March 23, 2011 § 7 Comments
My home is incredibly quiet this morning. Except for the snoring of two sleep-deprived canines.
And the source of their sleep deprivation? Me.
You see, I stayed up until 2 a.m. this morning working on the finishing touches of my draft of Chapter Two (draft one, I should clarify). I woke up around 7:30 to Annie’s beckoning (she needed to potty, as puppies do), and sat down to do some quick proofreading (although I am confident I left some errors in the document…it’s fine, though–it’s just a draft), converted in-text citations to footnotes, and wrote a bibliography. And then…around 9:30, I e-mailed the draft off…and this is it in its current statistical form:
36 pages, over 10,000 words. The best part? Those 36 pages are really just the beginning. Those 36 pages are just to prove to my professor that I am going to make the kind of progress one needs to make in order to bang out a dissertation in time to graduate. I still have the depths of my argument to explore, which will probably take at least another 20-30 pages. Chapter Two is destined to be a long one, but why shouldn’t it be? It’s the foundation of my own argument.
Although I would love to say that my day’s plan is to just sit around and sleep, that is not the case. I have a great deal of grading left to do (most of my students’ papers). So, I’m going to work my way through those so that I can have those off my shoulders by tomorrow, return them in class, and then spend my entire weekend relaxing.
In the meantime, I’d like you to enjoy the view I’m enjoying this morning:
The saying may be “let sleeping dogs lie” (in other words “if there’s no problem rearing its head, leave it alone”)…but in my house, today the saying is “let sleepy dogs lie!”
February 23, 2011 § 4 Comments
Yesterday, I happened to run into (almost literally because I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going) one of my younger peers who is a freshly-minted ABD (that’s “all but dissertation” for the uninitiated). (She actually reads the blog–hey, L! :)) L is at that tremendously exciting and terrifying place in her academic career where she has completed her course requirements…forever (unless she chooses to get another degree, I suppose), and she has passed all of her written and oral examinations (comprehensive exams, or comps, we call ’em). She is now perched upon the tippy-tip of the graduate school tree limb and is gearing up to take her flying leap into Dissertation Land. L is currently drafting her prospectus, which is a smallish-to-largeish document that essentially outlines her future dissertation project. She will be asked to explain what her argument is while also foreseeing (to some degree) the direction each chapter will take as she develops her argument. She will be expected to compile a working bibliography that confidently says to her committee members, “See? I’ve done some research, and I’m really on to something here!” This gate-keeping document can set even the most stalwart academic a-trembling. And, sure, L will have her stumbling days, her days when she’s not certain her theoretical wings are strong enough to hold the weight of her ideas. But, as I’ve learned, the prospectus will change. It just will. So, L, and to all brand-new ABDs, I say this to you: just write it. Seriously, just bang it out. Let it be a little rough, not your most perfect work, but just get the ideas out there. Your committee members are absolutely going to have changes no matter how perfect you believe your document to be. So, don’t torture yourself to craft the end-all-be-all draft on the first or even second go. Your dissertation will also very probably diverge from the prospectus in some ways. Don’t waste your time agonizing over whether or not you know for sure that the points you want to discuss in Chapter Three belong there or if they’d be better suited in Chapter Four. All of that can be figured out later. What is important is pages. And forward progress.
When L and I were talking yesterday, she so sweetly (and I know she meant it genuinely) complimented me on my latest progress. “I can’t imagine writing two pages a day! That’s incredible,” she said…or something like that. I had to laugh. “Yeah,” I said. “But I’m at the stage now where I better be writing two pages a day or else I don’t graduate in August.” (Hell…I still may not graduate in August, but I’m sure as hell going to try!) As she remained surprised and complimentary at my
self-inflicted torture progress, I continued to laugh ruefully and say, “Just don’t follow my example, just don’t follow my example.” Seriously. Don’t follow my example.
I am no role model.
Let me explain in very clear terms why I am not to be made a template of: I lolly-gagged for two years and am now forced to work at breakneck speed to finish or else I could lose funding (hell, that might already be gone) and I could definitely not graduate in August.
What happened to me? Well, I passed my exams and entered into the stage L’s in now at the very beginning of March 2009. Two months before my wedding. That’s almost exactly two years ago. Then, I struggled to write a prospectus. I finally composed a draft of…something…by August 2009. It went through several drafts (I think in the neighborhood of five…either the fifth or the sixth one was the one that received final approval), and my prospectus was approved March 2010 (a full year after I became ABD). And here we are, another year later, and I’m finally producing chapters. I don’t have another year in me. This is it. I’m done.
So why not follow my lead? Because I gave up. I admit it–I absolutely gave up. I felt miserable, incapable, and exhausted. I had the idea that now that I had finished my courses and my exams and my prospectus, I was entitled to a rest. (This is one of the signs to me that this is not the career for me. More on that later.) It was like I had a case of senioritis. I just wanted to be finished for a while so that I could take a break. What I have come around to realize, though, is that this break only hurt me rather than helped me. Sure, I was conducting research in that time. I was reading and writing notes and outlines and thinking, thinking, thinking. Always thinking. But pages were nonexistent. I finally composed over 25 pages of Chapter Two between August and September 2010 so that I could present a shortened version of it at the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference (SCSC for short) in October 2010. (Little factoid: this conference is HUGE for people in this field. There were so many meetings and presentations, and if I had not come down with the plague, I may have actually gone to some of them.) After I returned from my trip to Montreal to present a shortened version of my chapter, I took another break. Sure, I wrote a little bit here and there, but they were notes and nothing really worth getting excited about. But because I gave up, because I took a break, I forced myself into this specific situation.
It was in November, when I realized how unhappy I was, that I started to realize that I needed to make a decision. As my wonderful and amazing friend Dr. Amanda Morris asked me during her visit in October, I had to answer the question: am I having trouble hanging on or letting go? If I’m having trouble hanging on, then I need to rework my strategy so that I can get a better grip on my responsibilities and work requirements. If I’m having trouble letting go, then I need to come to terms with what it means to release this path and pursue another. At first, I concluded that I was having trouble hanging on. I wanted that to be the right answer so badly. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, no, I was having trouble letting go.
Now, let me clarify one point: I am going to get my Ph.D. I am not stopping now, although there is no shame in walking away from a program ABD. I know several people who have walked away from the program before writing their dissertation. I know several people who have walked away from the program before taking exams. There is a culture of shame around these decisions, but I have learned that these are not shameful choices to make. (Why continue the torture if it’s not working for you? Life’s too short!) The reason I am going to finish, though, is because I am months away (nearly five, to be exact), and I am too stubborn to be five months away from a degree and then leave it on the table. So, I’m going to finish, one way or another.
Back to why I’m no role model.
Writing a dissertation is hard work. It just is. It is not as simple as writing five or six seminar papers and cramming them together. (Who here has written that many seminar papers on the exact same topic? Not me! I’m not sure I even have two related seminar papers.) A dissertation requires a sustainable argument that can last for somewhere in the neighborhood of 200-ish pages. I want this point to be clear. Many of us won’t admit it until we’re safe from being graded (like I am), but it is not common practice to begin writing a 25-page paper at the beginning of the semester, or even a month before deadline. So many of us write our seminar papers within, oh, I’d say at least two weeks before deadline. (And let’s not kid ourselves–our professors know.) If this is your habit, let me be perfectly frank with you: you cannot write a dissertation the way you write your seminar papers.
They are not the same animal, and they do not share the same requirements. Begin early, stay on track, write every single day (okay, you can have weekends off, if you begin working early enough). One of my friends V was told by a professor (neither of us can remember who now) who gave her a clever response to the question, “How do you write a 300-page book?” The answer: “One page a day.” Literally. If you write one page every day for a year, you have 365 pages. And that’s far too many for a dissertation.
In the world of dissertation writing, pages are everything.
Yes, make time to do your research, make your notes, do your outlines. But also compose pages. A dissertation, while a milestone to be proud of, is not the marker that you have finished something but instead it is an indicator that you have one more task to complete.
L, and all you other ABDs out there, please don’t follow my model. Don’t torture yourselves. Keep a steady pace and stay focused. Regardless if you want to stay in academia or not, make a decision whether or not you want to get the degree. If you don’t care about the degree, then stop now. If you do want it, then let that be your golden fleece. You won’t get the degree without a dissertation, plain and simple.
And if any of you ever needs someone to vent to or to kick your ass into gear as A.Mo. did mine, I will be happy to fill that role for you.
January 20, 2011 § 5 Comments
Earlier this week, Alabama’s governor-elect Robert Bentley made a true political gaffe. During his inaugural speech, he entirely alienated his non-Christian constituents when he made this little statement:
“There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit,” Bentley said. ”But if you have been adopted in God’s family like I have, and like you have if you’re a Christian and if you’re saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.”
Bentley added, ”Now I will have to say that, if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.”
Later, on Wednesday, governor-elect Bentley apologized for his faux pas:
“What I would like to do is apologize. Should anyone who heard those words and felt disenfranchised, I want to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ If you’re not a person who can say you are sorry, you’re not a very good leader,” Bentley said.
When I woke up and listened to the radio station today, the morning show host said that Bentley issued a statement saying that he didn’t mean what he said when he made his remarks on Monday afternoon. My ears perked up–why, not meaning what we say? That’s an issue I take great…issue…with! So, I went about my normal daily routine, turning this topic over and over, promising myself that I would blog about it as soon as I got home and could do so (and as soon as I added pages to my dissertation chapter I’m working on). It’s now 10:25 p.m., I’m finally sitting down to write my blog, and when I start digging around for quotes on “not meaning what he said,” I discover that my radio announcer made himself a little mistake. Turns out that the governor-elect actually did apologize for his words and did not offer just a lame little excuse for his miscommunication. Shame on you, radio, shame on you. Lamenting my blog post turned moot, I complained to Robert at 10:20 p.m. that I had a post left to write and no topic left to write on. Of course, I married a genius, because Robert said, “Well, no! You actually do have a topic. You can still write about how that phrase is used instead of an apology since the guy on the radio made that statement.”
So, the blog post is back on, folks!
Here’s my question: when apologizing for a wrongdoing, a miscommunication, poorly chosen words, have we gotten to the point where we apologize by mere back-peddling? And are we apologizees (those recipients of the apology, of course) okay with this method of apologizing?
And here’s my answer: yes and sometimes.
When someone misspeaks and ultimately hurts someone else’s feelings, the typical response is, “I didn’t mean it like that. You misunderstood me. Don’t take it like that.” It just reminds me of, “No offense, but….” What? No offense, but you’re about to insult me? You didn’t mean what you just said, so we’re all cool now?
Sorry, but this chicky would much prefer those who are extending an apology to actually extend the freaking apology.
“I didn’t mean it that way” suggests, to me, two things:
1. I am a dirty liar and words come out of my mouth in the form of lies. So, when I called you a bitch (for instance), I was lying because I don’t actually think you’re a bitch.
2. I am a dirty liar and a damn coward. So, when I called you a bitch (for instance), I was telling the truth but now I’m lying by telling you that I didn’t mean it in the first place. Truth is, I meant it, I just don’t like that it pissed you off and I don’t want to deal with the consequences of my behavior.
I was raised in the House of Saying What You Intend To Say The First Time.
“I hate you!” was a phrase I savored in my mouth; the way it rolled around on my tongue and burst out of my mouth to the utter shock of my sister (for instance) was startling to me and a little bit exhilarating. I had the power of words! I could say things that would have an immediate impact on someone else’s feelings. I wielded big linguistic weapons.
That high didn’t last for long.
“Amanda,” my mother or father would intone with as much warning of imminent danger dripping from their own words as they could manage. I shivered. My parents also had power. They also could affect an immediate reaction in me by simply stating my name. I hated my name. But, man, it was mighty strong in the mouths of my parents. “You apologize to your sister right now. Words have meaning, you know. If you say you hate someone, you are saying that you wish they were never born. Do you wish your sister would drop dead right this second?” The mere image brought tears to my eyes. “No…” I would sob pitifully. “Then apologize,” they demanded. There was no question about the word choice.
If I said, “I didn’t mean it. You took it the wrong way,” then I was sure to get another talking to. And, sure enough, just as though I were hard-wired for it (which I’m pretty sure I am), I said, “I didn’t mean it that way.”
“What other way could you have meant it,” my father asked.
Well, now, that’s a great question, Dad. I guess I meant it in the “please don’t punish me for screaming at my little sister because she was breathing my air” way.
Yeah, not good enough.
With my parents’ help and guidance, I eventually learned to choose my words carefully and to apologize with even greater care. “Words are like bullets,” my grandmother used to tell me, “once they’re out of your mouth, you can never take them back.” So true. Words, she was explaining in just the right kind of shocking simile, can never be un-said. You can’t just wave the air and wipe them away. “I didn’t mean it that way” doesn’t make a lick of sense to someone like me. If you didn’t mean it, then why on Earth would you say something like that?
Why does it not make for a good apology, then? Well, simple. It redirects the blame back onto the victim. Take my second example, where I blasted my sister with the horrible “I hate you” phrase…for which I have apologized many times (and, just for good measure: I’m really sorry I ever said that to you, Lauren. I love you and am so glad we’re close). When I said, “I didn’t mean it like that,” I am essentially telling her, “You are wrong about the way you interpreted and feel about my words. It’s your fault that you feel so shitty because you obviously didn’t get my meaning.” How many you’s are in that sentence? I count at least five you’s to two my’s. Sounds pretty one-sided to me.
Making a real apology, however, the kind that really hurts to make…those are the only ones that I take seriously and that I even accept. I have been known to actively not accept a fake apology of “I didn’t mean it.” If you didn’t mean it, you wouldn’t have said it. Or are you a dirty liar? Either way, I’m not accepting until you come back with something better.
I am appalled by the language of governor-elect Bentley–he should not have said it, but the fact of the matter is that he did say it. Rather than say what the radio misquoted (that he didn’t mean it…or also as bad, he shouldn’t have said it), Bentley actually said, “I apologize.” It hurts to say “I apologize.” I still struggle with it. We were raised not to say “I’m sorry” because it implies that one is in a sorry state…as in an impoverished state. So, my parents raised us to say “I apologize.” But I still have trouble with it…so I still say “I’m sorry,” especially when I really mean it because saying “I apologize” is too painful. I’ll grow up eventually, I’m sure…it’s something I’m working toward. But I respect Bentley for being man enough to say those two words and for not taking the easy way out of it.
“I didn’t mean it that way” or even “I shouldn’t have said that”…those are such lame non-apologies. I would recommend all apologizees (those receiving the apology, remember) to hold the apologizers in our lives accountable for their words. Force them to own up to what they say. If they hurt you, let them know it and make them take responsibility for the hurt. On the flip side, if you hurt someone, take responsibility. Be a grown-up and actually apologize for the hurt. Don’t say, “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” No “if” necessary–if you actually hurt someone, you probably already know. “I’m sorry that I hurt you” is a good start, followed by, “I was wrong to speak out of anger. I hope you can forgive me.” Simple as that. No excuses necessary.
What say ye, Interwebs? Shall we make this a movement, or is ol’ A.Hab. chasing after a…well, you know?