Monday, March 31, 2008

Dissertation Gods, Why Have Ye Forsaken Me?

I don't expect an answer, but I've finally reached the point of desperation, the point at which I pray for some dissertation relief! I've been working on my second diss chapter since the beginning of December. I've suffered some significant setbacks, as the plays I'd originally planned to use got tossed, then I had to read far and wide in search of the *best* plays to use, then I found the plays, but had to do the research on their production background, etc. Then, of course, the writing... Oh yeah, and then E got sick, really diarrhea-for-10-days sick. Then the car wreck and accompanying new car search. Then I hurt my back in The Most Embarrassing Chair Episode ever. And several times in the Spring term, I've been tapped to do some department service kinda things. Oh, and I almost forgot, the crazy neck pain/disorder thing reappeared, and I've been referred to a neurologist, who I'll see tomorrow. It actually returned again in January, which is when I consulted the chiropracter. Surprisingly, she suggested that I *not* come in to see her, as she couldn't help me. She explained that she thinks it may be adult-onset torticollis, but they won't know for sure until an MRI and a nerve test are completed. Apparently, I'm a freak of f*#@ing nature. Or at least that's the way I feel right now.

I'm sooooo close to being done with this damn chapter, and E just got sick again. She caught another stomach bug and has been out of commission since Friday. I took off work Friday to stay home with her, only to wake up Saturday with a Head Cold from Hell. I managed to still get some food prepared for everyone and help care for E, but by yesterday, she and I were both napping at 9:30 in the morning. We slept for over 3 hours! So, no diss work done over the weekend.

A week or so ago, I ran into my advisor and told her that on March 31st I was submitting my draft, no matter what it looked like. Her response? "Okay." She said lots of people do it that way, and it was perfectly fine with her. So when hubby comes home today at 12:30, and I head to the office, that's my goal for the afternoon. I'm going to polish it up as much as I can in the few hours I've got, then I'm turning it in as is. The Good, Good, Good News is:

- the next chapter is the last chapter of my diss that deals with the texts I'm studying;
- because I did such extensive foundational work/notes/drafting on those texts last summer;
- and because the conference paper I wrote last fall was based on one the plays in that chapter (that is, the paper will basically constitute the last 15 pages or so of the chapter)

I've already got 30 pages or so ready to go! The plan is to finish the last chapter in April-May, so that I can use the summer months to work on my first two chapters, which lay out my background, historical, and theoretical framework. I consider them my "easier" chapters b/c the thinking has already been done, I'm just sorta putting the pieces together and setting up my approach. After that, I'm done with the body of the diss in draft form! I'll have my intro (which already exists in a draft form) and conclusion to work on, and revisions will take place throughout the fall semester.

The current chapter has been my most difficult: unknown texts, unfamiliar history (theater), and very little known playwrights (anonymous in one case). It actually drove me to the point of finally thinking "I don't care if it's good, I just want it to be done." I understand this is fairly normal for Dissertators, so I'm not too concerned. It took me over a year of work to reach that point. Turning in what I've got finished today will help I think. I just need this particular monkey off my back right now...know what I mean?


Jennie said...

You're not a freak of nature. I hope everything goes well with your MRI. I have developed motion sickness, from scrolling and clicking on new pages on my computer. And I know you know how much dissertators are required to sit in front of a computer. I am taking motion sickness drugs just so I can work on my dissertation. Good times! You sound in good shape with your dissertation, much better than me, and I am hoping to defend in the Fall.

mgm said...

Ugh! I've had the same problem. February was full of setbacks: illness, death in the family, herniated disk. Life just gets in the way.

And I know the feeling of wanting to turn something, anything in just to say you turned something in! Hope you felt good when you got it off your back.

Lilian said...

Wow, I cannot believe that I've been complaining. I'm so sorry about all these setbacks and I hope you were able to turn your chapter in yesterday. And now I'm off to read some more of your earlier posts since I haven't been here in a while (sorry, but I have a good excuse ;-)

Anonymous said...

I've BTDT, so yeah, it's tough... sometimes you cannot turn life off. Sometimes it will just take longer than you want. It is tough, though, to feel like your momentum is shot to hell. The only hopeful thing I can offer, as someone who is nearing the other side of the tenure track and am now 8 years out from finishing the beast, is that the chapters speed up A LOT once you get the first two under your belt. It took a year to write the first one (if I include the 40+ pp. I wrote and then completely scrapped) and then about six months to write the second one, and six months to finish the final three. The last 20 pages -- the intro and conclusion -- were written literally overnight, the day before I shipped it off to the committee, and they are still among the best pages I have ever written... you just KNOW it by then, you can spout it without rehearsal at that point. It was nearly 400 pages with notes. A beast, like I said, and impractical -- what do you do with 400 pages? It is a lot more than a book. But I have mined those 400 pages into tenure, through article publications, so it had benefits in the long run.

I found out I was pregnant midway through chapter three, as I was nearing the end of my fellowship year, and that was astonishing motivation to get the thing done. My defense date was also set in stone because my advisor had moved to another university several states away, so it had to be that day. It was helpful to have a definite deadline because I am someone who cannot function without one.

It will get done. You will fight your way through it. The only thing that worked for me was routine and sugar... gym first thing in the morning, then Starbucks for a Krispy Kreme (mysteriously threw it up the day I found out I was pregnant -- it was the first big sign something was different), then a 20 minute walk back to my house, then work... somehow I could work then, if I did the gym/coffee/walk thing first. If I didn't, I was panicky and felt trapped. I'm still like this. Can't just come straight into the office on days I don't teach -- have to do something that feels at least a little self-caring before I can face all the work. I love the work, but it takes so much time and energy. Sometimes you need these little tricks, right? Gotta get your mind right first.

Of course the kid was literally embryonic when I was dissertating - I defended with him in utero -- so my issues were all my own then... no such thing as rotovirus and impetigo and pink eye in my life at that point, and I was lucky to have a really easy pregnancy until the last month of bedrest (when I was totally finished with it all and was starting the search for adjunct work for the following year). Sometimes things must grind to a halt because of motherhood. It will get done, though, and you will finish, and you will defend, and you will go on and find a great job. Just keep plugging away at it, piece by piece, and it will happen.

From the other side of the line, most of us don't care when it comes in, if it takes you another few weeks or another few months on a specific chapter. I remember thinking, when I'd miss a self-imposed and self-reported deadline, "My advisor is going to call and yell at me because my chapter isn't in and I said it would be in last week!" And she was... well, probably not thinking of me at all, to be honest. Certainly not worrying about when that chapter would land on her desk for comments. I don't know anyone who regularly hounds grad students for chapters unless they are in Year Twelve of the dissertation and the university is considering rescinding their student status. This actually happened to a friend of mine. She wrote the whole damn thing in 12 weeks, after literally 12 years in graduate school (teaching and doing the research for it). 12 weeks of hell, but it happened.

So if you are approaching year 12 or whatever it is at your school, maybe you should worry, but if not, well, just keep plugging along.

The turning something in just to turn it in thing is actually not a bad strategy. Most people get caught up in the perfectionism trap with the chapters. They are ALWAYS works in progress. A diss is never anything but a last abandoned draft. Maybe it will be a book someday, maybe just essays, maybe nothing, but you'll have time to polish and revise once you are through the hoop. Just get through the hoop. Let your advisor tell you how to jump through it, too -- I'd rather see a loose draft than no draft, most of the time, and giving a loose draft means you can get the kind of feedback that will focus the work in ways that will make your committee happy. You can polish it to your own specifications once you are done -- making that committee happy right now is all that matters, so figuring out what will please them is the main goal of feedback. I know my advisor was really great about "feedback for now" and "feedback for later" -- stuff for the diss, stuff to think about for the eventual book or essays. It was VERY helpful to have such specificity because I didn't have to worry about everything all at once, I could just get through one chapter and on to the next one.

Hope this helps!

Crystal said...

I just found your blog, looking for other frazzled moms-in-academia, and I have to say that your posts give me hope that I may actually LIVE to dissertate! I'm in English too, rhet/comp though, and have a 12-week-old daughter, also known as the-child-who-WILL-NOT let me do homework. You are amazing to be where you are, and I am sure you will continue to amaze through completing the dis, the defense, and all that comes after. Good luck!