Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Memorial Service, and Day 1-2: Back to life, back to reality....

The weary traveler has returned! I must say that my 10 days away were quite amazing, and I plan to blog about them during the next few days... while also blogging about working on my dissertation. So stay tuned...

The first stop on my trip was Oklahoma City and my grandmother's memorial service. It was really wonderful to see family again -- to reconnect with close family, and to meet and re-meet those who are more distant relatives. My mother's family has "double cousins" (my grandmother and her sister married brothers) plus my mother was born within days of a cousin-once-removed who became an honorary double cousin (I seriously need Family Trees For Dummies to figure this all out)... but the complicated genealogy notwithstanding, it is always pleasant to realize that I actually really enjoy spending time with family members.

The memorial service itself was really wonderful. It was held at my grandmother's church, a small Methodist church in Oklahoma City. I have really fond memories of attending it while a child -- while I'm not Methodist and am somewhat non-religious, I must have responded positively to the church because it had a female minister at the time. And coincidentally it still does. Anyway, the history of this little church began during segregation in OKC, when some people(my grandparents included) split off from their regular church to form a new integrated congregation. The church still continues that "renegade" tradition because they promise to welcome all, including gay men and lesbians. This forlorn little church must be relying on the 20 or so liberal Methodists in Oklahoma to keep their congregation going -- and I wish them well!

During the ceremony my aunt gave a beautiful eulogy, which focused on several primary characteristics of my grandmother: namely, that she had a strong moral core and she did what needed to be done. And it was always easiest to do things her way. Then the folks in attendance stood up and shared their own stories for quite a while -- such as my grandmother's leadership in the church or her influence as their teacher. But my favorite story came from an African-American gentlemen who first met my grandparents when they formed the congregation. My grandparents had recently moved out to a "lake" (a man-made lake filled with brown water, but quite fun when we were kids!) development, and they invited this man and his wife to dinner. Knowing it was a white section of town, this man called and inquired whether they were sure about issuing the invitation. My grandmother reassured them, and they came for dinner. They also went for a boat ride around the lake. When other residents of the area saw who was boating around the lake, they didn't like it. Several days later, someone told my grandmother at the next homeowner's association meeting that she shouldn't invite black people to her house anymore. She responded, "If you don't like who I invite to my house, you can MOVE!" I had never heard that story before! and I really wish I had known stories like that when she was alive. I can just hear her saying that, and more importantly, I can visualize the other members of the housing association recoiling in fear of a very formidable woman!

And after Oklahoma, I went to Mississippi... but I'll leave that story for another day.

In the meantime, since being home, I realized it was time to send the come-to-Jesus e-mail to my advisors and figure out if I can defend before they leave for a year abroad. Long story short, the answer is no. I would have to produce a complete draft of The Whole Dissertation before August 4, and that is just not possible. As much as I can somewhat romanticize the idea of pulling numerous all-nighters or something similarly crazy, I'm too old for that. And this isn't exactly the kind of project I want to rush to complete -- why break with precedent now? My advisors were very positive about a mid-December defense, and I'm all about running with Positive Advisor Sentiments... so there it is. I've been given something of an extension, which is good... but it means I have to defend months after I'd hoped to, which is bad. And frustrating. And disappointing. But as my advisor pointed out, finishing is all that matters. And I have no doubts that I will have a polished final draft in December.

But I've vowed not to succumb to the seduction of the extension, namely, postponing work even more... so I've been diligently working since I've been back. It was really difficult to get back in the swing of things, but I think I'm on the way. I've had to regularly remind myself that I've produced five chapters, so I must have learned something about working and writing along the way -- and perhaps it is best to apply the same approach as I've used thus far. And it is working! Even though the introduction seems terrifying and overwhelming at times, and is much more mentally all-encompassing than churning through primary sources, the same approach can work. So these are the steps I've taken:
1. Look over introduction, make a list of the sections and paragraphs that need work.
2. Break that down into do-able daily goals.
3. Break those daily goals down into even smaller goals. Today I worked paragraph by paragraph. After writing one paragraph, I could take a quick "break" to hang up laundry or empty the dishwasher, etc.
4. Just write! Go! Say something! I've learned that something is better than nothing, so I'm trying very hard just to put down sentences that vaguely resemble what I want to say. It makes the revising process more painful and makes it much more likely that I will grow quite tired of this before it is finished, but at least I've got something written. As a friend of mine says, "Black words on white paper. Black words on white paper. Black words on white paper."

So those are my four golden rules, and they seem to be working. I finished my goals for today, so I'm all set to go tomorrow. Fun, fun. If I finish tomorrow's goals, I'll reward myself by going to an event paid for by my husband's Real Job -- good beer, good food, all at our local Hipper Than Thou bowling alley. And I confess I do love bowling. Any Lebowski fans out there?

Thanks to those who have been reading and commenting -- keep those comments coming! Dissertating is lonely business.

P.S. Does anyone think the fact that a blog's spellchecker doesn't recognize the word "blog" is a bit bizarre?

5 Comments:

At 9:52 PM, Blogger academic coach said...

This is such an awesome approach that I'm posting your four golden rules on my site.

Go Girl!

 
At 12:03 PM, Blogger KJ said...

Histgrad, your ability to create a plan and stick to it is inspiring, especially considering the ADD genes floating around on one side of the family. I think you didn't get them and I did, or else I watch too much TV. So I take it that Thanksgiving will not be at your house this year :)

 
At 3:31 PM, Blogger Stewgad said...

Once again further proof that we live parallel lives (as if we needed more...) I too had hoped for an August defense before a committe member goes abroad. I too will not defend in August.

And, I echo kj's awe at your organizational planning. Kudos!

 
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