The Rogue (W)riter (plans to) Returneth
August 31, 2011 § 6 Comments
That, friends, is an example of a deeply desired (but masterfully failed) attempt at alliteration where alliteration has no business. Ah well. Them’s the breaks, as they say.
So, yes, I am (planning to) return to my writerly ways. (Visual alliteration but not auditory…damn you, English language.) I admit to taking a lengthy reprieve from writing on my dissertation, but I don’t feel guilty about it. I needed the time off. I needed the time to refocus, to reconnect, to recommit. I can see now how other ABDs* before me have gotten so near the defense and petered out. I would be willing to bet that their lack of motivation was more than likely externally imposed. I doubt, for instance, that someone whose writing fires had been previously stoked suddenly and without any warning whatsoever saw those same fires extinguish into barely smoldering ashes.
It may be difficult for those who have never taken this particular journey to understand how a student (an adult, grown-up, ready-to-move-on student) could put several years toward a program only to turn tail and run the other direction right before the last big push.
If you are such a person who has difficulty understanding this phenomenon, please allow me to offer my take on it.
The stamina required to keep pushing is unlike any other I have ever known. This is not just “finish the work.” This is not “keep your nose to the grindstone.”
It’s torture yourself despite your better judgment not to.
You may think I’m overdramatizing the writing process. I can promise you that, for my particular situation at least, I am not. In fact, I may not be “dramatizing” it enough.
Remember way back in May, when I had my embarrassing gynecological exam?
My blood pressure registered as “prehypertensive,” according to the new measurements. It rang in at 130/80. At the time, I attributed the pre-high BP to an uncomfortable conversation about my weight. While that is a possibility, here’s a stunning fact. Two months later, when I went to my first prenatal exam (at the same doctor’s office), my blood pressure registered at 114/76. Way normal. About as normal as you could want. I had also apparently lost 11 pounds since getting pregnant. At my second prenatal appointment, my blood pressure was 126/70. Still normal. (I gained 9 pounds–normal!–but I blame that entirely on all the carbs I ate in order to control my “morning” sickness…I feel like my eating habits are a little more on track now. We’ll see at the next appointment on Tuesday.)
What was the one thing that changed between May 19th and July 12th? What can really be attributed to the sudden drop from 130/80 to 114/76?
I decided to postpone graduation by four months.
This meant that I could take my time on the last chapter and the revisions. It meant I didn’t have to kill myself to try to meet ridiculous self-imposed deadlines. It meant I could actually take some time to focus on myself as my body experienced something entirely new.
Attempting to meet the August deadline, writing as quickly as I did, was physically harming me. If you can look at those numbers and not agree with me, then I must suggest that you’re simply refusing to see the point.
This process has taken a toll on many of us. And it will continue to take its toll as long as students voluntarily (that’s the worst part) submit themselves to the torture. I have not decided yet if the payoff is worth the risk–I’m still involved with the risk, you see. Ask me again in five years. As of today, my answer would be a strong no: no, I would not pursue a PhD directly after my Master’s, given the opportunity for a do-over.
So, what does all of this have to do with the Rogue (W)riter Returnething? Well, probably not much. Except to say that I have recovered, and I finally feel ready to reenter the writer’s wrestling ring. (Much better alliteration…strange image, though.)
So, what does this mean for the rest of my progress? Just how far behind am I? Are we looking at a future modeled on the break-neck pace of January through May?
Friends, I’m probably about 20-25 pages away from completing my dissertation. I have three pieces of literature to analyze in this final chapter, and I’ve analyzed one. So I’ve got two left. And I know what I want to say about them…I have just been waiting for the motivation to sit down and say it.
Do I care if nobody understands why I needed the break? Not really.
Do I care if nobody appreciates that I am confident in meeting this new December-graduation-deadline? Nope.
Do I care if somebody chooses to judge my process and condemn me for slamming on the brakes in July? Not even a little bit.
So, what’s the point of this entire tirade if I just don’t seem to care?
It’s to say this: I’ve been there. If you are struggling through a difficult Master’s or PhD program, I’ve been there. If you have lost all motivation to finish your dissertation or thesis, despite being mere months away from graduation, I’ve been there. If you feel as though you have been chewed up, swallowed, regurgitated, spat out, stomped on, and chewed up again by your program, I’ve been there.
Much like Dan and Terry Savage’s** campaign to end suicides in response to anti-gay bullying: It. Gets. Better. Promise.
Hang in there until you either feel that you have accomplished what you have set out to accomplish, or hang in there until you work up enough gumption to say that you refuse to take the abuse any more and will pursue other dreams. Hang in there while you allow yourself to reevaluate your priorities–and reevaluate them frequently. Check your blood pressure and weight, your lifestyle, your friendships. Choose what matters in life and hang in there until you can confidently focus on them.
So, yes, I have been hanging in there. And my dissertation has taken a new priority. Rather than being at the top of the list, it’s toward the top of the middle of the list. Still important, but not my everything.
And I’m much happier that way.
* Refresher time: ABD stands for “All But Dissertation,” meaning that all other requirements have been completed satisfactorily except for the dissertation. I am currently ABD. If I were to bow out of my program now, I would forever be an ABD.
** I am blanking now on whether or not Terry has taken Dan’s last name…. I made an editorial judgment call for the sake of completing a blog post. If I’m wrong, please feel free to correct me, but don’t be offended if I smile, shrug, and say “that’s nice.” (Point is this: it doesn’t matter, does it?)
Hallelujah! It does get better. I had the same burnout when I was writing my Master’s thesis. I’d moved cities was working a full time job, and I was dealing with an advisor who’d mentally checked out and had told me that he did not like my topic. I’m glad I finished but it pushing so much really soured the entire experience.
So my advice is if you need a break, take it!
Well said, Jacquelin! I’m fortunate enough to have a supportive dissertation committee, but you’re right when you say that pushing it can sour the experience. I’m starting to feel less interested in obtaining the degree than I am in just finishing the dissertation. I just want this off my shoulders.
Sometimes I want to go to graduate school orientation days with a giant poster and a bullhorn to shout: Do your work, but take breaks!!
Even if you don’t care what others think–which is good–I’m glad to know you’ve taken a break and are going to take it slower with this final push. You were working insanely hard, my friend. Humans can only take so much before we begin to break down–which you did. (Gosh, your blood pressure/weight examples are perfect indicators.)
I, as least, support you whatever your pace. I just support you period. End of story. However, you proceed, I’ll be here cheering for you.
Hehe, well, I should revise my statement. I don’t care if the haters are gonna hate. I definitely care about the love! 🙂 Thanks for being such a big support, Kathy! It will all be over soon, and then it’ll be time to really celebrate. 🙂
Mama Hab is backkkkk!
It is a good thing to put your health first but I admire your hard work. I am not in a grad program but instead a retired teacher and just starting to fully realize that I need to focus on cleaning up some health issues before it’s too late, Writing for my own enjoyment and reflection has been helpful. I wish you all the best and good for you, it will get better.