Maybe it’s unusual for me to use Facebook this blog [this was originally posted on Facebook] alternatingly as a professional networking tool and a very public outlet for my personal dramas, but, like, whatever.
For the past few weeks, my church’s virtual services have focused on the topic of grief and how we can embrace grief, see God in it, learn from it, and heal with it. I’ve been very pre-occupied with one small grief, and I continue to practice letting it work its way out naturally so that I can eventually let it go. I say “small” grief because it’s not even close to “big” griefs like sickness, death, or betrayal, but it’s been tough to handle nonetheless.
The short version of the story is that last November, I ended a relationship that I had really put a lot of work into, and with the loss of a partner also came the unexpected loss of a community. After an initial quick period of mourning the breakup, I thought I could pick myself up right away and resume life as normal. Instead, I looked around and realized that I had no one to keep me company, and that “life as normal” no longer existed.
The fact that this happened just as the pandemic started to enter its horrible winter surge in Los Angeles, making it worse than it might have been otherwise, doesn’t escape me. I know in my head that I have a big support network, and I was really grateful for weekly calls with my church group and check-ins from many friends from around the country. But all of that didn’t prevent me from spending entire days physically alone in my apartment; it didn’t keep me from going three weeks without seeing a single other human being in person (except at the grocery store); it didn’t save me from the most crushing loneliness I’ve ever felt in my life.
It was a long and miserable winter.
Finally, after stupidly waiting for people I thought I could rely on to reach out to me, I just sent out my own SOS. And so I’ve started the journey out of this rut. I’ve been doing a lot of hiking, which has allowed me to connect with a handful of new faces, or reconnect with friends I didn’t know were here in LA. But I’ve also realized that I’m not going to be able to thrive here, not in these times, so the more reasonable solution is to leave. It was foolish of me to have even tried, but at least I can say that I learned from my mistake.
So to answer the reflection questions from today’s sermon… Do I understand that God grieves with me? Yes, but honestly it hasn’t helped as much as understanding that my friends grieve with me, too.
What is my grief? Not so much the loss of the relationship, because I can see now, with distance, how it was doomed from the start, but rather the steep and sudden loss of human connection at a time when everyone needed it the most.
Where am I on my journey? I’m definitely in a better place now than I was at the beginning of this year. Grief processing is non-linear, so I won’t guarantee that things can only go up from here, but the general trend is upwards, and that’s a start.
How can I mark and honor my grief? I’m doing that right now by writing very publicly about it.
What is my grief teaching me? That I need people, and more importantly, that the people I need are not always the people I think I need. I’ve also learned how to examine my own behavior when I enter the bargaining stage of grief, which is interesting and useful. And on a somewhat twisted note, my grief has taught me that I’m certainly capable of continuing to function extremely well (e.g., take care of myself and do my job) even when my insides are being put through the wringer. This isn’t really a good thing, but, again: interesting and useful to know for the future.
What other emotions surround my grief? Loneliness, a hint of insecurity or self-doubt (e.g., am I actually incapable of sustaining a committed relationship with another person; how come nobody here wants me in their quarantine bubble; AITA, etc.), and, obviously, pandemic-induced existential dread.
How can others support me? Well, thanks for reading, that’s really about it. I’ve already made a few decisions that I think will really help me, including getting the hell out of here, and beyond that, I just hope we can all continue to take care of each other.
Word of the Day: graupel, from German meaning “little pearl barley”, is a type of winter precipitation that is also described as “soft hail”. It looks like hail, but it’s soft and won’t hurt you, and forms more often during wintry mix precipitation rather than thunderstorms. Apparently we got some graupel in the LA area last week, but I didn’t get a chance to see it.
This post is really just going to be a lot of links and reminders to myself about how to think about ethical linguistics research and how to incorporate these ideas into the syllabi for the classes I teach. The first big thing I’ve done in 2021 is attend the Linguistic Society of America Annual Meeting (LSA 2021). Over the past weekend, in addition to giving two presentations and moderating a symposium (whew), I also attended a very important organized session on ethics in linguistics this morning. Lots to think about and take away from it, but I don’t have the energy to process it all right now; hence, putting my notes here. And I’m making it public rather than just an Evernote document, because I think these might be useful to other linguists or anyone interested in the ongoing conversations about ethics in this field and in academia more broadly.
The organized session highlighted issues of ethics in language documentation research and traditional laboratory data collection, but most pertinent to me was the topic of Internet research, or the collection of linguistic data from public sources. I asked the panelists this question:
How do we feel about “found” panel or corpus data? E.g., using language data from news, archives, reality tv, Twitter, and YouTube, when speaker info can be anonymized, but the researcher is unlikely to be able to get consent? Does it make a difference if it’s corpus analysis versus case studies or in-depth qualitative analysis?
The panelists offered varying insights. Among them included: 1) Lots of data on the internet is considered public domain, so from a legal standpoint there isn’t a conflict. But legal is not the same as ethical. 2) Some internet data cannot be anonymized, especially if you include verbatim quotations, such as Tweets, in your research analysis: it is relatively easy to search for the source of a Tweet, even if you remove its attribution, and thus anonymization is rendered impossible. 3) It’s important to check in with your institution’s IRB (Institutional Review Board), because not only should different Internet data sources be treated differently, the way your project uses it will also differ from another project, and so everything should be taken into a specific context. Of course, this also depends on how competent your local IRB is.
Audience members also pointed out that the institutionally-defined ethics of research may not always match what is “right” for a specific person, community, or social context. (In other words, there’s a difference between ethics and morals, and between both of these and legality.)
Amidst a very productive and engaging chatroom dialogue (one of the interesting consequences of a virtual conference is the simultaneous speaking and typing communication), many people shared links to webpages and articles that deal specifically with the use of Internet data in linguistics research, and I thought I’d keep a record of some of them here. (I have downloaded all of the articles, and if you are interested, contact me and I can send you a copy. Or check out item #6.)
2. Shilton, Katie and Sayles, Sheridan. (2016) “We Aren’t All Going to Be on the Same Page About Ethics:” Ethical Practices and Challenges in Research on Digital and Social Media.
“Ethical norms among both researchers and participants are still in flux, making the construction of concrete specifications nearly impossible. There are no catch-all solutions for digital and social media research ethics.”
3. Vitak, Jessica, Shilton, Katie, and Ashktorab, Zahra. (2016). “Beyond the Belmont Principles: Ethical Challenges, Practices, and Beliefs in the Online Data Research Community.”
“Informed consent challenges are one of the most frequently discussed topics in online research ethics. Online research subjects are sometimes unaware of monitoring, and often unable to choose the kind of data collected. Online data subjects also have uneven opportunities to protect their data. While individuals increasingly use privacy settings provided by social network sites, researchers allied with host platforms may still have access to the data. Transparency is another challenge for social computing researchers. While social media’s affordances simplify the process of collecting data, researchers must decide whether and how to inform subjects of their presence, methods, and analysis.”
4. Narayanan, Arvind, and Shmatikov, Vitaly. (2010). “Myths and fallacies of ‘Personally Identifiable Information.'”
“The versatility and power of re-identification algorithms imply that terms such as “personally identifiable” and “quasi-identifier” simply have no technical meaning. While some attributes may be uniquely identifying on their own, any attribute can be identifying in combination with others.”
5. Hou, Lynn, Lepic, Ryan, and Wilkinson, Erin. (2020). “Working with ASL Internet Data”.
“However, there is no “one-size-fits-all” set of regulations for conducting ethical research with internet data, and many Institutional Review Boards have not yet updated their procedures to anticipate the types of harm that might arise in working with internet data. It seems that the biggest risk of harm to others when working with internet data is the risk of violating an individual’s perception of the privacy of the forum in which they are communicating. Related to this are the potential harms that derive from researchers making information available about individuals that the individuals themselves did not share publicly. Researchers therefore must be aware of the perceptions that individual internet users could reasonably be expected to have about the privacy/availability of the content that they have shared online.”
6. The syllabus for Emily Bender’s course on Ethics in Natural Language Processing at the University of Washington, which is extremely comprehensive and is the source of many of the aforementioned articles.
This year was garbage, no surprise there. For just about everyone, full of sorrow and anger and anxiety and helplessness, and all of it warranted. About one year ago, before COVID even existed, and during a particularly low spot in my dissertation writing, I posted on this blog a list of fifty things I was thankful for. I re-read it today, and a part of me felt relief, but another part of me felt a different kind of sadness. It occurred to me that even though I still have many of those blessings, they don’t seem to be enough to counter the woes of the ones that were taken away from me this year. And very little about the past nine months has made up the difference.
So I don’t really feel like doing a solemn year-end reflection. On the other hand, I think it would be nice to sum up the year in a more light-hearted way, so I’m doing a “culture roundup” for 2020! I’m generally not very good at keeping records of the books, movies, and other forms of entertainment that I consume, but I think one of my resolutions for the coming year will be to do a better job of it. Not that I attribute any kind of importance to records like these, but, again: this is for the sake of a light-hearted diversion. Here we go!
I do actually keep track of the books I’ve read here. I used to write short synopses and reviews of each book I finish, but… haven’t done that in a while. Now it’s just a list, with some entries highlighted as recommendations. Here’s 2020:
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford Saint Young Men, Vol. 1, by Hikaru Nakamura The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vásquez Minor Feelings, by Cathy Hong Park Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari The Secret Adversary, by Agatha Christie The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X. R. Pan Changing Our Mind, by David P. Gushee The Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion, by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng Exhalation: Stories, by Ted Chiang On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui
Of these, the standout was Exhalation, Ted Chiang’s short story collection. Absolutely phenomenal.
I began using letterboxd this year to keep track of movies; if you use letterboxd, add me here! These are movies that I watched for the first time in 2020. I did not include movies I re-watched, of which there were quite a few (thanks to quarantine). Again, recommended movies are highlighted.
Wonder Woman 1984 (2020, dir. Patty Jenkins) The Witches (2020, dir. Robert Zemeckis) Run (2020, dir. Aneesh Chaganty) Another Round (2020, dir. Thomas Vinterberg) The Half of It (2020, dir. Alice Wu) Tigertail (2020, dir. Alan Yang) Palm Springs (2020, dir. Max Barbakow) Little Women (2019, dir. Greta Gerwig) Knives Out (2019, dir. Rian Johnson) Just Mercy (2019, dir. Destin Daniel Cretton) Uncut Gems (2019, dir. Josh & Benny Safdie) Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019, dir. Quentin Tarantino) I Lost My Body (2019, dir. Jérémy Clapin) Shazam (2019, dir. David F. Sandberg) Booksmart (2019, Olivia Wilde) Mary Poppins Returns (2018, dir. Rob Marshall) Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018, dir. Phil Johnston & Rich Moore) They Shall Not Grow Old (2018, dir. Peter Jackson) Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018, dir. Peyton Reed) Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife (2018, dir. Jay Karas) American Animals (2018, dir. Bart Layton) Talking Black in America (2017, dir. Neal Hutcheson & Danica Cullinan) Bad Genius (2017, dir. Nattawut Poonpiriya) The Little Hours (2017, dir. Jeff Baena) Train to Busan (2016, dir. Yeon Sang-ho) Deadpool (2016, dir. Tim Miller) The Little Prince (2015, dir. Mark Osborne) Mustang (2015, dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven) Megamind (2010, dir. Tom McGrath) Boy (2010, dir. Taika Waititi) Children of Men (2006, dir. Alfonso Cuarón) The Fountain (2006, dir. Darren Aronofsky) Shaun of the Dead (2004, dir. Edgar Wright) The Station Agent (2003, dir. Tom McCarthy) Hero (2002, dir. Zhang Yimou) Election (1999, dir. Alexander Payne) Chungking Express (1994, dir. Wong Kar-wai) Groundhog Day (1993, dir. Harold Ramis) Unforgiven (1992, dir. Clint Eastwood) Where is the Friend’s Home? (1987, dir. Abbas Kiarostami) Little Shop of Horrors (1986, dir. Frank Oz) The Housemaid (1960, dir. Kim Ki-young) Singin’ in the Rain (1952, dir. Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen) Citizen Kane (1941, dir. Orson Welles)
The standouts from this list are Train to Busan, Booksmart, and Palm Springs. I guess I’d have to say my favorite movie of 2020 that I watched was Palm Springs, but that said, I know there are a lot of amazing movies from this year that I just didn’t get to watch. I’d especially like to thank my friend Blake and our informal Sunday Movie Club for exposing me to many of these films, and for giving me a wonderful weekly tradition that has tided me through most of the pandemic quarantine.
For sure, 2020 was the year of watching television for me. I recommend pretty much all of the shows on this list — it looks short, but multiply each show by a few seasons, and you’ve got yourself enough material for several months of lockdown.
Fleabag Steven Universe Future Avatar: The Last Airbender The Legend of Korra Community (S1-3) The Umbrella Academy (S2) Westworld (S1) Infinity Train (S1) Schitt’s Creek (S5-6) Parks and Recreation (Pandemic Special Episode)
The winner here is probably Legend of Korra; it builds on the incredible world of Avatar and tells such memorable, complex stories under constraints (e.g., 20-minute episodes aimed at children). Fleabag is a close second; I binged its two short seasons during a trans-Pacific flight and have never encountered any comedy quite like it. Of course, Steven Universe and Parks and Rec were favorites because I have had a deep fondness for those shows for years. I was also happy to finally be able to finish Schitt’s Creek this year, even though I broke up with my ex literally right after we watched the series finale, which centers a super heartwarming gay wedding. Eyeroll. Okay, thank you, next!
I’m just not a podcast person… but this year I listened to my friend Wes Willison’s “The Cultivators”, and I highly, highly recommend it. Other than that… on long drives down I-5 (aka NorCal to SoCal), I tended to queue up old episodes of 99% Invisible, Low Definition (Incomparable Game Show), This American Life, and Everything Is Alive.
According to my Spotify Wrapped, I listened to a ton of Tim Be Told and Maggie Rogers. I don’t really use Spotify that much, so I couldn’t tell you how accurate that is. I do really love both of those artists, though, so check ’em out!
Haha. Travel. Well, I managed to get a few trips in there, even squeezed in an international flight. My last flight was to Oregon, only one week before California went into lockdown back in March. Then, I did quite a bit of driving back and forth between NorCal and SoCal before permanently moving to the Los Angeles area. From there, I took a couple of road trips with my ex and/or with friends.
Lake Tahoe (ski trip) Singapore (job interview) Portland (job interview) Valley of Fire State Park (road trip) Bryce Canyon National Park (road trip) Zion National Park (road trip) Pinnacles State Park (camping trip) San Diego (twice!) Joshua Tree National Park (road trip)
Places in bold are places I’d want to visit again in the near future!
And last, but not least (probably most, tbh)
The other things that sustained me this year include:
Helen Plotkin’s summer Hebrew course for Swarthmore alums In-person game nights playing Scythe, Wingspan, and Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 with my friends (pre-pandemic) Virtual game nights playing Among Us, Dominion, Evolution, Nertz, and Jackbox Games (post-pandemic) Pokémon Go New York Times Daily Crossword Oak Life Church’s weekly virtual services and my life group community Grad Fit and Body Attack, my wonderful outlets for group exercise
Thanks, everyone, for all the memories! May 2021 be a better year.
Word of the Day (Word of the Year?!): farkakte, meaning lousy, ridiculous, screwed up, etc. It comes from Yiddish: פֿאַרקאַקטע, meaning “from shit” or “shat upon”. Also spelled verkakte. A wonderful word for 2020.
… as I discovered last week when I helped with my church’s Christmas Eve service. Like most churches (hopefully), we had a part pre-recorded, part live service that was streamed online to congregants who watched from home. My contribution was to provide music for a few songs. I’ve gotten quite used to doing this on Sunday mornings; it’s as easy as turning on my webcam and pointing it at my keyboard; broadcasting through our livestreaming website is a cinch, although it unsurprisingly doesn’t provide high-quality audio or video.
Because the Christmas service is special, I thought I’d try a nicer setup. Instead of my laptop’s webcam, I managed to set up my old dSLR camera as a high-definition webcam (thanks to this video). For audio recording, I used my professional-grade recorder, the one I used for my dissertation research. I had a little trouble with getting it to record simultaneously with my webcam, though, so I decided to record my keyboard track and my vocal track separately and send those along to our producer to mix with the other band members’ contributions.
That left just the video to shoot, which I realized I would have to do while playing back my own track and not just lip-syncing along, but also keyboard-syncing in a realistic way! (The audio from the video would be scrapped, and the video alone lined up with my tracks and everyone else’s.)
I had to do a lot of takes. I also had to be content with inconsistency. Are there moments in the final video when I’m singing but my mouth is closed? Yes. Are there moments when my fingers are clearly not where they are supposed to be? Most of the video is like that, in fact. Doesn’t help that I play keys half-improvised instead of reading from sheet music!
But I’m thrilled with the final product; our editor/mixer/producer/sound designer Jake did a wonderful job. You can check it out on my church’s Instagram page.
What I learned from the whole thing is: 1) the people whose job it is to set up cameras, microphones, and lighting for a shoot, and the people who convert raw footage into beautiful videos, are very special people indeed. It’s hard to do it on your own with no training. And 2) it’s hard to lip-sync! I pay a little bit closer attention to every single music video I watch now.
Here’s a funny thing I noticed the other day. I was re-watching music videos from Glee (ridiculous television show about a high school show choir; I loved it, though), and in Darren Criss’ performance of “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay”, an editing goof reveals that even imperfect takes can make it into final cuts. If you watch the video from the 3:18 mark, you can see Lea Michele singing along with the backing vocals. It cuts to a close-up of Amber Riley singing, and then back to the previous shot, with Darren Criss (and his beautiful eyes) in front of the choir. Except this time, Lea Michele is laughing and definitely not singing along, even though all the other actors are. It’s just a split second, but it makes it obvious that there were many takes, and a botched one just happened to sneak in.
But honestly, I mean, most people watching wouldn’t notice tiny things like this. I’m just a huge nerd with a particular attention to detail at this point in time, I guess!
Anyway, there is no broader message to this post, I just wanted an excuse to share fun music videos.
Well, there’s also the bit about accepting imperfection, but I’ll spare you all the excruciating deep analysis.
Word of the Day: A joik (the “j” is pronounced like a “y”) is a traditional form of song of the Sámi people (the indigenous people of northern Europe). It’s also called a vuelie. Think of the opening song in Frozen. They are a cappella, usually lyricless, and quite beautiful.
P.S. I was just reminded, after publishing this post, that my friend once utter the non-word “lipsank” as a past tense form of “lip-sync”, and I found that delightful. It’s an example of what linguists call reanalysis: “sync” being for him no longer a shortened form of “synchronize” (which would have the past tense “synced”), but an irregular free morpheme homophonous and analogous with “sink”. Yes, as I said before, I’m a huge nerd.
Call Dr. Jill Biden by the title she has earned and asks people to use. It’s really that simple: give respect where respect is due.
Some people earn doctorates (Ph.D., Ed.D., Psy.D.) and medical degress (M.D.) and ask that others refer to them with the “Dr.” title. Others do not. I believe that, similar to lived names and pronouns, titles are determined by the individual who earns them. (Not that names and pronouns have to be earned.)
On academic Twitter, there appears to be a sharp divide between those who want everyone who has received a doctorate to advocate for greater use of the “Dr.” honorific and those who want less of it — both for valid reasons. In the former camp are people who recognize not the inherent value of an exclusive institution or system, but the reality that even in exclusive circles such as the academy, less respect is given to members with historically marginalized identities, such as women and people of color. So the argument is: call everyone who has a doctorate a “Dr.”, especially when those people are women of color, and remember to afford them their deserved authority in other ways, as well.
(As this debate unfolded on Twitter, the discussion I’m citing pertained specifically to use of “Dr.” before a Twitter user’s name on their profile. I even saw a more extreme position than this: only women and minorities should explicitly use the title on Twitter, and everyone else should remove it. I personally don’t know if that plan would do anything to solve misogyny.)
On the other hand, there are people who disagree with the concept of hierarchy altogether and would prefer few, if any, honorifics that create social distance between groups. (I suspect — without proof, of course — that white men make up a larger proportion of this camp than its opposition.)
I — speaking as a cisgender man with a doctorate — say, once again, it’s simple. If a person earns a title and asks you to use it, then use it and don’t tell them not to use it. Especially do not write garbage op-eds in the Wall Street Journal in order to tell them not to use it.
And if they have a title but disprefer it, don’t force it on them, either. If they only want to use their title ironically, or if they prefer one title in one situation and a different title in another, then who are you to dispute this? It’s not your name; it’s not your life.
And if you’re unsure what to use? Just ask. Respectful curiosity goes a long way these days.
Word of the Day: buncombe (or, more commonly, bunkum), means “utter nonsense” and could rightfully be used to describe a certain Wall Street Journal op-ed published recently. Interestingly, the history of this word goes back to 1820. Felix Walker, a U.S. Representative from North Carolina, representing Buncombe County, tried to give a speech in Congress to argue in favor of human trafficking (i.e., to admit Missouri into the union as a slave state — this was about forty years after the Revolutionary War and forty years before the Civil War). None of his fellow congressmen wanted to hear his speech because they’d been debating the issue for weeks already, but he insisted that he give it so that he could at least report back to his constituents that he did. He was shouted down and never finished his speech, but it was indeed printed in his local home paper.
This was actually a tactic used by many a Southern Democrat in the years leading up to the Civil War, one in which politicians could shore up support at home while not actually fighting hard for change in D.C.; people began to use “speak for Buncombe” as a metaphor for useless political speechifying. A fascinating Atlantic article describes this early American phenomenon and draws parallels to what Republican “leaders” and conservative media platforms are doing today. The word bunkum is the source of the slang word bunk and its more common verbal cousin, debunk. I’m not sure of the original etymology of buncombe, apart from eponymous Continental Army colonel and human trafficker (“slaveowner”) who lent his name to the county. One possibility is that combe could come from the Old English word that refers to a hollow in the side of a hill.
This morning at virtual church, a friend mentioned how it is difficult to feel connected to people during these pandemic times, not just because opportunities to see others in person are restricted but because the major replacement for traditional socialization is social media. And on social media, the tendency is and always has been to be “public with our gratitude, private in our sorrows” (her words).
In other words, even when we are asked to be honest about how we are doing when we are online, we want to put our best, positive foot forward. So we minimize our problems in favor of counting our blessings. Or, we’ll mention that “things are hard”, but sandwich it between effusive gratitude, thankfulness for the small things, or relief that it could be worse. We keep the sorrows private.
Of course, it’s really important for one’s mental and emotional health to focus on the positive things. This is actually a tool that we can use to cognitively heal a bruised psyche. It’s just that if we never take the opportunity to fully give voice to the negative things — if we brush them under the rug slightly too quickly, or believe that we must brush them under the rug at all because they’re unsightly — then it creates and reinforces the idea that we’ve got to avoid sadness, anger, and despair at all costs. As a consequence, other people who experience sadness, anger, and despair feel more and more like the way they are feeling is an outlier, or that it doesn’t belong online or in any public space.
We all experience negative emotions, and I think it’s wonderful when we make space for them. It’s really nice to do this in a group setting, when you’re having an earnest and genuine conversation with friends and family, or if you’re in group therapy. In my past, I’ve also made space for my negative emotions through Facebook and blogging (especially through blogging when I was an angsty teenager).
I have been so busy and distracted since the pandemic swept into our lives in March, I’ve made so few attempts to be honest and open about my struggles. It’s also dicey, at a time when many of my friends are mourning death and disaster, to produce anything that might be seen as drawing unnecessary attention to my altogether very normal life.
But you can’t hold onto your sorrows forever. I’m trading them in now. All of this is just a verbose way to lead up to this: I’m heartbroken. I’m disappointed. I haven’t been my best self, haven’t even been anywhere close to it, for months. I feel isolated. I’m homesick. And I’m not in a position to change anything about my situation until the world is safe again, so at best I can only flounder through the holidays and keep breathing.
I’ll survive, of course. I’m strong and I know that I’m strong. Also: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation […] I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” so I don’t need anybody’s sympathy, really. It’s just that I wanted to demonstrate how the strength I’m un-self-consciously great at manifesting on the surface means very little if there isn’t vulnerability right there alongside it.
I hope that if you have also felt negative emotions: sadness, anger, despair, disappointment, frustration, fear, and even apathy… I hope that this reminds you that of course you are not alone. I can empathize. Many of us can empathize. Very few of us will want to be public about our sorrows — and that is okay — but if it helps you feel a little less alone, then I’ll say it again: I’m heartbroken, I’m disappointed, I am burned out, I am lonely, I am sad, and I am still here.
Word of the Day: the Harmattan is a dry season in the region of West Africa characterized by hot, dusty, northeasterly winds that lasts from about December to March. Harmattan comes from the word haramata, native to Twi Akan, a language spoken in Ghana.
Beginning this past Wednesday, when it became increasingly clear to the country that Joe Biden, while not yet having clinched the victory in his campaign for the presidency, was definitely on track to gain electoral college votes in crucial swing states, the incumbent and his team started a quickly-spreading protest to stop counting ballots, which they falsely claimed and/or believed had been cast illegally. The idea appeared to be that if no more ballots were counted, then Biden would not be able to declare a decisive win.
It was and continues to be a ridiculous allegation, of course. But one of the wonderful unintended consequences of the sudden surge in red hat-wearing protestors arriving at ballot-counting sites to harass the workers and call for a stop to the count was the many counter protests that sprang up just as quickly to demand justice and a fair democratic process. Some of my friends showed up at the counter protest in Philadelphia, where the atmosphere, which had begun as a solemn march downtown, turned festive as the evening wore on. Angry chanting turned into live drumming and hip hop music blasting from boomboxes. The protestors turned away from the “Stop the Steal” crowd and towards the people dancing in elaborate mailbox costumes, honoring the hard work of the USPS. It was a party! And the same exhilarating energy was being unleashed all over the country.
It reminded me of a climactic scene from the movie Horton Hears a Who (2008), based on the Dr. Seuss children’s book of the same name. In this movie, the elephant Horton hears the voices of an advanced civilization living on a speck of dust that landed on a flower. No one else in Horton’s society of jungle creatures believes him; they think he is crazy and dangerously so, and they whip up a mob to imprison Horton and destroy the flower. As the climax builds, Horton tells the mayor of Whoville that all his people need to make the loudest noises possible so that the world outside their speck can hear them.
And so begins a scene that literally brought me to tears when I first saw it:
John Powell’s score here is richly layered and astonishingly emotional, but that’s just the start. A large part of the thrill I get every time I see it is from realizing how masterfully he incorporated the most random and original instruments into the music that the Whos are making, and how seamlessly the storyboarders and animators then brought them to life in the wacky cartoon world of Whoville. The scene is so zany, colorful, and fun! But while film soundtracks can be amazing music to listen to on their own merit, because music itself is so crucial to the plot of this particular movie, this scene is so much more meaningful. Here, the music is not just “in the background”, but is indeed the central theme: the Whos are throwing a party because they need to be heard.
When I think about the protests that unfolded as the latter half of Election Week dragged on without a clear winner, and when I see that even as there was anger and desperation at these protests, there were also trumpets, DJs, and dancing mailboxes, I am reminded that the ongoing global fight for justice is too difficult not to infuse with a little bit of joy.
This year has been desperately sad and chaotic for everyone. The anger that spilled out over and over again into protests and riots is more than 100% justified. But I love to see the celebration, too. It is wonderful to watch Black Americans defiantly choose joy in the streets even as they continue to be killed by the police and by systemic racist oppression. Cities that have been doubly hit by pandemic lockdowns and destructive protests are still coming together to demand that their voices be heard. These are the voices of marginalized races, the voices of women and LGBTQ+ people, the voices of undocumented immigrants. We are here! And, like the Whos in Whoville, making as much noise as they possibly can to literally fight for their existence, it looks like it can actually be, well, fun.
(That’s at about 1:56 in the video above, by the way.)
Yesterday morning, I woke up to the news that finally, Joe Biden had won enough votes in Pennsylvania to tip the scales in his favor. He had won the presidency, and Kamala Harris would be Vice President. The catharsis was so, so sweet. And the protests in the streets immediately turned into celebrations. In fact, they already had been celebrations.
At virtual church this morning, our pastor gave a short sermon that included a nod to the feasts and festivals that God commanded his people to hold. He wanted them to set aside time for celebration, even in the midst of their daily struggle to survive and thrive during forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Times are hard. They will not immediately get better just because we have a decent leader in the White House again. The fight for justice, reparations, equal rights, and so many things must continue, so there will be future opportunities to protest. All the same, I have a positive outlook on the future. When we protest, we can also make music and dance. When we shout out to be heard, we can bring out the drums and the trumpets and the flags. When we call out oppression, brutality, and corruption, we can turn it into art. We’ve been doing this for ages, but now I want to see more. I believe in making our protests celebratory.
Word of the Day: po-faced. 1930s British slang for being humo(u)rless and disapproving. As in, “Don’t be so po-faced; live a little!”
Hello, just dropping by to give the smallest of updates about my life: After many bruising rejections from my participation in the 2019-2020 academic job market, I felt that one of the most frustrating things about the experience was how long it took for many institutions to give me a decision about my applications. In almost cases, I was just waiting for an official rejection, but I had to wait months and months to hear back. So, I wrote a sort of “advice column” that argued for better transparency and communication in the academic job market. Originally, the piece was going to be a post here on this humble blog, but I thought I could reach a broader audience if I had it published somewhere. I figured the Chronicle of Higher Education, a magazine focused on the issues facing academia, was a good choice, although I was told that my chances of being published there were slim. Luckily, I cold-emailed an editor there with the original draft, and after a few weeks of review and editing, it was accepted and published!
So this post is really just a chance for me to share the article, which is here, and to pat myself on the back for having accomplished something at a time when I can barely focus on anything. Obviously, I’m distracted by the Election and the rollercoaster ride of the national ballot counts. I’ve also been feeling less and less like myself these days, what with the pandemic and other personal and career-related issues. But those can be discussed at a later time.
Oh, and another crucial update that I realized never made it to this blog (but which is included in the Chronicle article!) is that I did finally get a job. I am currently an Assistant Research Specialist and Lecturer in the Department of Language Science at UC Irvine. Longest job title ever!
Even though I’m no longer at Berkeley, which was the original inspiration for this blog’s name when I began it six (!!!) years ago, I intend to continue posting here for the time being.
Stay safe, everyone!
P.S. If you need to get around the Chronicle paywall to read the article, here’s one trick I learned recently that may or may not work: click on the link while on a computer, then hit “Esc” on your keyboard before the page fully loads. Technically, it’s not a paywall, just a please-sign-up-wall.
Word of the Day: Rodomontade is boastful talk or behavior, or being a braggart. The word comes from a character named Rodomonte in a Renaissance-era (late 1400s) Italian epic poem. His name, in turn, has an unknown etymology.
About one month ago, as I was finishing up my dissertation, I queried the Facebook hivemind for suggestions on whom to include in my acknowledgments section. I’ve read many books and dissertations in my life, and I have seen some very long acknowledgments sections that run for pages and pages. They sort of read like yearbook dedications, complete with stories, inside jokes, and lots of personality infused into the words of gratitude. I’ve also read very short and to-the-point acknowledgments, ones that thank only editors, reviewers, and other people whose help directly contributed to the content of the work.
Overall, the general consensus from my friends who have written dissertations was that it’s better and more fun to acknowledge everyone and everything that helped you not just write the dissertation and do the research, but survive and thrive in graduate school. I read many dissertations from previous students in my program and saw the same pattern. And in the words of my friend Katie, “It’s good critical feminist praxis to be effusive and acknowledge everyone and everything that has helped you finish that thing!” I agree: we see so many trends in all aspects of society, but especially in academia, that glorify the individual at the expense of the teams, communities, mentors, laborers, and historical pioneers that made the individual’s success possible. This partly contributes to unhealthy expectations for work in our society, and it is my responsibility to help deconstruct this by humbly acknowledging that I did not do this alone.
So I ended up writing a little over three pages of acknowledgments in my dissertation, and as I wrote it, I did indeed have a lot of fun thinking back on the six-ish years of graduate school and the many people who came in and out of my life throughout this journey. But being the completionist or perfectionist that I am, I also began to worry that I would forget about someone important. I will admit that at one point, I scrolled back through every photo I had on my phone, looking for evidence of good times with people that I might have forgotten to include. Since good critical feminist praxis is always being learned and never perfected, well, I probably forgot to include a lot of people. I probably forgot to include you! (Sorry.)
But I will also be frank with the fact that I wondered about the people I consciously chose to exclude from this section, and whether it would contribute to bad karma or something. Then I began to wonder who would even know or care, because, like, who is going to read my dissertation? Mostly other grad students who have a specific question about Korean American speech that they need answered; and then, who among them would bother to read the acknowledgments?
Realizing that most of the people named in my acknowledgments might actually never read it and discover that they are in it, I decided to reproduce all three pages of it here on my blog. By publishing this, I’m also making a public statement about the importance of gratitude. I’ve been writing this blog since September 2014, and it’s almost always just been about me, me, me. Well, for at least one post, I’d like to make it about someone else. This one is about you. Thank you.
The section below is reproduced from the acknowledgments section of my dissertation (which you can read in its entirety here).
No dissertation is completed alone, and no doctoral degree is awarded solely on the basis of one individual’s efforts. So I’d like to take the following few pages to express my gratitude to everyone who has helped me on my journey over the past six years (and longer!).
First and foremost, I want to thank the people whose labor made possible much of this dissertation: the undergraduate students who worked with me through the Linguistics Research Apprenticeship Practicum (LRAP). To my LRAP apprentices Sung Hyup Lee and Anstonia Ma, thank you for your work in the PhonLab collecting and organizing the data used in Chapter 2. To my small “BTS army” of LRAP apprentices who worked on the sociolinguistic interviews discussed in Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6: my apprentice interviewers Cindy Jin, Francis Zheng, Ung Bee Anna Park, and Mingde Chong; and my dedicated transcribers and data analysts Esther Yom, Younie Park, Sage Jeon, Amanda Ong, Daniel Sanghyun Park, and Ashika Raghavan, thank you a thousand times over. You deserve all of the accolades for your excellent work.
Next, I would like to thank my dissertation committee members, who have collectively guided this project from a scattered collection of manuscripts with a loose theme into a full-fledged dissertation that I can be proud of. To Keith Johnson, my adviser, thank you for always being willing to meet at a moment’s notice to talk about anything from a line of code that wouldn’t work to, of course, the maddening job hunt. As an adviser, you have always given me near-absolute freedom to pursue whatever I want, but more importantly, you have paired it with the encouragement that whatever it is will be worth doing.
I am grateful to Sharon Inkelas for her enthusiasm for my work, despite it never managing to touch on any of the theoretical questions I’d posed in my prospectus defense two years ago. I am grateful to Susan Lin for helping lay the groundwork for my training in experimental and field methods in phonetics. I also want to acknowledge how much I have learned from Sharon and Susan from taking their graduate seminars, including Sharon’s course on linguistics pedagogy. Much of what I know about how to teach, and how to do it with kindness and an infectious passion, I learned from them. I am grateful to Justin Davidson, whose expertise in sociolinguistics and bilingualism were instrumental in the design for my bilingual sociolinguistic interviews.
Ronald Sprouse was the technical genius when it came to data collection, processing, and analysis. Thank you, Ron, for patiently answering all of my emails when the aligner wouldn’t work, or my Jupyter Notebook froze, or I didn’t have enough RAM, or I needed to borrow a laptop from the department but I was in Los Angeles, or I couldn’t find the missing parenthesis in my code. Thank you for being my computational linguistics teacher for six years; this work would have taken another six years to complete without you.
I have so much to thank our department’s administrative experts, Paula Floro and Belén Flores, for… except most of it was behind the scenes, and I know that I don’t know the full extent to which they helped me meet my research goals. Funding, forms, deadlines, that sort of thing. Thank you for holding the department together!
Next, I would like to thank my consultants and interviewees, and all the members of the Korean American community who graciously volunteered their time to talk to me, or helped me find people to talk to. In particular, I would like to thank Kevin Kang, Deborah S. Lim, and Ung Bee Anna Park for their help during my field trip to Los Angeles in the summer of 2018.
I would not have been able to conduct bilingual interviews at all had it not been for my top-tier (albeit unconventional) education in the Korean language. For that, I am grateful to my many Korean language instructors and tutors at the University of Pennsylvania, the Korean-American Educational Commission and the Fulbright Program in South Korea, the Changwon Korean Class, and Seoul National University. To all my Korean-speaking friends, peers, and colleagues since 2010 who have patiently allowed me to practice with them: Kamsahamnida!
Thanks to audiences at various linguistics conferences and reading groups, including the Linguistic Society of America, the Acoustical Society of America, the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, the International Circle of Korean Linguistics, the International Symposium on Bilingualism, the Penn Linguistics Conference, the UC Berkeley Phonetics and Phonology Forum, and the UC Berkeley PhonLab, for listening to parts of this project at all stages of its creation.
I am grateful to Laura Nelson and to the members of the Center for Korean Studies Graduate Seminar for their helpful feedback on drafts of Chapters 1, 5, and 6. In particular, I am deeply thankful to Rachel Lim for countless tips and suggested citations that improved my theorization of Korean American identity.
For additional technical assistance and guidance, I’d like to offer my thanks to Tae-Jin Yoon for the script that runs the forced aligner with a Korean dictionary; to Sun-ah Jun for helpful comments regarding the Korean VOT merger and f0 contrast sound change; to Félix Desmeules-Trudel for the inspiration to conduct GAMM analysis and to Joseph Stanley for assistance in implementing and visualizing it; to Yoonjung Kang and Elaine Chun for their generously-offered words of encouragement; to Charles Chang for the idea about Korean sound change that was the genesis for this entire project; and to the members of the Berkeley D-Lab who provided numerous consultations to help me with data wrangling.
All of the research contained in this dissertation was not only supported by the abovementioned parties, but also by several Graduate Summer Research Grants from the UC Berkeley Department of Linguistics, a UC Berkeley Center for Korean Studies Fellowship (2015), a UC Berkeley Foreign Language and Area Studies Summer Fellowship (2015), and a UC Berkeley Dissertation Completion Fellowship (2019).
Because I had to do something with my life besides study — and indeed, I may have spent more of my time on non-academic pursuits than academic ones — I would like to thank the people in my life who have given me support and strong community both inside and outside of the ivory tower.
To the #bestcohort: Amalia Skilton, Emily Drake, Ginny Dawson, Alice Shen, Geoff Bacon, and Erik Maier, thanks for the great memories in the chartreuse office, and also for that one awesome trip to Yosemite. To my colleagues in the PhonLab (FunLab): Sarah Bakst, Auburn Barron-Lutzross, Meg Cychosz, Matthew Faytak, Karee Garvin, Emily Grabowski, Myriam Lapierre, Raksit Lau, Jonathan Manker, Yevgeniy Melguy, Emily Remirez, and Eric Wilbanks, thank you for the support and the teamwork. To the Puzzlin’ Wugs and the “old” Frisbee players: Kenny Baclawski, Nico Baier, Emily Cibelli, Marcus Ewert, Stephanie Farmer, Greg Finley, Jevon Heath, Jack Merrill, Kelsey Neely, Randy O’Connor, Hannah Sande, and Elise Stickles, I miss those good times. To the LinguisDiscs: Schuyler Laparle, Julia Nee, Allegra Robertson, and Martha Schwarz: play on!
Thanks to the folks who joined me in the RSF to blow off steam by teaching, spotting, racing, and/or dancing: Samuel Ray Butarbutar, Mitch Crispell, Lashon Daley, Christopher Goetz, Zachary Hallberg, Zackary Harris, Ryan Ikeda, Ryan Stone, Camila Yadeau, and many, many more. A special shoutout to my two most cherished fitness instructors over the years: Shola Ogunlana and Noel Panganiban. I will miss your classes so much!
To my fellow Swatties: Wes Willison, Hana Lehmann, Cecelia Osowski, and Greg and Heather Loring-Albright, thank you for making Philadelphia home while I was teaching at Swarthmore. To all of my teachers and professors at Swarthmore, some of whom later became my colleagues: thank you not only for giving me a solid foundation from which to pursue even more education, but also for championing a sense of curiosity and the importance of the liberal arts. Special thanks to Nathan Sanders, my undergraduate thesis adviser, and to Helen Plotkin, who will continue teaching me Biblical Hebrew forever, probably.
Additional thanks to the Scholarly Writing Accountability Group (SWAG) for the many hours of shared silence. To Roslyn Burns, Zachary O’Hagan, Eleanor Glewwe, Lilith Acadia, Courtney Hill, Cynthia Yoonjeong Lee, and Miran Oh, thank you for the helpful mix of camaraderie and commiseration over the years. To my PAAC Fam: CJ Cruz, Jason Tong, Jonathan Moua, and Jonathan Mabuni, and to my Oak Life family: Hannah Kim, Jake Gavino, Rachel Lim, Joy Kim, Chris Scott, Greg Steward, and so many more, thank you for keeping my spirit strong. To my fellow tabletop fiends: Shirley Ma, Tony Huynh, Daniel Wong, and JD Co-Reyes, may we soon be able to gather in person over Scythe and Dominion once more. For support and friendship of all kinds, I’d like to thank Andrew Moncada, Kathleen Marcelo, Emily Chi, Evyn Lê Espiritu, Anthony Juarez, Ashley Park, Madrianne Wong, Joshua Min, Christopher Auyeung, Irene and Daniel Chui, Rebekah and John Kim, Joshua Chen, Jeremy Lee, Spencer Wohlers, and Adam Kind.
Nicholas Steven Lee Dolan gets his own paragraph for being a close friend through thick and thin.
Jeffrey Kenichi Nakashioya also gets his own paragraph for helping me see this through to the end.
As is the case with most 2020 dissertations, this was work produced in a pandemic, and it was hard. But it was made easier thanks to every email, phone call, Zoom call, video chat home workout, virtual game night, and it’s-been-so-long-let’s-catch-up moment during the Quarantimes. To those who kept physical distance but maintained social connectivity, thank you. Videos of my niblings Jojo and Abby kept me smiling every day; much gratitude goes to my parents, to my siblings and in-laws, and to their kids and cats, for keeping me entertained and anchored.
As I look back, I would like to thank David Harrison for being my indefatigable cheerleader since I was a young linguistics major at Swarthmore. You are a role model in so many ways.
As I look ahead, I would like to thank Judith Kroll and Gregory Scontras for their mentorship this past year and for throwing me an academic lifeline in the midst of a pandemic.
And as I look at you, reader, I’d like to say thanks for reading, and may your pursuit of knowledge take you far.
Word of the Day: anemochory is the dispersal of plant seeds via wind. Other seed dispersal syndromes (or mechanisms) include hydrochory (via water), barochory (via gravity), and myrmecochory (via ants). Thanks, ants. Thants.
It’s been about three months since I’ve updated this blog. In my last post, I implicitly lamented how difficult it is to find an academic job in today’s hyper-competitive market. As I wrote it, I thought that it was such a downer of a post that I didn’t want to follow it up with anything but good news. I told myself that I wouldn’t update my blog again until I could announce that I’d landed a job.
I’ve emerged from blog hibernation in the midst of an unexpected economic winter. I do not have a job. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people in the country and around the world have lost the jobs that they already have. Even worse, hundreds of thousands have lost their lives to a disease that only popped onto people’s radars at the beginning of the year.
How has COVID-19 affected me? To be honest, not much has happened. I had been mostly working from home, writing my dissertation, for months before the pandemic resulted in slowdowns and shutdowns all around the world. Northern California was among the earliest regions to institute shelter-in-place policies, which neither came as a surprise to me, as I had been keeping up with the news, nor changed my daily routine too much.
But it quickly became clear that the toll of avoiding public spaces and not seeing friends and family would have deleterious effects on my mental health. It’s been tough. I began to tell myself that if I just used this “free time” to hunker down and finish my dissertation, while assiduously continuing to send in applications for every academic job listing I could find, it would all be worth the pain. I would emerge from self-quarantine with a PhD and a professorship… somewhere. But instead, I found myself unable to write anything, unwilling to look at my committee member’s reviews, distracted by side projects and, um, sleeping. And I kept getting rejected from jobs.
We’re on Day who-the-fuck-knows of Quarantine, and I have nothing to show for it.
But… that’s okay. The Great Slowdown, rather than being “an opportunity to be productive” (ugh), is a good time for self-reflection and self-care (for those with enough privilege not to be worrying about survival). I’ve been thinking about jobs outside of academia. I’ve been running and doing home workouts with friends via video chat. I’ve been keeping a journal every day, to help me remember what I’m doing and to log any milestones.
One of those milestones is graduation, which was supposed to take place today.
It was a mere two months ago, in mid-March, when our department chair dropped by the grad student offices and wondered aloud what we would do about Commencement for the Department of Linguistics. At that time, big events were getting canceled left and right, but shelter-in-place had not yet been announced. He said he might organize a small garden party of sorts, with just PhD candidates, close family, and some of the faculty. But just a few days after that, it became clear that even that would not be feasible, to say nothing of the commencement ceremony that would include one hundred undergrad majors, or the schoolwide commencement held in the California Memorial Stadium.
Instead, yesterday afternoon, I sat at home in sweatpants and my knockoff Cal Bears sweater and watched the Blockeley University commencement ceremony, held within Minecraft and streamed on Twitch to a virtual crowd of over ten thousand. A team of Cal undergrads and alumni had recreated the stadium (as well as the entire campus) inside Minecraft and broadcast pre-recorded speeches in the manner befitting a university commencement. It was cute!
And this afternoon, I lay on the ground in my room and clicked on a few videos that my department had put together to celebrate graduation, watching them with my phone held above my face. The department had created a yearbook-style webpage in our honor. I watched all the videos, listened to speeches and exhortations from my graduate adviser and many Berkeley alumni, and felt what is probably the epitome of the emotion we call “bittersweet”.
Then I did a virtual workout, baked a pan of brownies, and played my favorite board game online. Another day of quarantine, done.
So where do I go from here?
I haven’t finished my dissertation yet. Luckily, Berkeley Linguistics (and most doctoral programs) will allow me to “graduate” at the spring commencement ceremony, as long as I complete all the graduation requirements in the same calendar year. My plan is to continue working on my dissertation and submit it (also called “filing”) in August. Not filing in May means that I’m still a student for the summer sessions, during which I will be teaching one undergraduate class — online, of course. And after I file in August? Who knows? Only God does. Maybe tomorrow I will hear good news from one of the postdoctoral positions I applied for and breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe I will continue to add rejection letters to my depressing collection. But I’m going to be okay.
We’re gonna be fine.
On the peak of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, overlooking the San Francisco Bay Area. Taken by Jeff on March 3rd, 2020, which now feels like years and years ago.
Word of the Day: heatballing is a defensive technique used by honeybees whereby they swarm a predator, such as a wasp, and raise the internal temperature of the ball to such a high degree that the predator suffocates and dies.