotionally, and intellectually exhausted. I’m totally overwhelmed. I’m also very thankful that my anchor has been recast, and really, I couldn’t have chosen a much nicer place to do it.

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

The SMDS “Suggested Reading” List

I have to apologize to those of you who’ve joined the SMDS RSS feed over the past week or so, because your (much-appreciated) interest in my blog happens to coincide with my needing to step away. A dissertation deadline beckons, so I need to hoard all of my creative juices, gremlin style, until Tuesday, October 23.

Until then, dear reader, I thought I would pass along a “Suggested Reading” list for those of you who are new to the website. These are some of my favorite posts so far, and hopefully offer a little insight into what The Six Million Dollar Scholar is all about.

My grandmother being nutty as she was wont to do.

Nude Models, Pot Brownies, and Frankenfoot: A Tribute to My Grandmother

I wrote this post on what would have been my grandmother’s eighty first birthday. It’s my favorite post because it’s about one of my favorite people; you’ll enjoy it because it’s a reminder that sometimes we don’t need to look very far to find a hero. In my case, I realized I grew up with a brilliant, hardcore feminist in my basement, a woman whose improbable life deserves to be the stuff of books.

Vito Russo, about whom an entire post is coming very soon. Born July 11, 1946, died November 7, 1990. His is one of the many faces I can't get out of my head. Click image to see the website this image came from.

What I’m Learning from A Giant Stack of Obituaries

I came home from my most recent research trip with literally hundreds of obituaries, and no immediate use for them. I’ve since discovered that they may indeed have a home in my dissertation. Even if that turns out not to be the case, they were worth the money I spent printing them, because they taught me a lot about myself, about the research process, and about the fiction that is the personal/professional binary.

Dear Diary

This post has a special place in my heart, because it’s probably the single most effective life hack I’ve implemented since starting The Six Million Dollar Scholar. At the time I wrote the post, I’d only been journaling for six days, but today I can report that, for the first time in my life, I have a daily journaling practice. it’s now been almost two months, and I’m still going strong. It’s incredibly rewarding, and—for an historian, anyway—a great reminder that not all archives are brick and mortar.

Taken yesterday.

The Human Thundershirt

Quite possibly the strangest proof-of-concept blog post ever, I demonstrate that my newfound ability to calm the world’s most disturbed canine is a sign that the world needs more blogs like mine. Plus, there’s an abundance of pictures of a sweet baby puppy dog face girl.

When One Door Closes, Make Lemonade

My summer session course ended up being cancelled, a highly improbable scenario realized by a perfect storm of utter lameitude. When I wrote this post, I thought I’d done a pretty great job polishing a gnarly turd of a moment in my teaching career. In hindsight though, it’s nothing short of amazing how everything worked out. After all, while I didn’t anticipate being out of a teaching job, I neither did I anticipate running into medical problems this summer that would have made teaching a damned-near Herculean task. Maybe, just maybe, the universe was looking out for me?

That oughta keep you busy! See y’all again soon!

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

The Benefits of Blogging in Graduate School

blog

I’ve been blogging for a little over two months now, so I think it’s about time I—and, by extension, so-inclined readers—take a step back and analyze this project.

When I started SDMS, my primary goal was to stimulate my scholarly writing. If for no other reason, this is the reason that this blog will live to see another month. And another, and another…

I honestly believe that most graduate students, but especially those graduate students who have a genuine passion for writing, should have a blog, even if they only post to it bi-monthly.

When I blog, my overall productivity goes up. Writing about something that isn’t AIDS or corpses puts me in a “work” headspace without also starting my day off in (let’s face it) the most depressing way possible.

Blogging takes time, but in its own curious way, it’s also a time saver. If I’ve been active on SMDS during the week I sit down to work on, say, an application essay, my sense of overwhelm around said essay diminishes.

The minute I feel dread setting in, all I have to say to myself is “Dude, it’s a two page essay… that’s, like, ONE blog post. I write those things every freaking day, and I do them in an hour. Chill.”

Now, does an application essay actually take me an hour to write? Not a chance. But that’s not the point. The point is that producing creative content on a daily basis is helping me get over the initial psychological barriers that I—that we all—face when justifying our work to others.

I’ll confess, I didn’t go into this little experiment entirely blind. I spent all four of my college years writing and running Bryn Mawr and Haverford College’s shared newspaper of record, The Bi-College News.

The website's changed a bit, and I don't know any of the writers anymore, but I'll always have a soft spot for "The Bi-College News."

The website’s changed a bit, and I don’t know any of the writers anymore, but I’ll always have a soft spot for “The Bi-College News.”

The Bi-Co News was a big commitment. Originally I’d only planned to write the occasional opinion piece, but by second semester of my sophomore year I the Managing Editor (read: second in command) of the whole enchilada. After a year and a half in that position, I did a brief stint as Editor in Chief, a run cut short in part by medical issues, and in part by my discovery that I really didn’t like being Editor in Chief. During my two year reign at the top of the totem poll I was putting anywhere from twenty to forty hours of every week (unpaid, mind you) into that newspaper.

Was I a walking, talking bucket of stress? Yes, yes I was. But I was also, much to my surprise, a better historian. No longer did I pride myself on being obtuse, or spending more time on an essay assignment than my friends had. The long hours spent working on The Bi-Co forced me to strip away at least some of the pretense, and make an argument, already. The clock was ticking. I had to learn how to think fast.

I took a five-year break from literary journalism (which I had come to think of as more self-indulgent than practical) to focus on becoming a fancy academic who produces fancy academic writing.

I now wonder how much better my academic prose—and my blogging—would be if I had budgeted the time to be a complete writer.

SMDS is essentially The Bi-College News 2.0, only with a much smaller staff, a non-existent budget, and self-imposed deadlines. Sometimes the little voice in my head tells me I’m being more self-indulgent than practical. The me that’s actually matured in the past five years knows, however, that the time I put into blogging is time I’m investing not only into my mental health and creative side, but also into the craft of writing history.

The medium itself might not work for everybody—I certainly know those for whom an epic Facebook post probably does what SMDS does for me—but I think we need to see more graduate students writing for public consumption on a regular basis. Now that I’m two months in, and non-academic writing has become a daily habit, I don’t know what I’d do without it.

If you love writing, you need to be writing… even if nobody’s reading.

Lucky for me, some of you ARE reading. I’m thrilled to have your support, and want to keep it!

Since SMDS isn’t going anywhere any time soon, I’d really like to hear from my readers. What kind of posts do you most enjoy? What could you do without? Are there any topics you wish I’d cover that I’ve not yet touched on? Hit up the comments section and let me know what you want, and I’ll do my best to provide it!

 

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

 

 

 

 

The Archive is Open

Secret archives of the Vatican

I walk a difficult tightrope on this blog. I want to be as authentic as humanly possible, but I’m also a professor-in-training; I don’t want to put anything out into the world that I would have trouble explaining to a hiring committee, to my colleagues, or to my students. So I often find myself debating the merits of a post. The problem with this particular brand of censorship is that it’s entirely too fuzzy. That’s because I haven’t articulated to myself what constitutes fair game.

Just now I found myself sitting in front of my computer for a good ten minutes, contemplating the merits of writing a deeply personal post. While this kind of introspection is a good thing generally, SMDS is first and foremost a personal blog. My logic is simple: teaching difficult material is often the best way to learn that material. I blog about becoming the best scholar and person one possibly can because it’s something I want for myself, something that requires daily work and a willingness to open oneself up to new possibilities.

That’s why—after much hemming and hawing—I’ve decided to talk about what’s happening tomorrow. It’s a routine procedure, but as with most medical procedures, there’s nothing routine about it for me, the patient.

Tomorrow I am going to go to an imaging center, where a complete stranger is going to jab a very large needle into my hip, large enough that it needs to be guided by an X-ray. She or he will then inject contrast fluid into said hip, which—in addition to making abnormalities in the tissue easier to see—will actually push the ball and socket further apart. This is good for imaging purposes, but it feels pretty darned uncomfortable. Imagine a basketball getting filled with air… in your groin. It feels about as odd as that simile reads.

Since the giant needle’s is already positioned, and my mobility has been been seriously compromised by pain over the past few months, my surgeon’s decided that the dye injected into my leg should be followed by a cortisone chaser. He hasn’t diagnosed me yet (he needs to gaze deep into my basketball groin to do that) so we don’t know that cortisone will actually make a difference. It’s worth a shot. It also means, however, that by the time I waddle into the room with the MRI, I’ll be a human water balloon.

That, friends, is all considered “prep.” But take it from me, after that kind of prep, an MRI is decidedly anti-climactic. A claustrophobic metal tube that yells it’s strange language at you for an hour? Yawn.

I was seventeen the first time I had an MRI Arthrogram. I cried after the doctors injected the contrast not because I was in pain (which I was) but because I felt violated.

Not only had my personal space been invaded in a pretty epic way, with an equally epic needle, but in a matter of a minute or so I experienced a new and foreign kind of pain, in a part of my body where pain had never before existed. I’ve had two MRAs in my life, and as best I can tell, that extreme sense of dislocation from one’s own body is something that one only experiences once in their life. After that, your relationship with your body changes. I can’t quite articulate how it changes, but it does.

Tonight, I’m scared. It’s a very routine procedure, I’ve been through much worse, and I’ll be completely fine once I’m on the table, but tonight, I’m scared. I know exactly what’s going to happen to me, and I know that, in a couple of days, the chances are good I’ll feel a little better. But—because I know exactly what’s going to happen to me—I also know that it’s going to feel worse before it feels better. My hip hurts more today than it has in weeks; I can almost feel the basketball inflating.

I’ve long suggested, as have others, that the body is an archive that historians can, and should, read. This is not a unique opinion. In moments like this, though, I realize the body’s archival potential anew. Certainly part of the fear I’m experiencing comes from anticipating pain, from knowing all the ways the procedure could potentially go wrong, and from the fact that ahead of me lies a diagnosis and treatment plan that, for once, I can’t discern ahead of time. While I can’t conquer those fears, I can suppress them, because my rational self is aware that nothing that happens to me now will be as difficult or as painful as the surgeries I’ve already endured.

What I can’t do is close the archive. I became an historian of patient advocacy because it was the best and most fulfilling way to instrumentalize difficult memories, to use them as tools to better our understanding of the human condition. Pain is not so easily harnessed. Narcotic medication is no match for the narrative unfurling inside of me at this moment. Tonight, I have no choice but to bear witness to sensations I filed away years and years ago, hoping never to revisit again. For these few short hours, my archive gets to speak.

I am an historian, and so—to the best of my ability—I’m listening.

 

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

 

Getting Psyched for PCB 2014!

Portland, here I come!

Portland, here I come!

This time next week I’ll be on a plane heading to the 107th Annual Meeting of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association (PCB for short). It will be my first time attending PCB, and only my second time in Portland, so it’s going to be quite the adventure.

If you’re attending the conference and want to meet up, shoot me an email, or look for me at the welcoming reception on Thursday night!

I will be presenting a paper on Saturday morning as part of the super primo deluxe “Visual Cultures of the Body” panel. I’m only part kidding about the “super primo deluxe” thing. I’m really excited about this lineup, and can you blame me? Check it out!

Chair: Elliott Young, Lewis and Clark College

“Exchanging Glances: The Search for Identification and Authentic Grief at the Triangle Factory Fire Morgue” Vicki Fama Daniel, University of Wisconsin, Madison

“‘I Want the Public to Bear Witness’: Corporeality, Sovereignty, and Space in ACT UP’s Political Funerals” Andrea Milne, University of California, Irvine

“The Cyborg Surveyor and the U.S.-Mexico Boundary Line: Bodily and Scientific Encounters atop the Western Landscape” Celeste Menchaca, University of Southern California

We’re speaking at the butt-crack of dawn—8:30, to be exact. It’s all good… this is why God invented caffeine. And really, who wouldn’t want to wake up to corpses and cyborgs?

For those of you attending PCB, I look forward to meeting you and hearing about your work!