Issue #88 - The Spaces in Between

Guest written by Tiny Driver's Ida Yalzadeh

Today’s issue is written by Ida Yalzadeh, a writer, researcher, and academic that I first encountered through an interview in Substack Stories and whose newsletter I have come to cherish each week when it lands in my inbox.

Ida uses her newsletter as a space for reflection, engaging in conversations about her work, and as a way to think about her teaching, learning, and research. She’s also building a community through her wonderfully successful book club. It has been wonderful to chat with Ida about writing newsletters, the challenges of teaching about culture, and how we somehow manage to juggle our lives inside and outside of the academy. Please join me in welcoming Ida to The Spaces in Between, I hope you enjoy reading this issue as much as I have and look forward to catching up with you all again next week.

Hi there, I’m Ida, and Stephan asked me to fill in for him this week! I’m so excited to write for The Spaces in Between. I’m a big fan of Stephan’s newsletter because of its emphasis on pedagogy and experimentation, so it’s quite the honor to write to his community about some of the issues that I’m thinking about.

Like Stephan, I also work in higher education. Last year, I was teaching in the Asian American Studies Program at Northwestern University, and this year, I took a job as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History. As a transnational historian of the United States, I research Iranian diasporic racialization and its aftereffects through the lenses of comparative ethnic studies, critical race theory, and diplomatic history. I teach primarily in the fields of ethnic studies, cultural history, and media studies, with a special focus on histories of race in the United States and US-Middle East relations. Outside of research and teaching, I consult for organizations working towards social justice and equity alongside their other objectives. I also have a little weekly newsletter called tiny driver where you can follow along on my journey in the academy!

I’m just settling into the Cambridge area now, so if you all have any recommendations of things to do or food to eat, please feel free to send them my way!

This morning, I took time to pack some of my “work” books in a suitcase and bring them into the office. I love writing and revising with my books on hand, so it felt good to get them out of their moving boxes. Above, you’ll see the stack of books that are in my “to read/to re-read” pile for the month of October.

Thanks again to Stephan & The Spaces in Between community for letting me share some of my thoughts in this space!


Teaching & Learning

In the Spring, I’ll be teaching one course in The Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, and Rights here at Harvard, likely having to do with the racialization of SWANA communities in the United States. Since the pandemic, one aspect of pedagogy that I’ve definitely paid more attention to is that of community care in the classroom.

As I was preparing to teach online last year, I did a lot of research, mostly because I was nervous about learning the ins and outs of digital learning and course design. As a first step, I took notes on and generated an index of online teaching resources. In reflecting on these resources in the context of a pandemic, I realized that an important aspect of creating an environment for learning is to create a space where one feels like they can take intellectual risks.

I’m not particularly interested in the debates around “safe spaces,” mostly because I think that sometimes people miss the point. When I facilitate a class, I am interested in making the class into a community—one where students push each other in their thinking, feel comfortable to affirm or question someone’s point, and call people in with love (rather than “calling out”). These ideas are, as Adrienne Maree Brown articulates & practices in her own work, “an invitation to more accountability, not less, to take each moment of conflict and harm as practice ground for abolition.”

I’ve found that the more I build scaffolding earlier in the term around the creation of this community, the easier it is to have students become the primary drivers of conversation. This practice of scaffolding, though, comes before the first day of class. As you may have guessed, it starts with the course syllabus.

I am still on my journey towards crafting a syllabus that reflects my pedagogical priorities and assumes students as collaborators in their learning process. This presentation on “cruelty-free syllabi” has been a wonderful primer for brainstorming around the idea of using course policies to address the complicated lives of students. While I think that these best practices will set the tone for the rest of the term, I am also interested in building more language around what students can and should expect out of the readings and discussions, particularly if I am teaching a seminar. 

Do you all have any best practices or helpful language when thinking through your syllabus design and course policies? Please feel free to let me know in the comments!

Life Lessons

Folks who are familiar with my own newsletter already know this, but I have been gaining so much inspiration from Louise DeSalvo’s Writing as a Way of Healing (you can read my book notes here). I first read it back in August for the tiny driver book club, and I’ve been referring to it quite often since.

One writing practice that I developed from reading the book was keeping a process journal. Essentially, this journal is meant to be a space where I am able to write about my writing—how I’m feeling about my writing, where I am in my journey, questions I still have that are lingering, goals and accomplishments...the list could go on. I’ve found, though, that my most productive days begin when I ask myself the following 3 questions:

  1. How do I feel about what I am writing?

  2. What are my small & actionable writing goals for today?

  3. What must I do to write and enjoy the process of doing it?

After 2-3 hours of writing, I then conclude the session by asking myself these questions:

  1. What did I accomplish today?

  2. What do I want to do next?

  3. How do I feel about what I am writing?

The act of taking 20-30 minutes for each component allows me to ground my daily transitions. Especially during a time when there’s so much uncertainty in the world, it’s nice to know that this is something that I will wake up and do every Monday through Friday. So far, it’s given me a lot of “a-ha” moments in my own emotions about the project—you can read about that here—so I look forward to the future insights that I’m sure it still has to bring.

Lost and Found

One of my friends recently told me about In Your Face, the app that makes it absolutely impossible for you to miss a zoom meeting when you’re at your computer. More than just a little push notification, she swears by it!

I’ve also been getting a lot of work done by downloading the Chrome extension Block the YouTube feed, which does literally what it says. Now, my homepage and sidebar are completely blank—I can only access videos through my subscription page and through the search bar. Honestly, I don’t miss the recommendation algorithm one bit! (Pro tip: There’s also one for Twitter!)

This piece on memes about immigrant culture starts somewhere hilarious and ends somewhere deeply resonant.

Is this not just how everyone feels? :)

Thank you

I know that Stephan has consistently been practicing his sketching, which is so amazing! Last year, as I was gearing up for teaching in the Spring quarter, I decided to take up water coloring to relax. Seeking inspiration for things to paint, I was led down a rabbit hole of addictively beautiful sketchbook tours by artists on YouTube. This is one of my favorites:

It’s been so wonderful to contribute to this space, and I thank you for reading through! Feel free to reach out with thoughts on anything that may have resonated with you!