Independent Work: Prepare to Pace Yourself

If there is anything I have learned from junior independent work, it’s the following: Pace yourself!

Juchitán’s main market, located in the central plaza, is perhaps the city’s busiest area. On breaks from research, I would come here to try local foods and people watch.

I’m writing my JP about Juchitán de Zaragoza, a city of around 70,000 in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. For those interested in issues of gender and sexuality, Juchitán is notable for the indigenous Zapotec culture’s acceptance of a third gender identity, “muxhe” (pronounced “moo-shay”). Additionally, many visitors to the city, noting the strength and visibility of women in the society, have declared Juchitán a matriarchy. I spent some time there this summer, and visited a few organizations to talk to activists about the problems facing their communities, hoping to explore why perceptions of Juchitán as a queer and feminist paradise don’t match up with the city’s reality.

Last week, as I approached a deadline for class, I was forced to face a reality I’d put off since returning to campus: I had to transcribe the hours and hours of interviews recorded in Juchitán. Word for word — with every “um”, “uh” and “like”. The chore was doubly daunting because the interviews were in Spanish — my second language. Then I’d have to translate them into English.

I had less than a week before I needed to submit a translated transcription of my first hour of interview. To put that in context, ten recorded minutes can take upwards of an hour, and much longer in a second language. With little time, I paced out the task, dedicating three, four hours a day to writing down every sentence exactly as my interviewee had stated it. The only thing that saved me from boredom — from the monotonous replaying of sentence after sentence, straining to discern mumbled words and fragments of Mexican slang — was my love of the topic. With much coffee, little sleep, and one marathon translation session, I got the 36-page transcription done in time to meet my deadline.

Simply putting in the hours is one of the most challenging aspects of independent work. With the final paper far on the horizon, it’s easy to shelve your project, prioritizing more immediate assignments. Everyone learns to manage time differently. Personally, I like writing down small, daily or weekly goals on post-its — I’ve learned that even sitting down for twenty minutes with the material counts. (If you’re interested in learning more about Princeton time management resources, you might like to check out McGraw’s Semester on a Page and Weekly Planner Templates.)

Juchitán is a coastal city, and one morning, I made an excursion out to Playa San Vicente, where I watched fisherman starting their day.

Ultimately, I thank my past self for choosing a topic that keeps me interested, that makes me want to return to Juchitán for a few hours every week.

And I can only hope my future self will thank me, too — for sticking to my schedule, putting in the time, and transcribing — one word at a time.

– Dylan Blau Edelstein, Humanities Correspondent