Friday, February 10, 2006

Argh. Argh argh. (Dissertation blues)

This is sooooo hard. I'm definitely firmly wedged between steps 6 and 7 of Professor Me's stages of dissertation hell—between, that is, "This project really sucks!" and "Am I ever going to be done with this stupid thing?" (Except I call it the "f**king thing" at this point.)

Damn this work is isolating. My cohort members, who constituted a pretty close-knit group while we were all still taking classes, are all also dissertating, but they each have their own personal challenges (much worse than mine) to deal with, so we're not communicating much with one another. A sampling: one is faced with having to return to his native country for at least two years, despite having found a life partner in the States, to fulfill the terms of a fellowship; another buried her father a little over a year ago and is now providing in-home hospice care to her mother; and yet another friend, a year ahead of me, just turned in a diss that nearly killed her long marriage and whose stress worsened a chronic condition so much that it's rendered her considerably less ambulatory.

I think about these challenges and realize it's really petty of me to complain about my own dissertating when I have such a fabulous situation in which to accomplish it (childcare shared with Mr. Trillwing, a 50% TAship that takes considerably fewer than 20 hours/week, Mr. Trillwing's income to purchase such luxuries as DSL and Netflix).

I'd join a dissertation reading group but in the past I've found I put a lot more into such groups than I take away, and I'm not ready to dedicate that kind of effort without getting considerable in return. Selfish? Yes. Practical? Also yes.

My fantastic adviser, who has always been a terrific sounding board for all things academic and personal, has become swamped with responsibilities (other students discovered her, the bastards, and now I must share her) and has also begun commuting this year, so she's less available than she has been in the past. I do give her credit for helping me to completely revamp the chapter's organization in ways that are proving fruitful. And her comments, while sometimes discouraging, do mark my progress. For example, among more constructive criticisms, her frustrated comments on an earlier draft of the first part of The Chapter that Refuses to be Completed (TCTRTBC) included such gems as "yuck" and "Oh, trillwing, don't do this," but the latest round features such encouragement as "At this rate, you'll get a contract with Duke!" (Duke University Press, are you listening? I give you linky goodness, you give me a book contract, 'K?)

Mr. Trillwing is a dear and a constant emotional support, but we don't really discuss the diss because I'm afraid when I bring it up I sound to him like the adult voices in Peanuts TV specials: Mwah-mwah-MWAH-mwah. And besides, I haven't been the best spouse, procrastinating as I have on reading his sexy, action-packed, 900-page screenplay-opus on the 18th Dynasty of ancient Egypt, as fascinating as it is. (Honey? I promise to finish reading it shortly after I turn in the diss. It's just too damn good and I get discouraged. Seriously. I mean, you're brilliant with your high school diploma and autodidactism, and here I am with an almost-Ph.D. and years of experience as a writer and editor, yet I can't write a paragraph without evoking an occasional "yuck" from Fantastic Adviser and a zillion fyucks from Inner Critic.)

I find the academic blogosphere cheering on most days, but it's also a too-tempting source of procrastination for trillwing, who has occasionally taken to referring to herself in the third person when she's feeling ashamed of her recent lack of progress. Seriously, the expert Queen of West Procrastination has nothing on me, despite her claim to the heavyweight title.

For TCTRTBC, I blame in large part my archival sources, all 125+ of them congregated so far in the footnotes. They're handwritten. They're too numerous. They're bad photocopies. They're oblique and too open to poor interpretation and trillwing's flights of feminist fancy. They cover too much time (1880s-1950s) for there ever to be one nice, clean argument that can be made about them. (Yes, I'm tackling too much at once.)

Aside from the fact that I'm sick of bringing in a teeny tiny "salary" as a TA, I have little extrinsic motivation to finish grad school, since this year's academic job search has been, shall we say, considerably less than successful. By which I mean not. a. single. nibble. It's hard to continue work that no one else seems to find meaningful.

Thank goodness for antidepressants, eh? (Five years and counting! Yay me.)

Don't worry, bloggy friends. Soon we'll return to your regularly scheduled cheery trillwing. Until then, this is defeated trillwing, signing off. . .


New Kid on the Hallway said...

LOL at Mr. Trillwing's comment!

But seriously - yes, dissertating sucks hugely. I just wanted to say, don't get discouraged by the job market stuff at this point. It's such an amazing crapshoot, and there are so many places that just toss all ABDs out of their application pile, that I don't think you should take this year's experience as representative of your job market destiny.

(And anti-depressants are great!)

ArticulateDad said...

Ahhh. I'd say, I'm so sorry you're going through this. But, honestly, if you weren't going through this, you wouldn't be writing a dissertation, at least not one that you cared about (despite the stages you reference).

It is hard, damn it. And it is isolating. There's no doubt about it. New Kid on the Hallway is right. Don't think about the job search. Don't worry about the job search. It's irrelevant! Really.

Sure write those applications for jobs or grants or what have you. Send them off, then forget them.

But, take a minute, or an hour, or a weekend. And just stop! Stop writing, stop worrying. Plan a nice date with Mr. Trillwing, whatever it takes. Have dinner, and some wine, and look at the stars. And gaze into his eyes, and talk about where you both want to be in five years or ten. Screw tomorrow. Whether you like it or not, tomorrow will come. (I just posted a special poem just for you, on my blog.)

Don't focus on the dissertation. It's Xeno's paradox writ large. You can't get there if you keep trying to get just one more half done. Let it go. It won't go anywhere. It'll wait there just for you.

The point is, it's not in charge. Here, mom, think of this: my #1 would always hold his pee until he was ready to explode. He wanted to be in control. Then, one day, I explained that he wasn't in control when he did that, the pee was. :)

Don't let the dissertation, or your worries of tomorrow or next year sap you. You're so much more than that. Dream a little. Remember why you are doing this, and what you want your life work to mean. Then, when you're ready, get back to it. The only meanigful deadlines are the ones you impose on yourself.

Your dissertation? It's just a little paper. You'll finish it. And when you look at TCTRTBC, remember, it's okay to throw it out, or most of it, or some of it. Maybe it doesn't need to be there anyway. It can be a book or an article later.

You're good. Just remember to breath (and get hugs -- they're essential).

Queen of West Procrastination said...

Wow. And here I am, eagerly anticipating that day when I'm out of the Coursework from Hell and past the comps, so that I can get to work on the dissertation. (I think I've gotten to this place where I think fondly of the days in which I was writing my thesis. Whereas, if you actually read what I was blogging during those days, not so much. And multiply that isolation and that "It took me a month to write ten pages" into a dissertation?)

But I'm sending you hugs, and I hope that this dissertation can just be over with soon, and that you also get a break soon. Go, Trillwing!

What Now? said...

Trillwing -- Just a note to say that I followed the link from your recent post on my blog to discover your blog, and that I've just had a lovely procrastination session by reading your archives. I'm delighted to have found your blog!

Re: the dissertation. Yep, the final months are hell, and there seems to be no way around that (or at least none that I've heard of). I think NK is right; time to worry about the job market once you're done with the diss., so I'd put that right out of your head.

I'm feeling guilty for what I'm about to say, but here goes: I'd disagree with articulatedad about dreaming and thinking what you want your life work to mean. Don't get me wrong -- I think it's great life advice! But I don't think that's how people get through the last few months of writing the dissertation. I think those months are all about "put one foot in front of the other" and just slog right on through, accepting the fact that it's ultimately going to be pretty crappy (and then the final result is often not nearly as crappy as you feared!). And since you've got a great family, you're probably not in danger of losing touch with what's really important anyway.

Leslie M-B said...

Thanks to everyone for your comments and support!

Dr. Lingonberry said...

"It's hard to continue work that no one else seems to find meaningful."

Amen, sister.

Btw, I discovered your blog when I typed "how am I ever going to finish this dissertation?" into Google, and yours was the first that popped up!