How I Got My Groove Back

Book on the beach

As regular readers will notice, it’s been a while since I last posted. That’s because I was busy experiencing a “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” style reawakening.

I entered this academic year feeling pretty well defeated, on many grounds. Instead of moving closer to my PhD, I felt like I was fighting tooth and nail to stand still. Everywhere I turned, I saw a new personal, professional, or structural hurdle standing in the way of my success. It got to the point that I fell utterly out of love with my work, with grad school, with academia. I concluded that graduate students who love their dissertations were either a cryptozoological fever dream, or so emotionally bankrupt that they’d lost track of what the word “love” meant.

And yet, here I am. As the end of my fifth year approaches, I can say without reservation that I love what I do again. I don’t just enjoy the time I spend working on my dissertation… I think my dissertation’s kind of sexy.

I know for a fact that I’m not the only person who’s encountered a veritable field of stumbling blocks late in their grad school career, so I thought it would be a good idea to share (to the extent that I understand it myself, which is admittedly limited) how I went from fizzle to sizzle.

Getting back in the archive helped. While never an easy experience—as I’ve discussed in previous posts—being immersed in primary sources always renews my sense of purpose and responsibility.

It helps that my archives are in cool places.

It helps that my archives are in cool places.

Confronting exogenous stressors helped. In some cases that meant having conversations I’d desperately wanted to avoid. In some cases it meant jumping through flaming hoops, like the ones I jumped through to secure my new roommate, who also happens to be a colleague, writing partner, and friend. It definitely meant taking time away from campus; isolating as it’s been working exclusively from home, it’s given me a chance to reengage with my work on my own terms.

Deadlines helped. My adviser, blessed with the rare gift of “Andrea whispering,” realized that getting me back on track meant throwing me back into writing, whether I felt prepared to do the work or not.

Re-immersing oneself in research, resolving external stress, and jumping into the deep end with regard to writing: these are all important parts of getting one’s academic groove back. If probably necessary to my process, though, none of those steps were sufficient. My biggest block was, naturally, a mental block.

Tired school boy

I needed to let go of the idea that I am an academic. More specifically, I needed to let go of the idea that I am a tenure-track professor in the making. In practice, that meant looking at and applying for jobs, learning about alt-ac career options, and keeping one eye fixed on the door at all times.

Do I still intend to apply for tenure track jobs? Of course! Do I still want my career to be academic in nature? Yes. The only thing that’s changed is that I respect myself enough to know that I don’t need those things to be successful. [Insert cliché about life being the journey and not the destination here.]

Research, teaching, and service are now affirmative choices that I make every day, with the full knowledge that those choices do not define me.

Went hunting for stock photos for couples therapy, and this is by far my favorite.

Went hunting for stock photos for couples therapy, and this is by far my favorite.

The graduate school as relationship metaphor is a common one, and one to which I’ve gravitated a lot in the past year. To continue that metaphor, let’s say I’ve gone through some pretty extensive couples counseling, I even did a trial separation! While it was very touch and go for a while, I came out of that process ready to work on my relationship with the academy. Now, I hold my graduate school experience to the same standards I would hold a romantic partner, because co-dependency of any kind pretty much sucks.

I hope to post a lot more now that my life, academic and otherwise, has stabilized. But we’ll have to see. After all, I have a very sexy dissertation to attend to…

“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


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.”


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.


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.

On Making Dollars and (Hopefully) Sense

money jar

Well, folks, the time has come: I’m monetizing this mofo. Specifically, I’m going to start adding affiliate links to a few of my posts.

Wait wait wait! Don’t run away! Let me explain what I’m doing, and then you can decide that I’m the worst and you hate me. Okay? Cool.

I’m dipping into the affiliate marketing business for one (exceedingly simple) reason: all this blogging takes time, and that time is uncompensated. Do I seriously enjoy blogging? Yes, I seriously do; I’d do it all day if I could. But I’m taking a cue from Rebecca Schuman, and countless other academic bloggers: when we treat our work as a “labor of love,” we’re essentially inviting that labor to be undervalued, both financially and socially. I no longer use that language to describe teaching, so I’m not going to use it to describe writing either.

None of this is to say I anticipate raking in the dough here at SMDS. Hardly.

I’ve discussed reframing multiple times on this blog, and that’s essentially what I’m doing now. I’m making a statement about my own value. I don’t want my readers (the vast majority of whom are cash-strapped grad students) to go out and buy things they don’t want or need. I will, however, happily take some of the money that’s already out there, that I generated—albeit indirectly—through my writing. I won’t go out of my way for it, but when it makes sense, I won’t shy away from passive income out of “principle.” Even a couple pennies in the ole’ savings account will go a long way in helping me justify SMDS’s presence in those (annoying) moments where it feels like a frivolous indulgence.

So how does this change your experience as a reader? It doesn’t, period. Unless, of course, you want it to.

For example, in my next post, I’ll be reviewing Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning. Before—if you decided a book I reviewed might be worth a read—you would make a mental note, open another window and buy it on Amazon, or add it to your library list. Now, if you decide you want to buy it, you’ll be able to click an Amazon link on by website and buy it immediately. Here’s the cool part: let’s say you click through the link to buy the book, but decide against it. You buy a salad spinner instead, because hey, who doesn’t love a salad spinner? Well, I’ll get a commission for that sale, because I’m the reason you went onto in the first place. Of course, I make very little money from this transaction, but it’s a cool way to support the blog, without actually doing anything you wouldn’t be doing already.

Here’s what I won’t be doing: I won’t link to or review products willy-nilly. I won’t suddenly turn SMDS into an all-book-review website, nor will I suddenly start touting the benefits of a new and exciting grad-student-specific snake oils. If an affiliate link appears on my site, you can be sure I’ve purchased and used the product myself. I also won’t tell you to buy it. In fact, in my upcoming review, I’m going to suggest that you not buy The Miracle Morning (spoiler alert), but that little link will be there in case you see a value I in the book that I don’t… and just in case you’re still thinking about that salad spinner.

“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.

I’m Back… And I’m Starting Over!

New life chapter

Just three short months after starting “The Six Million Dollar Scholar,” I did that thing that pro bloggers tell you to never, ever, ever do: I disappeared. It’s been over three months since my last post, which is even more embarrassing because that means my blog’s spent more time inactive than it’s spent active. WOOPS.

Well, I’m back now.

So where did I go? I crawled into my own head. A small piece of me actually died in there. Some call that piece “denial,” others “fear,” but I’m going to go ahead and call it what it is: bullshit. My bullshit died. I killed it.

I stopped blogging because I decided “writing for fun” was a waste of time, that the aforementioned time needed to go to my dissertation. I was struggling with my academic work—pretty much for the first time ever—so it didn’t make sense to blog. Instead, I devoted myself to hitting my head against the wall, harder, and harder, and harder. Eventually the dissertation would shake loose, right? Grad school is suffering, so finding myself chronically unsatisfied with my work was just a sign that I was on the right track, right? RIGHT?!?

Wrong. I had been going nowhere, and I’d been going there at the speed of light. By the time my twenty eighth birthday rolled around in December, I was demoralized, depressed… I was done.

A fairly accurate rendering of where I was around this time last month.

I went home over the winter break with no books, no journal articles, no writing, nothing. I resolved that I would use my time off to deal with the frightening reality that I might not be cut out for the career I’ve spent years pursuing. To call that process uncomfortable would be an understatement. Academia is, and always has been, my security blanket. It’s my constant, my rock, my significant other. It doesn’t just structure my identity, it structures my assumptions about all the big-ticket concepts in life: success, love, work, intelligence, and freedom, to name a few. Nevertheless, I rolled up my sleeves, and took a good long look at my situation.

What did this several-week-long face-to-face with the truth yield? A series of realizations:

  • I am NOT happy with life as I’m currently living it.
  • I have all the tools I need to succeed, both within and without academia, but I’ve been too disconnected from myself to use those tools effectively.
  • There is nothing more comfortable than that which reliably sucks, and there is nothing more frightening than attaining what you want.
  • By convincing myself that my life path is pre-determined—and structured by others (academia, my professors, reviewers, search committees, etc.)—I’ve made graduate school into a trap, instead of a space to freely cultivate my ideas.
  • My priorities in life have been changing fairly radically over the past few years, but I failed to accommodate, or even accept, those changes.
  • In walking away from blogging (and non-academic writing in general) I have been denying myself that which brings me closer to the truth. Of course I couldn’t post… being authentic would mean admitting I didn’t have all, most, or any of the answers.

I would say I had a fairly productive Winter Break, wouldn’t you? For all the epiphanies I managed to cram into a few short weeks, the process of arriving at all of these conclusions was incredibly difficult. So difficult, in fact, that I couldn’t—at the time—do a damned thing about them. I just had to sit with all this new information, and try not to throw up.

Now I’m back at school, and it’s time to take care of business. What does that actually mean?

This is probably the place where you expect me to tell you that I’m dropping out of school. I’m not. But I might… one day. I honestly don’t know, and that’s actually really important to me.

The single most radical thing I can do, and my single greatest challenge, both personally and professionally, is to accept (and dwell in) uncertainty. So that’s what I’m going to do.

These days, when I wake up, I have three main goals: I will use the day to (1) do meaningful academic work, (2) write something meaningful, whatever that looks like to me that day, and (3) to do something concrete to build up my “alt-ac” options. My days will also include home-cooked meals, exercise, non-academic reading, and at least eight hours of sleep. In essence, I’m going to force myself to live intentionally, but without a concrete end in mind. I’m trusting that this will bring me to a place where I’m able to truly understand what I want out of life, and how—or if—a Ph.D. figures into that calculus.

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time, but part of me worried that doing so would somehow invalidate the whole blog. After all, I called my blog “The Six Million Dollar Scholar.” Can I still claim that title, now that pretty much everything about my life and career is up in the air?

Yes. Yes I can. Looking critically at (and beyond) my Ph.D. is probably the most intelligent thing I’ve done since starting SMDS. In fact, it’s an exercise more academics would do well to adopt. It’s also helped remind me that I need not be a grad student, a professor, or an anything in particular, to be a scholar. Learning is my jam. I’ll be a scholar no matter where this journey takes me, because that’s just who I am.

So there you have it. I’m back, and on the road to being better than ever. 2015 should be a very interesting year.

“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.

Two Podcasts Humanities PhD Students Can Enjoy Despite Themselves


I rarely watch television anymore, so great is my love for all things audio. I especially enjoy listening to podcasts.

Podcasts are a great medium for graduate students, because our time is limited, and so is our brain space. Thinking for a living is hard, and by the time I get home (or disengage from my desk), the idea of having to listen, watch and understand anything seems like a chore.

Speaking of chores, since I’m not trying to focus on a screen, podcasts actually facilitate a lot of chore-doing in my house. From sorting my mail to doing the dishes to cataloging my sources, everything becomes a little less arduous when I have something else to focus on.

While (as I’ve made clear in previous posts) I love my history podcasts, I’ve also started branching out a bit. In so doing, I’ve re-discovered the beauty of thinking beyond one’s field.

Below are three of the blogs I’ve added to my “interdisciplinary audio” syllabus.


The Side Hustle Show

In the past couple of weeks I’ve learned something that, I have to confess, made me a little uncomfortable at first: grad students and entrepreneurs are a lot alike. At first this kind of freaked me out, because isn’t the ivory tower about escaping the drive to monetize this, leverage that, and optimize everything? Isn’t capitalism the enemy?

Well, yes and no.

Building a “side hustle”—a small business that generates supplemental income—requires a lot of the same skills that you need to build an academic career. You need to know what you’re good at, position yourself within an already thriving community, prove that you have something unique and valuable to offer that community, and—perhaps most important of all—you need to learn how to do it all with exactly zero time.

Full disclosure: I found “The Side Hustle Show with Nick Loper” because I am working on a new project to supplement my income. I didn’t just stumble upon it. That having been said, I now realize that at least some of the episodes would have been helpful to me long before I began trying to figure out how not to be poor. I especially recommend episodes like “How to Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half,” ”How Side Hustlers Can Get More Done in Less Time,” and “How to Live Rent Free.”

Fair warning though: getting the information you need out of this podcast will require that you leave your various and sundry prejudices against business folk at the door.

It’s embarrassing to admit one’s own prejudices in public, but the fact is I DO indeed identify the term “entrepreneurship” with bro culture, which I DO think of as a problem. I still squirm listening to “The Side Hustle Show’s” (intentionally) sales-pitchy introduction, and frequently find myself waiting for discussions of ethics and workplace structural inequalities that, shockingly, never seem to come up. I’ve heard terms like “ROI” and “SEO optimization” and “affiliate marketing” so many times it’s made my ears bleed, but I’m genuinely glad for it. If you can listen past your own culture shock, you too will find ways to make “The Side Hustle Show” work for you. You just have to do a little bit of cherry-picking.

And no… Nick Loper did not pay me to say any of this. I wish he had.

The Domestic CEO

When one hears the term “graduate student,” it conjures images of coffee stains, towering blue books, and day-old bed head. Here’s the thing: we aren’t all slovenly creatures. Some of us actually keep nice homes and organized workspaces. Still more of us aspire to!

The Domestic CEO is an awesome podcast for Martha Stewart and Pig Pen alike, but isn’t one I would suggest for “vertical listening.” While I really didn’t need to hear the “Laundry 101” episode, the “How to Keep Your Bathroom Clean Without Cleaning” episode may have just changed my life forever. I’m not kidding.

Whether you’re interested in keeping your car clean, saving time at the grocery store, the myriad ways one can use cream of tartar, or how to style a bookshelf, chances are you’ll find something worth listening to in the DCEO feed.

The benefits of listening to this show are practical yes, but they are also psychological. Graduate student’s often think of the place they live as a transitional space instead of a home, and manage it accordingly. This… is dumb. Your life is not on hold. Your home shouldn’t be either.

Give these podcasts a listen and let me know if you agree with me! Where do you go when you need inspiration outside academia? Have you found any grad school hacks in unconventional places? Share them with the rest of the class in the comments section!


“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 Tale of the Giant Bed

Bed1This past week I bought a mattress—like, a real mattress—for the very first time. In the five plus years since I graduated college, I’ve been through two $100ish dollar pieces of IKEA foam nested less-than-comfortably on wooden IKEA bed slats. They creaked and groaned with every move, and each night’s sleep was slightly more uncomfortable than the last.

So why wait five years to invest in a decent bed? My rationale was simple: grad students don’t have nice things. Grad students are poor. If I manage to get a PhD AND a job, I’ll have earned a comfortable mattress. Until then, to quote Dan Savage: “Suffer, bitch.”

This is a fairly accurate representation of how huge my new bed is.

This is a fairly accurate representation of how huge my new bed is.

So how is it that I am writing to you now, perched atop a tower (no kidding, an actual tower) of coils, latex, and foam? How is it that I’ve joined the ranks of the elite, with their fancy box springs and ten year warranties? I didn’t get my PhD, nor did I get a job, and I most definitely did not get rich overnight. Far from it.

I wish I could say I came to the decision to toss my crap bed and invest (with the help of my beloved mother) in a real mattress through meditation and a careful reframing of my self-image. Alas and alack, that would be a lie. I came to the decision because I’m in pain. Like, I’m-going-to-need-surgery level pain.

In a slightly bizarre twist, this is the second time I’m writing about mattresses this month. In a previous post about attending college with a physical disability, I wrote the following:

 [I]t can be really hard to know what you’re going to need to get through college, and how exactly to go about getting it. Because college is a new life experience, it necessarily brings up new issues for which one is unprepared. The most important accommodation I had in the course of my undergraduate career wasn’t about where my classes were or attendance policies, or even being excused from classes during inclement weather. No… turned out I really needed a new mattress every year. Can’t say I’d seen that coming when I was getting myself ready to go to college. What your students need may surprise you, but keep in mind that it may also surprise them.

Realizing I needed a new mattress now, almost ten years after I originally marched (okay, limped) to Bryn Mawr’s Disability Services office and requested the same was admittedly a little demoralizing. What was more demoralizing, though, was realizing that it took yet another instance of physical impairment to get me to prioritize my wellbeing over my credit card balance.

The moral of the story here is simple: think about how you would treat yourself if you’d just returned from a trip to the hospital. If you’re anything like me, you’ve found—or imagine you would find—that in the moments where your health hangs in the balance, you speak up, make demands, and advocate for yourself. You can’t afford not to! Why oh why don’t we treat ourselves that way all the time?

Gee... if I'd realized adjustable beds were THIS much fun...

Gee… if I’d realized adjustable beds were THIS much fun…

You know that adjustable bed commercial where the middle aged woman says something to the effect of “I’m glad I didn’t wait until I’m too old to enjoy this!” Well, that’s basically what I’m saying, only in a “hindsight is 20/20” kind of way. At this particular moment my fancy new mattress isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. It’s a necessity because I waited until I WAS in too much pain to view it as anything else. Yes, I am enjoying my new bed, but I’d definitely enjoy it more if I’d bought it earlier, and for the right reasons.

I can think of nothing more important for quality of life than a good place to sleep. And yet, for four long years I let (a) sticker shock, and (b) the cockamamie notion that grad students aren’t supposed to be comfortable, keep me from having my gigantic miracle bed. Lesson learned. From here on out, I’m going to expect better of myself. I’ll always find the money for the things I need: the more difficult task is remembering that I deserve to have the things I need.

So yeah. The new office chair’s being delivered tomorrow.

“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.

Dear Diary

One of the key takeaways from my most recent research trip—a non-unique one, I’ll admit—was realizing how important it is to keep personal records.

In the course of two days I read approximately six years’ worth of film scholar and AIDS activist Vito Russo’s life. How much of it do I anticipate will make it into my dissertation? Frankly, not all that much.

Vito Russo

The ten-ish hours I spent pouring through Russo’s journals were nevertheless some of the most valuable that I’ve logged in my career thus far. Historians use primary and secondary sources in their work, but we also use intuition, emotion, and other intangibles we can’t fully account for in our footnotes (whether we like it or not). Russo’s journals steeped me in the ethos of the AIDS crisis in a unique way, and it’s left an imprint on both my mind and my heart that I know will follow me throughout the research process.

This isn’t the first time I’ve read somebody’s personal remembrances in an archival setting—every single time I do, though, I find myself sitting there wondering why there aren’t more historians in the world. It’s just so cool. The “intimate connections” that happen in the archive are a huge part of the reason I’m motivated to do this kind of work, and every time I encounter another life on paper, I start thinking about journaling, and the fact that I suck at it.

I am notorious for buying—nay, collecting—fancy notebooks in which I intend to write my life story, only to decide that writing in them would be a desecration. If I actually do write in them, I immediately re-read the content I’ve created and criticize everything from my handwriting to my sentence structure. In so doing, I determine that I’m the biggest jerk on the planet and who the hell would want to read about my life anyway so why don’t I just not and say I did? It’s intense.

At least, it was. I’ve been on the journaling wagon for a whopping six days now, and am happy to say that I think it’s going quite well.

There are two reasons I think I might be able to turn journaling into a habit this time around:

  1. I’m writing with a different goal in mind.
  2. I’ve changed the process by which I write a journal entry.

The former is largely a result of engaging with Vito Russo’s personal writing. I’m eventually going to devote an entire post to his journals, but for now I’ll just say this: while Russo a heroic figure in both LGBT and HIV advocacy, his journals reveal all of his deepest flaws. Every once in a while he’d write something that stopped me in my tracks, because it was so self-centered, or whiny, or arrogant, or etc. etc. etc. That was awesome. The stars, they’re just like us!

I used to imagine my great great grandchildren reading my journals and telling all their friends about what a great woman I was. After reading through Russo’s journals, though, I now imagine them gathering together to talk about the myriad ways in which I was kind of a jerk. We love the people we love not just despite their flaws, but because of them. This realization has helped me to stop worrying about the quality of what I put on the page.

My new technique for journal writing has helped me in this quest to uncensor myself, but there’s still the issue of carving out time to write yet another thing. Taking a cue from Greg McKeown, who advises that you should always write less than you’d like to, I decided that I would only allow myself to write for ten minutes. Can I plumb the depths of my soul in ten minutes? No. Can I give a basic account of my day and how I felt about it? Yeah. I certainly can’t claim that my journal has a wonderful voice, as it’s comprised of lots of super abbreviated sentences, but who cares? Writing is both my hobby and my job. If my great great grandchildren swing a dead cat and somehow don’t find my blog posts, articles, and (fingers crossed) dissertation, they just need a bigger dead cat.

Do you journal? Any suggestions for getting started/sticking with 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.

When One Door Closes, Make Lemonade

My summer session course got cancelled a few days ago due to low enrollment. It was a pretty big disappointment to me, and—I imagine—to my department, which had anticipated that the class was going to be a big draw.

They had good anecdotal evidence to support that assumption. I taught the same course (“Sex in U.S. History”) last year as an upper division seminar, and it was not only really successful, it achieved full enrollment. My department chair and I decided that, given all the positive reviews of last year’s class, we’d capitalize on student interest, and offer the same class again, this time as a 15D (the GenEd-iest of general education courses). At the time it seemed like a slam dunk, but lo, the same course that was packed to the gills last year couldn’t attract more than 10 students this year.

“Sex in U.S. History” ended up being a victim of a perfect storm of sorts, one for which absolutely nobody is responsible. The success of the class was contingent on multiple factors above and beyond student interest, and it looks like we managed to lose every single mini-gamble we took in offering the course.

Am I disappointed? Of course. I genuinely love teaching, and I especially love teaching this subject. Several former students of mine had signed up to take the class, and I’d very much looked forward to showing them what I do when I’m not teaching composition. Being a course instructor is a veritable butt ton of work, but it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. So yes, losing my class was quite deflating.

Then there’s the money. I was kind of counting on that money. Woops.

Luckily, my department is unendingly supportive of me. They got me a position as a grader which, while not nearly as lucrative as an instructor position, means I won’t be eating cat food all summer. While it’s not the role I envisioned for myself, it’s going to give me the chance to work with students studying 19th century US history, something that my two year appointment in the First-Year Integrated Program meant I’ve not yet had the opportunity to do. I’m also going to be working with one of my dearest friends in the History Department, who—on account of being awesome—has already arranged for me to give a guest lecture in her class. The topic, death in the Civil War, is one I’ve wanted to lecture on for ages, so this is a fantastic opportunity.

The disappointment of having my class cancelled has been remediated somewhat by the fact that I’m not going home empty handed. It’s been remediated still further by my ability—when the occasion calls for it—to be rabidly optimistic.

For the first time in two years, I’m going to have a break from designing lesson plans, lecturing, and all the other time and energy commitments that come with teaching. I’d cut out my own heart if I thought it would help my students, so I tend (at times to my detriment) to think of teaching less as a job, and more as a way of life. I compare primary sources while trying to fall asleep, I read new books looking for fresh material… I get pretty absorbed in making sure I’m giving my students the best intellectual experience I possibly can. Sitting sidecar will free up my schedule to do research I would have certainly put off until the fall had I been teaching. At this stage in my career, that’s a really good thing.

This experience has taught me a lot about the dangers of chicken counting in academia (I can only imagine how crushing this same scenario would be as an adjunct). It’s also reminded me that, in this profession, you may run out of time, money, and patience, but you’ll never run out of worthwhile things to do. I’m exchanging the rewards of teaching for the rewards of archival research. That’s an incredible trade. There aren’t very many jobs out there where the glass is so consistently half full, and I feel lucky every day that I’m doing work that matters on so many different levels.

And there you have it… the borderline alchemical transformation of bad news into gratitude. When it comes to polishing turds, I’m a rock star.

But seriously, something’s wrong on a campus where a class about S.E.X. doesn’t fill. I mean… I used “twerking” in the course description! Get it together, anteaters.


“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.

How I’m Spending My Fourth of July

Switch out the blond hair for dark brown, and you've pretty much got me pegged. Cartoon by Steve Greenberg. Click the image to get to the site I found it at.

Switch out the blond hair for dark brown, and you’ve pretty much got me pegged. Cartoon by Steve Greenberg. Click the image to get to the site I found it at.

Independence Day and I have never really gotten along. As a little kid, fireworks scared me silly, and going out to see them meant being eaten alive by mosquitos and the occasional sand flea.

Cut to today. I’m a highly risk-adverse, teetotaling vegetarian that studies this great country of ours for a living and doesn’t particularly like crowds. The more things change the more they stay the same.

So yeah, this isn’t my day. The Fourth of July leaves me wanting, both gastronomically and intellectually.

Every year I tell myself that I’m going to play along. I resolve to put on a red dress and “The 1812 Overture,” and pretend that I enjoy watching large groups of people handle explosive pyrotechnics under the influence of cheap beer.

Not this year. This year, I’m spending my day doing things I wish everybody did on the Fourth of July, things that would make this country better. I’m going to try and help people achieve REAL independence.

To be fair, I slept in today. And I’m sure I’m going to eat too much. Still.

My mother’s in the publishing business, and as a result we have literally hundreds of books in our house, mostly romance novels. Some of them were given away at conferences, some of them are duplicates, some of them have been read once and will never be read again… you get the idea. We have a lot of books.

When I’m done writing this post, I’m going to collect a whole boatload of said books, pack them up, and (on July 5th) ship them off to The Women’s Prison Book Project. Media mail is pretty cheap, and, as a professor-in-progress, I know how much a book, any book, can mean when put in the right hands at the right time.

Whether the various and sundry romance novels I donate end up helping a woman learn to read, or end up hidden under mattresses, I don’t care. I can’t single-handedly dismantle the prison-industrial complex, but I can make the lives of the women trapped within it slightly more enjoyable. This good deed will cost me maybe two hours, and maybe $10.

Now, I’m only partially motivated by altruism; fact is, my tiny act of kindness will benefit me too. It will mean that MY Independence Day is about charity, not gluttony. If I can reframe this—the tackiest and most self-indulgent of all holidays—then I can totally own every other day on the calendar.


“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.