Archive for the ‘Dissertating’ Category

Last night I attended the lecture of a prestigious senior academic with degrees and books galore and found myself passionately, burningly, fundamentally troubled by her premise.  It is opposed to the very principle that guides my work in literary criticism and cultural studies–and when I confronted her with it she said, simply, “you must not think that way.  You must not.”  But she had a reading of Gramsci I did not remember picking up in my training, which included lots of Gramsci over the course of five years, so all I could say was, “I’ll have to look at it again,” which in pre-flood days meant going back to my marked-up text (I never dog-ear, never) and because of those markings, remembering what I had read and how I read and what arguments the professor made and so forth, and returning to Distinguished Professor and saying, “your argument does not stand up to X, Y, and Z.”  I could go to the library, but which Gramsci, what section?  what passage?  I don’t have time to re-read.  And then when I was going through the logical steps on the car ride home, twitching, I was trying to remember the steps of social change in Vico–and I know it starts with thunder, then goes to fear, and then the invention of diety–but Vico is gone, too, along with the fingerprints of a younger, less confident, more sponge-like student and her notes.  There may be some notes in the bin of files Attic Man saved as the water was rising, but they are all out of order now and not easily gone through with a grabby toddler around.

For someone with a poor memory, marked-up books constitute a history.  For someone whose identity in large part draws upon her intellectual history and development, it is a profound loss to have that history, ink bled, slogged into a landfill…


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I’ve had a good couple of months.  After a pretty rough fall in which almost no writing occurred and I began to think of my dissertation as a gaping wound from which I would never recover, and that would actually eventually take over my whole body (yes, I used “which” twice, and yes, I’m being just a tad melodramatic) I began 2008 with a lovely writing streak due in large part to finally securing good childcare.  I have also for the past five weeks been embarking on a get-fit-and-stop-eating-junk quest that has pumped such energy and general evenness into my life that I am wondering why I ever ate anything unhealthy ever and why it took me so long to just get moving.  My body is getting stronger.  I got a paper accepted to my first non-home-institution conference and I won a competitive fellowship for next year.  My son is thriving and my husband is kicking ass at school.  And I didn’t even get PMS this month.  Really.
And here I am, suddenly out of energy, suddenly feeling overwhelmed by conference paper assemblage and dissertation whittling/expansion.  And definitely totally overwhelmed by housework.  Your suggestion is a good one, Molly, and I am already thinking of ways to implement it.  But I’m starting to think that there is something else going on that has nothing to do with having or not having time to clean.

I gave up my therapist at the beginning of the year because I can’t fit it into my schedule (she’s in CR and I work in IC the only days I have child care and she doesn’t have evening hours), and I think it was a mistake.  I’m getting hit again with this thing I can’t name and it sucks.  I would like it to go away.  I have no interest in working through it and figuring out what my childhood has to do with it.  I really just want to write and not have a perfect home but one that has clean dishes to cook and eat in and is occasionally clean.  I have managed to be a good parent–the one constant, and the only thing I feel good about right now.

The blinking cursor.  The impulse to rent a new apartment and burn the old one.  The urge to sue Quicken because for someone already so bad at finances frequent server outages can mean the difference between a bill paid on time and a bill going into collection.  The thought of a whole day of lovely unencumbered study and writing that will amount to nothing but a depressing blog post.  Ugh.

Dear Funk,

You are not welcome.  Go away and let me write and enjoy my life.

Sincerely, but with no love,


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Second haircut.  15 months and still blissfully in love with mirrors.

Yes! I’ve made it a month!

115 minutes cardio

2 free-weight sessions

45 minutes walking with a toddler on my back

I’m still struggling over size issues. In a moment of weakness I got out the scale AGAIN, and because I had to stand on the toilet to reach it, I got a full and honest view of my midsection in the mirror. Ouch. Rhetoric is cheap. I still want to be skinny. How do I get over this? Do I need to throw the scale away? Even then I still have the mirror, and if you saw how poorly I already manage my hair (a ponytail is a ‘style,’ right?) you wouldn’t suggest I throw it out, either. There are shop windows, and magazines (even if I don’t buy them, in grocery store lines), commercials, other women talking endlessly about weight loss…I am hopelessly lost in a sea of skinny obsession and I want OUT!

The update on the vegetarian front is that I think I’ve come to a conclusion: vegetarian on a regular basis except on the rare occasion that locally and humanely caught fish is available; dairy in moderation and daily enjoyment of vegan foods. People, I LOVE vegan food. I am at a fair trade/vegan cafe in IC and just had the most divine hazelnut espresso muffin followed by a truly decadent tempeh reuben (spell check just underlined both words :))

I’ll spare you–and me, for that matter–the excruciating details of my week-long internet research of dairy, but I’ve come to the conclusion that dairy isn’t unnatural for humans and that it has health benefits but that it is waaaaaay over-consumed, most definitely by me. I did actually consider going vegan for a few days–tried it on, felt it out–but given that I am allergic to soy milk and almonds, (both good sources of calcium) and am hard up for B12 otherwise, I’m going to keep the milk and eggs, just in smaller amounts. 1000 mg of calcium isn’t that much and doesn’t all need to come from dairy (a cup of yogurt gives you half that, and the other half can be consumed in kale and the like). I understand that B12 is available in supplemental form but I am suspicious of any diet that cannot support all necessary nutrients without supplementation (though I believe in multis because no one makes correct calculations 100% of the time–yesterday, for example, I was deficient in vitamin K and selenium). Vegans will disagree with me on the necessity of calcium and B12 in current recommended amounts, but after reading a lot of stuff from a number of different perspectives I’m going with conventional wisdom on this one. I do agree with vegans that omnivores are probably MORE likely to be nutritionally deficient, in part because vegans have to be so much more mindful of a non-traditional way of eating. I can throw together a meat/starch/veggie meal at the group home without a second thought but I really have to think through a vegan dinner at home. Even through the process of considering veganism I’ve become more aware of the deficiencies of what I thought was a pretty healthy diet and made a lot of adjustments. I’m eating about 3-4 servings more vegetables and fruits a day now, and not relying on soy so much.

And now I have to leave my lovely vegan cafe to go to the library where I don’t have internet access on my laptop and will be therefore less tempted to google “vegan cupcakes” when I’m supposed to be reading about WWI (painful).

P.S. For those of you who will know what this is: I was awarded a thing that rhymes with “felon” and it means that I will not have to work next year. I can devote my non-parenting time (which I’ll have more of) entirely to the dissertation. I am elated.

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Two days working at the group home.  Two days dissertating.  Two days of homemaking and childcare.

One day called “Family Day” for me to be exhausted and for Attic Man, who has been caring for the Snapper all weekend, to race to school to catch up on work.

I can’t tell whether it’s ‘balanced’ or crazy, this radical, constant role-switching.  The group home is two very long days in a row, but the other days are mixed up–one buried in books and writing with kisses at the door, one in pajamas until midmorning frantically trying to catch up on laundry and dishes, one back to the books, one morning at home followed by an afternoon at work.  There are no transitions.  I put on a hat and set off running.

Two times I am really, really tired: Thursday night, after we’ve all been away from home for 11 hours, and Sunday, after my two long shifts.  Sunday is the bad one–I just can’t be needed any more, but there is a child and two dogs who have missed me, so that isn’t an option.  I feel grateful for my life on dissertation days and to a certain extent on homemaking days, and for moments at the group home.  I do not feel grateful when the exhaustion that has nipped at my heels all week finally catches up with me.  I cry, pick fights, get despondent.


We tried something new yesterday that confirms to me that we have now entered the “chopped liver” phase of parenting which I believe is supposed to last until the child turns 35 or even 40.  I have noticed that on daycare days our midday nurse is getting shorter and shorter, and that while morning drop-off goes quite well, pre-nap midday drop off does not.  The Snapper is also taking soy milk well now.  So I thought that although it has been a nice interlude for me and a chance to reconnect, it might no longer be worth it for the boy.  So yesterday I dropped him off at 8 and didn’t return until 5.  His teachers reported that he drank two whole sippy cups full of soy milk, and didn’t cry before or after his nap for the first time since starting daycare.  He was happy to see me but didn’t act like I’d been gone for decades.  I am happy for him but sad for me.  We’re almost certainly entering a time of increased weaning, as we’ve never gone this long in the daytime without nursing (as for pumping, if I’m going to put up with the time loss and inconvenience I might as well nurse him–and no way can I pump enough to equal two sippy cups at this stage).  I don’t think he’s ready to fully wean, thank goodness.  I hope he continues to nurse for a good long time.

At any rate I think this all means that he is nicely attached and emotionally doing quite well.  This makes me pleased and proud as a parent, of course, but also a little sad that he doesn’t need me as much.  I will probably be getting over this soon.  I am already moving in that direction, especially since my productivity increased noticeably yesterday.



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Something, anything, really!  I find I am content–exhilarated, even–to write about poems all day.  I can analyze the heck out of them.  Then I go to the criticism and I start to overthink the fact that they are just so smart and accomplished and know all about Mallarme and Tennyson and I just don’t have a clue! and then I start to feel like I need an inhaler and shut down.  TODAY, though, I went back to the conceptual place and started drafting tasks that I could work on to distract myself from feeling like an utter and complete failure.  It helped that Attic Man messaged a reminder that dissertations are the start of careers, not the culmination of them and that comparing myself to someone who has been doing this for years is just not fair.  I counter that I want to be a star NOW, which isn’t really true, except that I’ve been groomed in my education to think so.  Ah, ambivalence.  It’s what I breathe on.

I spent the morning working in quotations from people who’ve written about my chapter topic because according to my committee I need to work in everything anyone’s ever written about my topic (which is thankfully in this case not much).  I also made lists for things I need to add to the chapter, like a section on Yeats’s relationship to modernism, and what I need to read/review to accomplish them, in little do-able bites.

I find it helpful in these times to jump around inside what I’ve written to add/edit/reconceptualize–it feels like I’m doing something (and I am) without a massive outlay of energy and concentration, which I don’t seem to have this morning.

My chapter keeps getting bigger and bigger but I don’t see how I can leave out what I’m planning to add.  I told one committee member in August that I wanted 2-3 chapters done by Christmas.  I think I was hallucinating in his office, because that’s not even realistic by Easter.  On the other hand, I am starting to see the parameters of the chapter now so it’s not exactly endlessly expanding.  I just need to work my way up to its edges.

In only two days a week.


Something else happened that has made this whole enterprise a whole lot more bearable: I figured out my audience.  I have been unwittingly writing to an imaginary panel of academic heavy-weights that know and understand everything and will lop off my head if I get it wrong.  Last week I started to think about why I am writing and to whom: I am writing because my topic is under-researched and I want people to get excited about it.  Who?  Other people in my field who know a lot but not everything.  I also want people who are interested in my time period to pick up my book (my book!  looking beyond the dissertation, which will most likely gather dust on a shelf, is helping…when you read about someone famous you never, ever read a quotation from her dissertation–you read, “Ms. Smartypants, whose dissertation was on…” and then her c.v. is on anything but) and have more to work with.  In other words, I am writing to smart people in and outside my field who are interested in poetry, Irish studies, WWI, and 1930-1960.  I realized last week that the way I am writing–thoroughly and rigorously but without too much specialized vocabulary–is perfect to that purpose.  So that’s helping.

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are my new favorite days. Look, I like being home with the Snapper and it’s its own challenge, but it’s not particularly intellectual for me. Tuesdays and Thursdays he is going to daycare full days and it is awesome. I come in the middle of the day to nurse him down for his nap, but the other seven-odd hours are mine to read and write. I am having a ball. Perhaps I’ll hit another slump but I am loving my life on these days. Due to illness/weather we’ve only had two Thursdays but between them I analyzed two collections of poems and wrote six pages. Eventually I’d like to get up to ten pages a week and beyond. Six is a good start for now.

The Snapper’s daycare is quite a find. They tend to have openings a bit more often than other places because it’s itty bitty and no one seems to know about it due to poor advertising (which is fine with me). The itty bitty part is really nice. The Snapper has only two classmates, one lead teacher, and one teacher’s aide. The other rooms are all near to each other and they visit the next oldest and next youngest during the day, so when they transition they have a great sense of continuity. They’re a non-profit. They pay a living wage to their teachers. It’s clean, neat, organized, but relaxed in feel which is nice for the kids. The Snap seems to have taken to it, too. We’re pretty happy with the situation.

I think it helps that I get out of the house to get work done. It is seriously difficult to get any work done around here because my office is also my office for household business and where I keep my clothes and it is always a mess. I like working in IC, too, because it is a university community and I really feed off the vibe. In the morning I work at a cafe near the Snapper’s daycare and today I shamelessly eavesdropped on a conversation between a professor and a TA. I couldn’t make out everything they were talking about but it made me miss teaching something fierce and also having people around to talk to about my work and teaching. I miss university life so much. I like the U of I library too and it helps with my level of distraction.

Last night as I was up with the Snapper from 12:45 to 1:45 am I was thinking about how I had to get up in just a few hours and how exhausted I was but I had a great day anyway.

I have to get this doctorate so I can start living this life everyday.

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