Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Rest in Peace, Mr. Badger

Some sad news today -- for those who have been following the story of one of "our own" (ABDers/bloggers) -- Badger lost her husband yesterday. I've never met Badger, but nonetheless, I wish I had the words to convey my condolences. What a sad, sad story.

Back on the Horse

So it seems as if another week has passed... I guess it was filled with house guests (much fun and good food was had by all, even those who slept on the floor. I hope.) and cleaning and cooking and sight-seeing and restaurant-eating and Ikea-going, etc. General living. Exercising. Oh, and some teaching, too. I have a theory that fall semester students are not as "good" as spring semester students, perhaps because they're not quite ready for college (or perhaps because our semester is the first one to start in what seems like the entire hemisphere. August 22? Are you kidding?) or perhaps because their parents made them do it. At any rate, my students this semester are proving the exception to my "rule" and so far have been engaged and inquisitive and a pleasant surprise. Wish I felt more motivated and "up" to the challenge they're currently posing. I guess in some ways I felt like I never really got a summer, and here I go again, crossing off weekly blocks in my syllabus. Isn't it time for finals yet?

So now that I'm back in the swing of things at school, and now that my house has been cleaned, messed up, and cleaned again, I think it is time to face the original music: my dissertation. Time to send another Come to Jesus e-mail in which I set up a series of deadlines. Time to revise that introduction one more time. Time to reload and hope for victory in the latest battle of my current Recall War. If there's one thing I've learned in all of my years of working on this beast is that even if you feel (or are?) stalled out, pick it up again. Get moving. You can't eat an elephant with one bite. And you certainly can't polish off the elephant if you don't have knife and fork in hand.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Day 35: Hanging in there...

I've got a night class starting in ten minutes. I almost have all my syllabi finished, so that's better than most years. And I'm feeling only mild panic, which is also better than most years. Hopefully I will sleep the sleep of the exhausted tonight, instead of being plagued by anxiety dreams. Thankfully most of my anxiety dreams usually center around giving a final exam (even if it isn't finals time) because I make such a big fat deal out of the fact that they have to get to the exam on time OR ELSE. And my dreams, of course, feature me being unable to get to the exam and the attendant panic and embarrassment that results.

A digression. I usually tell my students it's their responsibility to plan ahead for all contingencies (good training for 2 year college students) and as an example, I use the story of what happened on the morning of my master's exam. At the time, I was driving a much-beloved 1986 VW Jetta (parental hand-me-down, of course) that had been as reliable as one could expect. But with an old car, one never knows... so I made arrangements with a friend. I told her that I'd try to leave my house at 8 a.m. and if my car didn't start, she would still be home so she could give me a ride. She was instructed to wait for my call and leave enough time in her schedule to give me a ride if necessary. My husband later told me he thought the stress had fried my brain because I really didn't need to make such elaborate arrangements for something that wasn't going to be an issue. And guess what?! I went out at 8 a.m. and the car refused to even turn over. Totally dead. Good soldier that it was, apparently various items in the chain of command had been failing for weeks but the others compensated, so we didn't notice anything amiss. Until the final failure on the morning of my master's exam. But thanks to my forethought, no additional stress, I arrived at the master's exam with plenty of time to spare.

***********

Okay, so I started this post on Monday, and here it is Wednesday. How did that happen? I guess I've got to give up counting days because I can't even keep track anymore, and plus, it's too depressing.

Classes went as well as could be expected, but sheesh, I'm exhausted. Why is the first week such a drain? We've got friends and family coming this weekend (starting tomorrow) so I spent all of today cleaning the house. I've got classes again tomorrow, so let's just hope that what's already in the can hasn't been dented and developed botulism or something similarly fatal.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Day 32: Paging Dr. Strangelove to the white courtesy phone!

I feel it is likely that some insidious force has drained my precious bodily fluids...

I feel sapped. Drained. Exhausted. And the semester hasn't even started yet! A few days of long, jargon-filled faculty meetings, interspersed with numerous terrifying realizations about the state of my syllabi (or lack thereof) I offer up the following list of (semi-petty) things I am thankful for:

*colleagues who sit next to me in darkened auditoriums and crack sarcastic jokes
*my purring kitties
*that running high I got at minute 28 on the elliptical machine yesterday when I was about ready to quit, with 12 minutes to go...
*my iPod, for selecting a great song at minute 32
*CBS, for broadcasting a new-to-me CSI last night (I really needed to veg on my couch)
*my VCR, for recording the Daily Show last night (I went to bed at 9:30! What am I, twelve?)
*Starbucks, for making me a much-needed iced soy latte

What semi-petty things are you thankful for?

One interesting observation: one speaker mentioned an article in the Academic Leader (only available with subscription) about how academics are one group that is quite likely to fall victim to the "imposter phenomenon," meaning that academics are more likely to believe they're impostors (I don't really deserve this job, etc.) and that somehow, someday, they'll be "found out." Do you think your doctor or dentist or attorney goes to work every day and worries about that? So I wish for all of us, as we start our fall semesters, to avoid selling ourselves short. We're not impostors. Just think how much more you know about your discipline than your students do! After all, one of my students last semester claimed that the New Deal was designed to provide every American with a television set...

I'll close with a quotation featured in a presentation I attended yesterday:
"If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 (0r 400) people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn't want to be there or were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he/she might have some conception of the classroom teacher's job." Donald Quinn

Amen! Have a good weekend everyone.

What a wonderful country we live in

I'm diverging from my normal semi-daily rants to comment on something that caught my attention yesterday. Follow this link to Academic Coach's discussion of a fellow ABD/blogger (Badger.) In addition to the usual trials and tribulations of teaching while being ABD, Badger is also dealing with some tragic personal circumstances. Mr. Badger was diagnosed with severe liver cancer and she only has a short time left with him. Badger's postings about her family's story brought tears to my eyes.

In one sense, her story merits a sarcastic comment (what a wonderful country we live in) when, in addition to her own stress and grief, she has to fight bureaucracy after bureaucracy -- often without success. Her insurance company even cut off her prescription benefits recently when she was picking up morphine for her husband. Anyone who has been a graduate student with marginal health insurance (I, too, lived with a $100K limit) will likely get the chills while reading the results of such an abysmal system.

In another sense, though, we do live in a wonderful country when fellow ABDers and bloggers come together and make common cause with Badger through the fund that Academic Coach has set up. Check it out. And give your children/spouses/family an extra hug today. Life can be terribly fragile.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Day 30: Running from the Boulder

How did it get from Day 25 to Day 30 so quickly? I guess the same way it is now suddenly August 17. Very strange.

A quick dissertation update: Spouse/Editor read the introduction -- which, to me, was an ill-formed, poorly written piece of crap that needed something major to happen to it. Either major re-writing or a huge shove out of my second floor window. When he's read chapters in the past the chapters have been much better (in my dissertation-drained brain) and more complete than this intro. He's never met a chapter he initially liked, but he liked the intro! It's a summer miracle. It's not complete yet -- some paragraphs are just sketched out, and the footnotes are a bloody mess, but progress is progress. I can't return to it just yet, but soon. Onward and upward!

So yesterday I went to campus for a meeting and within about ten minutes had my usual case of meeting rage. I am always vulnerable to cases of meeting rage, but after a summer of totally doing my own thing, my attention span is markedly short. Then I waited in line at Costco, then fought traffic all the way home... and felt like I'd been subjected to some horrible psych experiment. I think, for me, going back to school in the fall (even for a few days of faculty development days) is so difficult because of the over-stimulation. All summer I've been sitting by myself all day, with only some very vocal felines for company. And school brings obligations and noise and demands and schedules.... I'm not complaining, I certainly know that not everyone gets three months "off" in the summer, but still. I've got two more days of meetings at the end of the week, so wish me luck in the meeting rage department. I swear, we faculty are far worse than our own students. Force us to sit through two days of meetings and EVERYONE is sitting in the auditorium doing their own work during the meeting. It's sad and funny at the same time, but you can bet I'll be sitting there doing my own work, too!

Yesterday was also the new faculty orientation -- and that, combined with Stewgad's recent posts about beginning her full-time job -- has prompted me to recall (with some amount of horror) my first year of full-time teaching. At the time, I sent a group e-mail to my friends and confided that I felt like I was Indiana Jones, running as fast as I could from the boulder coming out of the cave. I had to keep running at top speed or else I'd literally be flattened. My friends wrote and shared their own individual boulders at the time -- so what are you all running from?

So, I guess thinking back to those hectic and terrifying days, this week isn't so bad. But I've recently decided to shelve my dissertation for a week or so in order to pursue another goal: to start the semester without feeling totally, completely, absolutely, hectic-ly behind. Every other semester I've turned in my syllabi for printing with "Rush! Thanks!" written on it, and there were lots of parts on the on-line course schedule which said, "To Be Determined." So my syllabus planning really lasted throughout the semester because I could never get my act together beforehand. A friend of mine told me that it took him at least 3, if not 4, years to feel relaxed at the beginning of a semester. So I'm vowing to attempt to be organized and relaxed. Of course, it is Wednesday and classes start on Monday and I haven't even started my syllabi, but still.

So today, in the interest of running from the boulder, I'm going to work on my syllabi (so I'll have something to print and revise during two days of meetings, of course!) and also work on those lingering chores from MAY that need to be done around the house, such as organizing our medicine/toiletries cabinet. It's one of those cabinets that we open, dig through piles of crap to hopefully find what we need, and then slam the door so things don't fall on our head.

So, thinking out loud, my to-do list:
3 course syllabi, drafts
3 course schedules, drafts
multiple loads of laundry
grocery store
KMart, to see if Martha Stewart can help me organize
Organizing said cabinet
Asian grocery store
exercise
fertilize tomatoes (does anyone know how to keep squirrels from stealing my tomatoes????)
shop for a gift for a friend
post office

So I suppose I should stop blogging and start working, huh?

One final question: what kind of get-to-know-you games do you do on the first day? I have large-ish classes (approx. 40 students) so I split them into the small groups they'll be working with, have them make table-top name tags (that I ask them to bring every day for the first month or so) and then within their groups they have to come up with a list of things they have in common that are not lame, i.e. they can't say they're all students, but they could say that they've all been to Canada, or something like that. The winning group gets candy, but first they have to read their list out loud for a group vote on the relative lame-ness of their findings. The students usually have fun voting for the other groups, so hopefully they actually enjoy it and are not just humoring their nerdly teacher.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Day 25: Yet another draft

Well, I've reached the somewhat terrifying stage whereupon I print out a draft and have my husband/editor read it. What will the verdict be... fine tuning? Major revisions? I shudder to think. But I figured I'd better get a sense of how it's looking before I continue to work on it. Wish me luck.

So yesterday I went out to my office to unpack and enjoy my new furniture... and found an extra surprise: a new flat panel monitor! It felt like Christmas. We faculty usually get the hand-me-downs from students, so getting something brand new was quite shocking. I'm not entirely happy with the configuration of furniture in my closet/office, and what can you really say about soulless gray corporate desks and a filing cabinet, but it's new and it looks good. I'm planning a trip to Ikea for some more accessories and whatnot, and then I'll be all moved in. But going out to campus does take a chunk out of the day, plus errands, plus going to the gym... then frantic food prep and house cleaning.

But it was worth it -- the burgers were pretty damn good. Search for "Jalapeno Cheeseburgers with Bacon and Grilled Onions" on epicurious. The weather cooperated and we were able to sit out on the back deck in the candlelight until way too late, drinking wine and dreaming about future vacations. Hence my lack of productivity today, except for some minor edits. Blah. Anyway, I'm off to an event paid for by my husband's Real Job with free beer, appetizers, Scotch eggs (if you don't know what they are, be afraid, be very afraid) and lawn bowling.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Day 23: You know you're procrastinating when...

I think that ABDs should compete in two Olympic events: Advisor Avoidance and Procrastination. I'd medal for sure in at least the second category. What's the craziest thing you've ever done? I'm sure we've all done the obvious (cleaning, gourmet cooking, laundry, litter box scooping, gardening, closet organizing, etc.) -- all those things that just have to get done, and then we'll surely be able to concentrate much better! (and yes, I'm aware of the irony of blogging about procrastinating.)

Probably my best example was at some point during grad school (perhaps even during coursework, but I think that counts) I was wandering across campus and I started to wonder: when was the last time I'd had a tetanus shot? I mean, I wasn't planning any big adventures involving rusty nails, but you never know.... perhaps I'd better get a tetanus shot instead of doing my seminar reading. Yes, of course I should, that's the only responsible and healthy thing to do. So off I went to health services instead of the library. And then I just had to go home and nap because my arm hurt and I felt yucky.

I guess compared to that, today wasn't so bad. Since working on my introduction was going painfully slow, I decided to face the music and call my dentist to schedule a cleaning. There must be something worse than writing a dissertation, why, yes, it's dental work! I'm a dental-phobe (or an anti-Dentite in Seinfeld-speak) so making the appointment is a big first step. Well, turns out they had three options: today, the morning of my first day back to school (yeah, right) or sometime in September. I thought about it and decided that spending an afternoon at the dentist was a marvelous way to procrastinate. The only problem is that my husband had our One Small Car, which meant that I'd have to either take the bus or hop on my bike. I opted for the bike. (my husband also had the map, the cellphone, and my sunglasses, but I forged ahead.)

It only took twenty minutes to get there, but somewhere along the way I managed to pop off the chain. But thankfully I put it back on, otherwise I would have been stranded there. Very greasy work, of course. When I got to Fancy Adjoining Suburb and my dentist's office, I'm sure I was a sight to behold, as I wandered past the Boutiques and Shoppes, dodging the groups of Ladies Who Lunch. I knew my hands were covered in grease but didn't know until I got into the bathroom to "freshen up" that my face also had grease all over it. But this all has a happy ending in that I cleaned off the grease, survived my cleaning, and had no cavities! And got a nice bike ride out of the deal. The only side effect will, of course, be a bad case of Tender Bike Ass tomorrow morning.

Otherwise, it's hard to get back on the wagon after taking several really nice days to relax out of town and then one day (yesterday) to handle the inevitable Trip Hangover which involved unpacking, grocery shopping, and using that $25 certificate from DSW that was going to expire. (scored a pair of Born clogs for fall semester and my usual Slightly Frumpy Yet Professional wardrobe. Those Scandinavians sure do know their footwear.)

All in all, the intro is coming along. I re-read it today and made a list of the Problem Paragraphs, which number 12. So I can work methodically through them over the next few days and move on to the next phase of revising. One pitfall for tomorrow is that I'm going out to my office to unpack (new furniture, etc.) so that will eat into my day. But I guess it is good to get organized and get my feet wet before we have to report for duty. And we're having some colleagues for dinner tomorrow -- I'm making some fancy embellished burgers from Epicurious. Reviews will be forthcoming.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Day 17: I digress

I'll be out of town for a few days (for fun! no work will be allowed) but before I go, a few thoughts...

The heat: spent the night in a wonderfully air-conditioned climate. The power was flickering because we'd plugged the AC into our surge suppressor/power bar kind of thing. It didn't like that. I guess it just needs the juice directly from the source. Problem solved. And at some point during the night a glorious, glorious cold front moved in! I started this morning with energy, vitality, all while wearing a light sweater. This is further confirmation that my people must have some Nordic stock in them, and that I should never live in Houston. My brain tends to shut down at temps over 80.

Some comments to one of my posts from earlier this week got me thinking about the value of support groups for us ABD folks. What have you all found helpful? I've been in a number of writing groups with other ABD folks, and it was good to have comrades and some semblance of deadlines. And also the inspiration of having another group member literally say things like, "I'll have another set of chapterS for you to read at the next meeting." ChapterS??? Who writes them in bunches? Well, someone does, so I must be able to write just one. Etc. I also get periodic e-mails from the folks at ABD Survival Guide (good newsletters) and have done one of their teleconference workshops.

Also, loved the comments about the "perfect" place to work. I agree with Stewgad who thinks jail would be a good idea. That reminded me of a particularly stressful moment while studying for my doctoral exams/orals... I started to think about how wonderful it would be to be locked in an institution where I could stare at the walls and not take my orals. A good friend who was finishing her book at the same time agreed! So we thought perhaps actually going insane (rather than just feeling like we were going insane) would be a good strategy. But I digress.

About working in "jail" -- a few years ago I agreed (when my wonderful Dean asks, I agree!) to attend a workshop/conference about assessment. Spending three days talking about assessment is frankly my idea of a slow, painful death... but off I went to a suburb of Chicago where I spent the weekend imprisoned in a concrete bunker facility that was mostly like a hotel but was also somewhat dorm-like (in that it was constructed of concrete blocks.) The downside: talking about assessment. Scariest quote I heard, "A day without assessment is a day that's wasted!" True believers, all. But the psychologically interesting thing was that, by the end the weekend, I, too, believed. And I almost wanted to stay and learn more, more, more! about assessment. Stockholm syndrome in action. But thankfully we left and laughed ourselves silly in the car during the long drive home about taking some crappy old kitchen appliances and turning them into a robot who would eat data and do our assessment for us. (the opposite of the organic "faculty driven" process that is supposedly ideal, of course.) The robot would be named Rubric. And now I can't sit through any meeting about assessment without getting the giggles, because sooner or later, someone says the word "rubric." But I digress.


So, the upside to this place was that I thought it would be a wonderful place to work on a dissertation -- sort of like a writer's retreat, but more hardcore. So when I win the lottery, the first thing I'll do is pay for every woman to take a serious full-force self-defense course -- check out this link if you're interested in learning more about the kind of class I'm talking about and have taken myself. The final story is pretty amazing -- a graduate's story of fighting off an attacker. Digressing again. Anyway, after I win the lottery, the second thing I'll do is pay for ABDs to live in such a writer's retreat. There's nothing really going on, so you'll just have to work. Plus there is always coffee available and they put out snacks from time to time. And there's even a bar in the lobby for the occasional "adult beverage" and relaxing. Jail-like, but not as bad as jail. And if you don't work on your dissertation, someone will come and make you talk about assessment.... that should scare you!

Anyway, those are all the digressing thoughts I have for the moment. The intro. is coming along, actually. I spent this morning reading a couple of samples I got from friends who share the same advisors as I do. So that was good. Reminded me that this is not rocket science and that I don't have to actually write an essay that is so brilliant that it will mingle theory with historiography with my own Very Original Argument. I just have to accomplish a few pedestrian tasks. Interestingly, I realized that I sort of boxed myself into the corner that originally stalled me out years ago... the expectation that now that I'm working on a Dissertation it somehow has to be magnitudes better than anything else. And it doesn't... it just has to be done!

On that note, off to pack.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Day 16: Bleah. Ack. Sweat.

I got nothin.' I am officially tired of this introduction and even more tired of being hot. All. the. time. I have a window unit AC in my study but that doesn't seem to be cutting it, for some reason. I think my body revolts at merely leaving the study for the bathroom, to grab dinner, or to get a bowl of Golden Grahams. Not the malt-o-meal version because those suck, by the way. Anyway, we just turned on the window unit in the bedroom to start cooling it down and our power is flickering. Nice.

But besides this griping, I'm making slow progress. I think I'll be able to print another rough (emphasis on rough) draft tomorrow and see how she looks.

I'm going to investigate this air conditioning issue. I need a good night's sleep that does not occur in the gale-force wind situation that my husband seems to prefer (fan on high, ceiling fan on high.) I want my AC!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Day 15: Looking for the perfect place to work

Does anyone else ever dream about the ideal workspace or office? In addition to finding the exact right moment to work, sometimes I think that I would be fabulously productive if only I had the exact right office. A good view, but nothing distracting. Air-conditioned in the summer, cozy warm in the winter. Enough space and furniture to get really, really organized but nothing extraneous to distract me. The perfect desk, the perfect chair, and voila! A finished dissertation. Not surprisingly, I've never worked in this dream office, but I think it is funny that my "dreams" sometimes revolve around office furniture!

Otherwise, still struggling. Churned through revising a few more paragraphs today. Making slow progress. I have a sinking feeling that I'm revising something that will be truly, truly awful at the end and in no way resemble an introduction with a coherent argument... but in the spirit of "something is better than nothing" I will keep going. I'll fall off the bridge when I come to it.

My work day is ending a bit early -- my dear friend and college roommate is treating me to a night at a spa and then we'll have a chance to catch up over dinner. I'm not sure it qualifies as a "much deserved" break, but it will be quite wonderful just the same.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Day 14: Waiting for the "right" time to work

I had a roommate in college who had an endearing habit of beginning her homework only at quarter-hour intervals, i.e. if it was 4:07, she would wait until 4:15 to start working, and then she would commence being productive. Part of me likes that approach... it assumes that if you wait for the "right" moment to start working, you'll be focused and ready to go. The problem (in the larger sense) is that writing a dissertation while having a full-time job and a full-time life means that the "right" time rarely, if ever, appears. I've had to train myself to make the most of those 30 minute chunks that appear after work and before yoga, or those Thursday mornings when I would get up early and fit in an hour of work before class.

I often think of what a "luxury" it must be to have a dissertation fellowship and have nothing to do but write. In my life, I rarely have the mythical uninterrupted weeks in which I have nothing to do but dissertation work. Summer break usually comes close, but this summer has been so disjointed that I haven't been able to get into a serious groove of working. I've found myself waiting for the "right" moment to come, for some classroom bell to ring, so I'll know when it is time to work. Obviously that hasn't happened and isn't likely to happen. All I know is that I've got a few short weeks before school starts (my union rep. must have been in the bathroom when they worked that one out!) and I really would feel much better if I made some progress between now and then. But for some reason I just can't make myself work. Argh.

So I guess it is best to go back to the drawing board. Reach into my bag of tricks. Scale back the expectations even more. So I'm going to have a snack so I'll have energy for yoga tonight, and then try to make myself do a bit more work tonight. Even if it isn't the "right" time.