A Look Back: Unwriting and Podcasting in 2019

Unwriting y podcasting en 2019: Una mirada retrospectiva

This past year Paul, my co-author, and I had the good fortune of recording not one but three podcasts: one for SECOLAS’ Historias series and two for Mesoamerican Studies On Air (one in English and one in Spanish). This was very exciting because Unwriting Maya Literature came out this past spring and we want to tell everyone about it. The book is written entirely in English, so the Spanish podcast was a nice way of introducing it to non-English speakers/readers. We discussed this particular aspect of the book in a short essay where we reflected upon how to reach the many people whose work has been integral to our own but who cannot read it for themselves, and how to ensure we’re not merely extracting knowledge. For this reason, we were particularly thrilled to do a Spanish-only podcast. It’s a small step, but a step in the right direction.

The beauty of the podcasts is that they are quite accessible, and don’t have a price tag or come with a huge time commitment. That, and the conversations with Steven (Historias), Catherine (Mesoamerican Studies On Air), and Paul were easy: academic but totally approachable, the perfect introduction to our project and all things in between. The podcasts are not the exact same (they’re definitely unscripted); though the main ideas are there, we took some detours, explored some things more intently, and reflected on others. The Historias podcast is about an hour long, while the Mesoamerican Studies On Air podcasts are approximately twenty minutes each.

As for making my work more accessible, in the next little while I hope to write in Spanish much more, hoping that what I produce sees a 50/50 split one day. This is no easy feat because my writing comes much more easily to me in English, where I’m far more efficient and somewhat more articulate. This is perhaps owing to my many years of training, playing with words, and thinking “lofty thoughts” (as a helpful reviewer once pointed out). I’m also starting to realize that with my two selves, the Spanish-speaking Rita and the English-speaking Rita, come two distinct forms of self-criticism. Luckily, I’m always up for a challenge. It’ll be a slow process, particularly since my writing slows down a fair bit during the academic year when my teaching takes over completely, but I will do my best.

A word about the podcasts:

Mesoamerican Studies Online and On Air is a fairly new project by Catherine Nuckols-Wilde, a PhD student of Art History and Latin American Studies from Tulane University. She began the podcast a short while ago, and she interviews experts on Mesoamerica from all different disciplines.

Historias is a SECOLAS (Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies) production and it has been around for a little while. Until recently their focus had been History, but it is shifting to include other disciplines.

Listening to these podcasts is like going a conference but with the ability to space out the talks you attend. That, and you can do it in your PJs. So, do yourself a favour and subscribe to Mesoamerican Studies On Air and Historias.

LASA Boston 2019. Showing off the book / Presumiendo libro.

Unwriting y podcasting en 2019: Una mirada retrospectiva

Este año, Paul (mi coautor) y yo tuvimos la tremenda fortuna de grabar tres podcasts: uno con Historias de SECOLAS y dos con Mesoamerican Studies On Air (uno en español y uno en inglés). Estamos muy contentes porque Unwriting Maya Literature recién se publicó en abril del 2019. El libro está escrito en inglés así que el podcast en español es ideal para presentarlo a aquelles que no hablan o leen inglés. Este tema lo discutimos en un ensayo corto en donde hacemos una reflexión sobre cómo dialogar con aquellas personas cuya obra es vital para la nuestra pero cuyo acceso al libro es limitado y cómo asegurarnos de no estar simplemente extrayendo conocimiento. Por estas razones, es importante para nosotres haber grabado un podcast en español. Es un paso pequeño pero un paso en la dirección correcta.

En cuanto al podcast, me alegra mucho que lo puedan escuchar con facilidad: es gratis, accesible y corto. Eso, por un lado, y, por otro, las conversaciones que tuvimos con Steven (Historias), Catherine (Mesoamerican Studies On Air) y Paul fueron muy amenas: académicas pero francas, una introducción perfecta a nuestro proyecto y a todo lo que nos apasiona. Los podcasts no son idénticos (sin guion) y, aunque las mismas ideas surgen, son conversaciones distintas. El podcast de Historias dura aproximadamente una hora mientras que los podcasts de Mesoamerican Studies On Air duran 22 minutos cada uno aproximadamente.

En cuanto al asunto del acceso a mi trabajo, espero poder escribir mucho más en español, hasta llegar a un punto en donde la mitad de lo que escriba sea en español. Esto será algo difícil para mi porque la escritura en inglés se me da fácilmente y en general puedo desenvolverme en inglés mucho mejor. Esto se debe a los muchos años de vivir en Canadá (26) y a la mucha práctica en mis estudios y como crítica literaria (lo cual incluye ideas que me ‘quedan algo grandes’ según alguien por allí). También me estoy dando cuenta que mis dos personalidades, la anglo- y la hispanohablante, vienen acompañadas de su propia autocrítica. Lo bueno es que los retos me van bien. Sera un proceso lento porque en cuanto empiezan las clases me quedo sin tiempo, sin fuerzas y hasta sin palabras, pero me parece algo importante así que haré todo lo posible.

Sobre los podcasts:

Mesoamerican Studies Online y On Air es un proyecto reciente de Catherine Nuckols-Wilde, estudiante de doctorado en historia del arte de la Universidad de Tulane. Los podcasts son conversaciones con expertos en estudios mesoamericanos, la mayoría en inglés, aunque Catherine espera poder entrevistar a más expertos en español.

Historias es una producción de SECOLAS (Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies) y lleva varios años en existencia y aunque se han enfocado en la historia, recientemente han dado un giro para así incluir otras disciplinas.

Lo lindo de estos podcasts es que son cortos, se pueden escuchar donde sea, a la hora que sea. Es como ir a un congreso, pero tomarse su tiempo para escuchar cada plática, en pijamas, sin salir de la casa. Así que, si tiene un momento, le recomiendo suscribirse a los podcasts de Mesoamerican Studies On Air e Historias

Ábadakone at the National Art Gallery of Canada

(Nota en español)

I am happy to share with you a recent Twitter thread on my visit to the National Art Gallery of Canada for their Contemporary Indigenous Art Exhibit, Ábadakone (Continous Fire/Feu Continuel).

If you’re on Twitter, don’t bother with this post, you already know what to do!

In this thread, I focus on the three Maya artists from Iximulew (Guatemala) who were part of the exhibit, Fernando Poyón (Kaqchikel), Edgar Calel (Kaqchikel), and Manuel Chavajay (Tz’utujil). The exhibit was fabulous and I do hope many people go see it. I’m excited to think through some things, to write about others, and who knows, maybe even pay a second visit to the Gallery! I do need a copy of the catalogue (it was not yet out), so a second trip may be in order.

Nota en español.

Es un placer compartirles esta mini-reseña estilo Twitter de la exhibición de artistas indígenas contemporáneos Ábadakone (lengua Algonquin que significa Fuego continuo) de la Galería Nacional de Canadá (8 de noviembre al 5 de abril de 2020). Aquí me enfoco en los 3 artistas mayas de Iximulew (Guatemala) cuya obra es parte de la exhibición, Fernando Poyón, Edgar Calel y Manuel Chavajay. Los curadores realizaron una gran labor y vale la pena ver el resultado: más de 70 artistas de todas partes del mundo quienes representan a más de 40 naciones y grupos indígenas de más de 16 países. En estos momentos me encuentro reflexionando, pensando en qué escribir y quizás hasta considerando otra visita–aún no han impreso el catálogo, así que quizás sea necesario ir por uno en cuanto salga. El hilo está en inglés, pero sospecho que si lo abren en Twitter hay opción de traducción.

Textile Artist: Ángelica Serech

After much experimentation (and a huge realization: the ad blocker on my browser was preventing me from seeing embedded tweets properly), I finally figured out how to embed an entire thread in my blog. This particular thread took some preparation because I wanted to make sure I talked about Ángelica and her work the best way I could. This is the first time her work is featured and it’s a very big honour for me. I trust you will find her work as beautiful and compelling as I do.

Quick note: @Tsikbalichmaya is Paul M. Worley’s Twitter handle, in case you’re wondering.

Writing about Contemporary Maya Art on Twitter

Last week, Ángel Poyón asked me to translate a brief description of a recent piece, Kaxlanwäy (2019), for a social media post he was working on. I did just that, and since I enjoyed it so much, I asked him for permission and then put it up in a tweet. And since that was so much fun, I decided to do it again, this time featuring the work of Marilyn Boror Bor, a Kaqchikel artist working in Guatemala City. And so here we are, I’m now writing fun threads about contemporary Maya art.

This latest thread was a bit more extensive since I thought about it as a thread and I asked Marilyn to send me photos. She sent me a bunch and I managed to include quite a few. Check it out:

I just *had* to include this photo. After many months of social media-ing, I had the good fortune of visiting Marilyn this past summer.

To learn more about Marilyn’s work, head over to the Twitter.* And yes, I’ll try to do a bunch more of these threads since the work that Maya artists are putting out is pretty sharp and deserves our attention. That, and in case you haven’t heard, some amazing contemporary Maya art will be making its way to the National Art Gallery of Canada this November, for the second Contemporary International Indigenous Art exhibition, Àbadakone | Continuous Fire | Feu continuel, which will feature more than 70 artists from all over the globe.

*I’m being facetious. Kind of. I’m fairly new at the Twitter.

A Follow-Up On Baring It All, Research, and Coaching

A few months ago, I decided to reflect on my journey (personal, professional, and everything in between) and I ended up writing a guest blog post for the Professor Is In. The timing was just right: a book I co-authored with Paul M. Worley had just come out, things had settled at work (no strike, no new preps!), my dad had stabilized after a few gruelling years of disease and then a lung transplant, and overall, things, though busy, felt manageable.

Did I mention I had a pretty awesome summer too? I went home to Guatemala to visit family and friends, and to present Unwriting.

The post I wrote didn’t come out right away, and so it stayed in the very back of my mind. It was not until it became public that I realized just how personal it was and I starting feeling overexposed, with a not insignificant desire to shut down and hide. But alas, there it was for the world to see, and comments, calls, and messages followed. The reception has been very positive and I am grateful to all those who have reached out. I won’t lie, I’m a little apprehensive as to how some colleagues may perceive it, but something I learned along this very windy road I’ve been on is that I have to shape my own narrative. I was getting pretty tired of having to explain myself and of having to put up with sneers at the mention of my non-TT career. I love my job, I have a great deal of respect for my colleagues, chair, and dean, and I like who I am where I am. I don’t expect the explanations or the sneering to go away, but things are clearer for me and I needed to say it aloud, for some reason.

This fall my school is actively thinking ways in which we faculty can engage in applied research more fully. This still leaves me out in the cold since that’s not the kind of research I do, but I appreciate that we’re talking about it. As I mentioned in that guest blog post, my chair has been nothing but supportive of my research—for instance, he found me help with the indexing of Unwriting Maya Literature and for that I am mega grateful. I confess, I don’t see myself taking on applied research. I’ve found my groove and, more importantly, I am deeply committed to the work I do and the people I work with. Perhaps I’m being closed-minded to the possibility of doing that kind of research, but so far, I just don’t see how I’d make it work. That, and taking on a new field/methodology/project would mean time away from current projects and from some pretty amazing people. With a heavy teaching load (5-5) it is hard to find the time to do the research I want to do given that it is not a job requirement; that means I have to be selective and very strategic about the work I choose to do.

In a few weeks I will be giving a brief talk on working at a Canadian institution for an online Academic Job Market Conference by Beyond the Professoriate. I’m not sure what I’ll be talking about, but I hope I can at least let others know that it is possible to veer off course (by circumstance or by choice) and still find a place where you can do meaningful work. The trick for me has been a balancing act: recognizing and respecting my priorities, and, if necessary, making sacrifices but only the ones I choose to make. I am aware that I speak from a place of privilege because I am able to make those choices, reflect, and course correct without taking devastating financial, personal, or professional hits. But one thing is certain: every decision (bad, good, and debatable) up to this point has been mine and that feels pretty good. For now, I’ll keep on trucking, thinking about things, writing, teaching, and staying quick on my feet for whatever life hurls my way.

A Couple of PSAs

Almost a decade ago, my dad was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a rare, incurable disease. In 2017 he received a lung transplant at Toronto General Hospital. The process was long and difficult but worth every wait (at the ER, doctor’s office, PT clinic, on the transplant list, in traffic etc.), every phone call, every setback. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of becoming an organ donor, so if you’re in Canada or anywhere else with an organ donation program, make sure you register. In Canada, you can easily do so online: https://www.beadonor.ca/

As for the two coaching services I mentioned, I think we tend to undervalue the importance of professional help, particularly in a career with processes as isolating as ours. Back when I was in the midst of quitting my TT job, the help of a coach from the University of Ottawa’s PD Institute was instrumental. Though I had strong support systems and a good professional network, the clarity that a third party brought to my experience was invaluable. Check out the Professor Is In and Beyond the Professoriate for academic coaching. They both have solid social media presences and are reputable (and no, I am not making a cent for singing their praises):

  • The Professor Is In is a coaching service for academics navigating tenure, promotion, and everything in between. It’s POC, queer, and women friendly.
  • Beyond the Professoriate is a counselling/coaching service geared primarly towards graduate students and newly-minted PhDs.

On Access, Publication, and Dialogue: A Quick Recap on the Making of Des-escribir

Hilo sobre la publicación de Des-escribir en español (Twitter)

Recently I posted about a small publication, a short essay, on Twitter and on Facebook in Spanish, but had not yet addressed it in English. Part of it has to do with the fact that the essay is written in Spanish, for a Spanish-speaking audience specifically, but I think it merits some reflection in English given that this is ‘a practice well worth considering,’ as Luz Lepe Lira noted in a wonderful shout-out during a panel about the self-translation of Indigenous texts during the third Conferencia Internacional sobre Literatura Centroamericana Contemporánea (CILCAC).

Scroll down or click for TL;DR version.

The background

Earlier this year, our book, Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’íib as Recorded Knowledge (2019) came out and we had the privilege of presenting it at LASA in May 2019 alongside Gloria Chacón’s Indigenous Cosmolectics (2018), Arturo Arias’ Recovering Lost Footprints vols. 1 and 2 (2017 and 2018), and Luz Lepe Lira’s Relatos de la diferencia y literatura indígena (2018). Shortly after our star-studded panel, which included commentary by Dr. Robert Warrior, Paul and I talked about what it meant to publish in English and to take Unwriting to Guatemala in July and present it at FILGUA (Feria Internacional del Libro en Guatemala), one of Central America’s largest and most respected international book fairs. The book would not be available for purchase, though we would have fliers with discount codes at the ready for those interested thanks to the awesome marketing team at UAP. However, we recognized that the reality was different: we would speak about the book but very few people would purchase it let alone read it given the language of publication, its steep price, and the difficulty of shipping given Guatemala’s non-existent postal service. In many ways, presenting it in Guatemala felt like an empty gesture. We talked about depositing a copy at the Biblioteca Nacional but this, again, would only address access to the physical text but not the language issue. We began asking ourselves: why can’t we just summarize the main ideas in Spanish? Why not offer something easily accessible that can spark dialogue and allow our friends and colleagues whose ideas we engage with to read themselves and us?

The digital text

And so, we began writing a summary, which opened up with a reflection and self-critique on what it means to write in English about Maya literature, which is often written or translated into Spanish, the language that was forced upon the original peoples of Abiyala. We weren’t sure how it would be received, but we thought it was important to put it out there. The final text is twelve pages long, including a bibliography, all under a Creative Commons license so that it can be easily accessed and distributed. As a publication, it likely does not count in the North American academic promotion system. The ideas that make up the summary are peer-reviewed, insofar they derive directly from Unwriting. The reflection part is an unglamorous exercise in self-flagellation that may seem unbecoming to some, but that has struck a chord with others. Des-escribir la literatura maya: una propuesta desde el ts’íib is available on various platforms, so please feel free to download it and share it.

The artisanal text

As we revised the text and thought of how best to put it online, we began toying with the idea of a hardcopy, something we could distribute among those artists, friends, and colleagues who helped us and who would otherwise not be able to read Unwriting in English. We immediately thought of reaching out to poet-maker-artist Manuel Tzoc Bucup. Alongside Chilean artist Rodrigo Arenas-Carter, Tzoc Bucup runs Ediciones La maleta ilegal, a small independent editorial project based in Guatemala City. We chatted with Tzoc Bucup and got the ball rolling. He and Arenas-Carter would do a small run of Des-escribir before FILGUA, not under the label La maleta ilegal but as its own thing. The result was a beautiful handcrafted volume that is everything we had hoped for. Tzoc Bucup decided on the colour Maya blue for the cover and headings, yellow for the inside cover, and he carefully thought of the cover design, bouncing around the idea of maíz. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we had to quickly look elsewhere for an appropriate cover design.

Photo of Des-escribir (artisanal edition).
Des-escribir la literatura maya: Una propuesta desde el ts’íib (2019).

Finding Xaq

A week before we came to a standstill with Des-escribir, I had visited visual artist Marilyn Boror Bor. We had been exchanging DMs for a few months, and shortly after I arrived in Guatemala we finally had the chance to meet and chat in person. Her work is challenging, dealing with issues of memory, language, and racism from the perspective of a Maya woman who now resides and works in the capital. One of her works, Diccionario de los objetos olvidados (2016), a brilliant take on culture, language, and loss, plays with muted colours, objects of significance to Maya people, and the idea of a visual Kaqchikel-Spanish dictionary. As soon as we found out we needed an image, I thought of Marilyn’s Diccionario. I approached her, though with apprehension, because I knew we didn’t have a whole lot of funds to purchase the rights to an image (it’s worth mentioning that Des-escribir is entirely self-published and self-funded), and because we are also aware of the importance of remunerating someone, particularly an artist, for her work. We came to an agreement and were incredibly honoured to be able to use Xaq, an entry of her Diccionario consisting of an image of a piece of charcoal and its definition/translation: tizne (soot) and tizón (charcoal or a charred log). The examples of how the word is used really spoke to us and to our project:

Los niños están dibujando en las paredes con tizón. Rik’in ri xaq yekib’anala’ taq wachib’äl ri ak’wäla’ chuwäch ri jay. La olla que se trajo la señora tenía mucho tizne. K’o xaq chi rij ri b’ojo’y xutelej pe ri ixöq.

The children are drawing on the walls using charcoal. The pot that the lady brought had too much soot.

Marilyn Boror Bor. “Xaq” in Diccionario de los objetos olvidados. (2016).
Photo of page 23 of Des-escribir (artisanal edition), featuring image of Xaq.

Des-escribir o el mini-libro

Des-escribir had a very limited run, which was done for two reasons: 1. the text is readily available online as a PDF and 2. as we told everyone, every single copy of the print version “ya tiene nombre.” Those who received copies were people who had helped us out, who wanted to read themselves/us in Unwriting, but more importantly, people who would not otherwise have access to the methodology we propose. Interestingly, despite a PDF on multiple platforms, people who can readily access the English version (i.e., North American academics) wanted their own physical copy of Des-escribir. “No,” we said time and time again. We even wondered if we were being too guarded and ungenerous, and more than once turned to each other to confirm that the mini-libro was meant only for the artists, writers, makers, and friends who saw us through and do not read/speak English. All hardcopies are in the hands of those wonderful friends and co-conspirators, as they should be. Looking back now, I can say that we were also trying to flip the script and maybe even spark a conversation around issues of access. Overall, I think Des-escribir has been a good discussion starter, though the feedback has mostly come in the form of social media re-shares, thank-yous, and even silences. When we set out to write it, we just wanted to make sure there was something in a language other than English that others could sink their teeth into and not feel as though they had no business with it. But it soon became a reflection/self-critique, because we really had to think about what we were doing and what it meant. We have far to go, however. We would love to offer an entire translation of the book, but that is beyond anything we can do at the moment. Moving forward we will be more mindful of what and how we do it, particularly as it concerns multiple language barriers, power dynamics, and hierarchies. And we hope others take up the challenge and issue new ones.

Photo of initial pages of Des-escribir, artisanal edition. Bibliographic information and introductory note.

Final thoughts

We recently received a beautiful note from Ángelica Serech, a wonderful textile artist from Comalapa, letting us know that she had gotten her copy of Des-escribir and read it multiple times. I am deeply humbled that such a simple action on our part is resonating strongly with those who would otherwise not be able to access our book. I am also very proud that Des-escribir’s bibliography is made up of nearly 65% Indigenous authors. This we discovered while we waited for a shuttle to FILGUA that never came. The best part is that including all those Indigenous voices was not intentional when we set out to write it, but it actually reflects the methodology we propose and the praxis we strive for (for more on changing general citational practices in North America in other fields, see the hashtags #CiteHer, #CitePOC, #CiteBlackWomen, and #CiteWoC on Twitter). And, as I’ve said before, the work is only beginning and we hope others take up the challenge. Neither one of us is housed at big research institution, has fancy grants, or a whole lot of time (or money) for the work we do, but we do have meaningful connections to the people and places we work with. This is not a complaint (though it may be when I am saddled with five classes this coming semester) but an observation that I hope encourages other (Latin American) Indigenous Studies scholars to really think about what it means to do what we do from where we do it. We hope this is the start of a long overdue dialogue that not only addresses our research but also our practices. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

A clarification or TL;DR

Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’íib as Recorded Knowledge (2019) is a full-length study, available for purchase at the University of Arizona Press. Here’s a handy 30% off discount code: AZFLR.

Des-escribir la literatura maya: Una propuesta desde el ts’íib (2019) is a short essay in Spanish that is both a reflection/self-critique and a summary of the main ideas in Unwriting. There are two editions: a sold-out artisanal edition and an open-access PDF.

Des-escribir la literatura maya: una propuesta desde el ts’íib

Durante la FILGUA 2019 que se celebra en julio en Guatemala, con mi colega Paul M. Worley tuvimos la oportunidad de presentar nuestro libro Unwriting Maya Literature. Para nosotros ha sido muy importante presentarlo en Guatemala porque podemos compartir con lectores, escritores y críticos lo que venimos trabajando desde ya hace varios años. Sin embargo, el libro está en inglés, se publica en EEUU y tiene un alto costo. Lo ideal sería poder contar con una traducción, pero eso cuesta tiempo y dinero y no contamos con esas posibilidades en estos momentos. Se nos ocurrió, entonces, realizar un ensayo corto en español para introducir los planteamientos principales del libro de libre y amplio acceso para iniciar el diálogo. En el ensayo discutimos brevemente nuestras posiciones, así como el asunto de publicar en inglés en Norteamérica sobre un tema que geográficamente se ubica en Guatemala y México. Compartimos por este medio el ensayo (por favor hacer clic en la liga para descargar el archivo PDF). Esperamos que esta pequeña introducción dé mucho que pensar e impulse nuevas ideas, intercambios y conexiones.

Worley, Paul M and Rita M P… by Paul Worley on Scribd

Des-escribir la literatura maya: una propuesta desde el ts’íib

Historias Podcast

A few weeks ago, Paul and I were guests on Historias, a podcast from the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies (SECOLAS), where we had a chance to talk about our book, Unwriting Maya Literature, with the host, Steven Hyland. It was pretty fun though I was a nervous mess—and that was nothing compared to the day it was released when I seriously considered hiding under a rock for a few days. Eventually, I came around and made peace with my overly-critical inner monster who has severe bouts of imposter syndrome. And so I present to you Episode 53, available for your listening pleasure over at Historias: