poeticdoxa said: Your picture and quote epitomizes the romantic image of being a scholar to me. Which proves how susceptible the nerd in me still is to it, even with a the problems I have with the academic game.


Dear Poeticdoxa,

— Thanks for this comment. I have been trying to write about myself in this syncretic world of art-making, archiving, researching, and teaching. Your question gave me some space to write and think about this.

I love the curiosity and adventure of self-directed learning because it is here, in that space, that my exploration is not mediated by meeting external goals. My learning experience is mediated by what I hope to gain from the discovery process. Being a scholar, at least in the way I have conceptualized it, is unique to everyone’s cognitive and cultural experiences — but I think at the core, it is this inexplicable thirst to understand something deeply…and with that thirst and urgency, a willingness to exhaust all channels to gain some deeper understanding. I think it can be compulsive, but I have found it to be a beautiful compulsion if such a thing exist.

At 20, and right out of undergrad mentors pushed me toward PhD program and I chose not to go immediately. I took a year off on a Fulbright, then got an EdM. Choosing to enter an academic community is an undertaking financially, emotionally, cognitively, etc. but I believe there are strong academic communities out there where it is less of a game and actually an organic environment. I am not in school now, but I do love being in school if for no other reason that being about to talk about ideas and get lost in the library stacks. It was my wonderland. 

At 27 and out of school, I have grown more savvy and get access to journals and archives the best way I know how — that’s how I do my research. (I used to joke that I’d not marry anyone without JSTOR access. It’s less of a joke and more of a serious requirement these days!) I find something that piques my interest, then I dive in contacting people, sending out feelers about good sources, and reading anything and everything I can get my hands on. I create a syllabus and go all in.

I have been this way since I learned how to read around 3 or 4. I’d asked my parents a question and if they could not answer it, then I’d have them take me to the library or dig around in our home library. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we always had books and an old computer. It was kind of a poor nerdy Black kid’s dream — a house full of books, old computers, scrap paper, newspapers (my dad use to throw the San Jose Mercury papers), sparse furniture leaving lots of space to spread out to work, and parents who indulged my curiosities. I had these binders full of research and findings — prisons in California, my city’s history, etc.

I used to be rather self-loathing about my experiences as a Black nerd with natural hair and poor fashion sense in the 90s — the expected loneliness, alienation from “my” community, the confusion. A Black nerd before it was cool and sexy (or sexualized in its current manifestations). Now, I find great relief in having “found myself” at a tender age … having found myself and not letting go. I could not have imagined being unable to reach back to my 13 year old self as inspiration for my current artistic and archival processes.