I have a dissertation chapter due tomorrow. I've been working on it all quarter, but it refuses to be packaged into something shiny that I can hand to my adviser with a pretty bow on top.
The problem is I tend toward narrative, so I just want to string together anecdotes and let the reader interpret their significance. (I blame my English major and my creative writing degree.) I keep finding more choice nuggets in the material I've photocopied from my trips to the archives, and I try to work whatever I find into the current chapter. Who cares if this section is supposed to be about women's participation in scientific associations? I want to write about Smithsonian entomologist Doris Holmes Blake's toilet-trained lizard, the one that snuggled in her lap as she worked on her beetle collection. I want to share California botanist Elizabeth's McClintock's sentiments that her era's misogynistic scientists needed to die, die, die before any real change would come about for women in science. I want to write about how herpetologist Doris Cochran carded angora fur in her spare time and spun it into thread for crocheting. Or try to capture Alice Eastwood's legendary climb up the banister of the six-story staircase California Academy of Sciences, the one destroyed in the 1906 quake, to rescue of the herbarium's type specimens before fire claimed the building. I love these details.
My left-brained adviser helps me curb this tendency toward gratuitious humanization of the scientists. She reminds me to organize my chapter around lists of three or four important items. It's damned hard for me to think logically like that, but what a mess my dissertation would be without the structure she's imposing. It makes me wonder if the women I'm studying were more right- or left-brained. I wish I could have met some of them; maybe then I would feel so anxious and, well, downright fraudulent (a humanities student among the taxonomists!) when writing about them.