Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Day 1: The Trifecta

Okay, so here it is, June 22 already. I've been out of school for more than a FULL MONTH. What I need to accomplish this summer could not be more clear: write an introduction to my entire dissertation, write a conclusion to my entire dissertation, and make mostly-minor edits to the five chapters in between. And voila! I'm ready to defend in late summer or early fall. In mid-May, the task-to-time ratio seemed almost leisurely...luxurious almost. After all, haven't I written the aforesaid five chapters while teaching a 4-4 load of 110+ students? All that's on my plate, teaching-wise, this summer is a 6 week on-line course. Piece of cake.

Yet, here I sit, June 22. Nothing. Nada. Bupkus. Well, that's not entirely true... I managed to take my own leisurely time researching and reading and trying to Really Understand The Relevant Historiography. Well, I should have known that was going to get me into trouble, since I've never taken the time to Really Thoroughly Do Anything on this dissertation -- Just. Get. It. Done. as a motto rarely allows for anything approaching a comprehensive approach. And that's my comfort zone. Where I should have stayed. Thoughtful, but hurried. Could be better, but hey, it's done. But with such a luxurious amount of time stretching before me, what's the harm... why not take a few weeks to read and think before diving back into writing? What's the rush?

And that's when the Trifecta hit. A "perfect storm" of events which have drastically slowed my progress and geometrically increased my anxiety. If you were to assume the role of a particularly cruel deity and ponder the three exact conditions that would make it mightily difficult for me to make progress on my dissertation, you would come up with the following:

Item #1. "Outside" worries. As PhD students, I believe that we are sometimes encouraged to view All Other Life Things (family, friends, relationships, sanity, laundry, etc.) as secondary in importance to Our Real Work, yet simultaneously all of those self-help books tell us to Find a Balance between work and non-work. Which is something I'm usually quite good at. While dissertating I've managed to search for a full-time job, get tenure at that full-time job, take up exercising, lose weight while also embracing gourmet cooking, survive moves to numerous cities, lots of travel, buy and maintain a house, and spend lots of time with friends and my spouse. So finding a balance isn't a problem for me, unless you think taking more than a decade in grad school indicates that my idea of "balance" is a bit skewed away from my dissertation. But I digress. Basically, for the past three or four weeks I've had some health-related worries that have proven to be Absolutely Nothing Serious and something that will resolve itself eventually (so please don't worry about me!) but nonetheless, you can imagine how that would cut into one's ability to concentrate. Sheesh. As if sitting inside on a beautiful summer day doesn't make it hard enough...

Item #2: The aforementioned task. The introduction. The underlying fear that it raises: what if I've spent years of my life and thousands of dollars to write a dissertation which really says nothing new? I know it can't be quite that bad, but I do have a bit of historiographical challenge here. How many ways can I say that I'm "drawing from" and "influenced by" other scholars who've taken a similar approach? Ugh. I really wish it was as simple as Scholar A says X, Scholar B says Y, but I'm saying something totally different: Z! So this one takes some thinking. Some Really Big Picture Thinking. I can't sit here and churn through primary sources. I have to Really Think and then synthesize tons of ideas while I write. Not to mention that apparently my historiography skills have gotten pretty rusty during the past few years of being focused on primary sources.

Item #3: The aforementioned calendar issue. I'm behind where I "should" be. Way behind. I'm going out of town soon, then again for a week in July, then again for a few days in August.. yikes. I hate the feeling of time folding in upon me... I don't find it motivating. I find it paralyzing.

Whew. So the above shall serve as my introduction to myself and a overview of my current status. Which might bring you to the central question: what did I get done today? Well, more than I've done in weeks, which feels good. I've got lots of pages of typed notes about secondary sources and I'm working on shoe-horning them into the skeleton of my introduction. It wasn't an ideal day of work, that's for sure, but Baby Steps will have to be my motto. I've managed to work through mental blocks before, so wish me luck.

I'm waiting for my husband to get home with our One Fuel Efficient Small Car (that I must confess to disliking... the car, not my husband) so I can go to the gym, perhaps to the Targhetto, and perhaps to the grocery store. We're leaving for a trip on Friday morning but I don't think we can survive until then without an infusion of food. Today is our weekly delivery from "The Hippies," the hard-working farmers who bring us our weekly share in their community-supported agriculture organic farm. So here's a question: is it bourgeois to pay someone to grow, harvest, and transport food to your house if the food is organic and you're supporting a local farmer? I live in a pretty big metro area and it would involve hours of driving if I were to drive out to their farm and help with the work (which is probably why they deliver!) Anyway, at this time of the summer it is going to be greens, greens, and more greens. I think I'll need some sort of fat or meat from the grocery store to provide the necessary non-healthy balance as we eat through the greens over the next few days.

And then I'm meeting a good friend (my college roommate!) for dinner in an outlying suburb that we have determined is equidistant from both our homes. Dining options are not plentiful, but she reports that I can choose between Vietnamese (which I just had on Sunday, but still, yum) and wood-fired pizzas. A nice end to a semi-productive day.

One last thing: I promise to be more succinct in the future. Really.

6 Comments:

At 3:57 PM, Blogger Dr. Mon said...

Love the blog title histgrad! I am on the other end of the diss process (just starting) and started a blog last week so that I too could feel virtually accountable to the world for getting it done. Glad to hear your health is okay. Keep the updates on your progress coming--you WILL get it DONE!

 
At 4:01 PM, Blogger Stewgad said...

Cheers histgrad! Welcome to the blogosphere! I love the blog so far. I'm using the bite by bite metaphor to help myself along today. So, thanks for sharing it!

And, as if we needed further proof that cosmically we really are the same person - we got our CSA box yesterday. Greens, greens, more greens - but also some sweet peas and 2 pints of strawberries!

 
At 4:28 PM, Blogger KJ said...

Gee, you make me feel so unaccomplished. Especially considering I've been on vacation for five days, hired movers, and still can't summon the energy to unpack. Not to mention that I'm going out on a blind date this weekend that was arranged by my mother. So really, I think you have it pretty good.

Perhaps one of my mantras from college will get you through: it doesn't have to be good, it just has to be long enough.

Also, paying for convenience is never a bad idea, and CSA is a wonderful way to support local farmers (not Monsanto or ADM or Cargill) and help mitigate their risk.

 
At 9:47 PM, Blogger academic coach said...

Everyone I know, and coach, has trouble with this unstructured summertime stuff....

If you don't mind my horn tooting (not really blog-appropriate so I'll try to do it quietly on your first entry....) you might want to read some of my recent newsletters...about working in the summertime

 
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