The end…always the end…

August 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

Excuse me while I go a little…melancholy? I’ve got Gotye stuck in my head for some reason. Melanie went to bed a few hours ago. Robert, a couple of hours ago. And me? Well, I have insomnia. I received my final comments for my conclusion, and I thought I would work on them while I struggled to find sleep. And instead? Hello, WordPress.

There’s this folder in my hard drive. And it is called “Graduate School.”

In this folder is another folder labeled PhD, and in PhD (among all sorts of other things) is a folder labeled “Dissertation–hard drive.”

I go through phases, opening and closing all the folders you see in this image. Opening and closing all the files within those folders. Each chapter in its fourth (and final?) draft, excepting the conclusion…of course. Sigh.

I look at these icons, these reminders of a program I can’t seem to shake, and I feel. I feel so many things that I stay awake at night, feeling. It’s annoying. I sound like a hormonal high schooler. (And I should know…I was one once…half a lifetime ago. And that’s no exaggeration.)

I am so eager never to open those folders again, never to stare down “Socio-Religious Commentaries–full draft 4” or “Shakespeare Chapter–full draft 4,” dreading what I might find when I open them. Will it be as bad as I remember? Will I want to move forward, knowing that in the year since I last looked at those files my ideas have morphed and shifted in such stunning ways that I can’t even remember my central argument anymore?

There is another folder on my computer. One labeled “Melanie Lynn.” It contains the hundreds (nigh-on thousands) of photos I have taken of her since February 16th. This is the folder I instinctively open when I open my laptop–this is the one I could get lost in for hours.

I resent the one labeled “Graduate School.” It gets in the way of “Melanie Lynn.” Why isn’t “Graduate School” a distant, if it can’t be a fond, memory? I feel like a junkie hooked on a habit she desperately wants to kick…but depends on. When I think about no longer opening “Graduate School,” no longer needing to, my mind goes blank. What will that be like? Will I miss it? Will I forget that folder existed? Will I feel the urge to drag it to the trash bin, do away with it in one fell swoop?

No…I’m not that dramatic. There’s a spark of ego in me yet. There’s a bit of pride in all those drafts, all that work, all that quantifiable effort.

I’ve said it before, so believe what you’d like, but I think this is the semester. In a few months’ time, I may never open “Graduate School” again.

…never say never, though, right?

From the Other Side of the Desk: r-e-s-p-e-c-t and today’s entitled teen

September 28, 2011 § 7 Comments

After a few months off from teaching, it is time to re-open “From the Other Side of the Desk.” So far, this semester has been fairly routine and uneventful, which isn’t saying much considering school only started a month ago.

Until Monday morning.

I made my glorious return to this classroom after a week of wallowing in strep-throated misery. Despite my lingering cough and painful throat after speaking for longer than three minute stretches, I determined that it was my turn to teach my own class. Robert needed relief after substituting for me.

Having no expectations upon my return, I entered the classroom just generally happy to see that my students were chattering away. Of course, they were disappointed to see me. (You get used to that sort of response when you’re a teacher. Students are always hoping to find that class has been canceled forever. The presence of a teacher is cause for disillusioned depression. Apparently.) I smiled anyway, ignoring their groans and whines, making a point to lay it on thick just how much better I felt, thanks so much for asking.

Halfway through an admittedly boring lecture where we revisited the Writing Process, I noticed two students in the back stage right corner were sleeping away. I asked their classmates directly in front of them to poke them. One of them raised his head with a start and announced a little too loudly, “I wasn’t sleeping!” I smiled and said, “That may be, but I want to see your pretty face.” He proceeded to scowl his way through the remaining thirty minutes of class. All the way through the Effect/Affect lesson, through the grammar quiz, and finally through the assignment of their second essay (due one week from today–I’m not a fan of our deadlines, but it’s the way it works here). It wasn’t until the end of the grammar quiz that this specific sour-puss student affected my mood (and would, actually, have an effect on my mood for the following 48 hours). When it was near time for the quiz to wrap up, I announced, “Go ahead and take a couple more minutes to finish where you are.” Most of my students were staring at me in utter boredom, willing me to end class early because they had finished their quizzes early. I smiled and ignored them.

A few minutes later, I called time and told the students to make sure their names were on the top, and to pass the quizzes forward. Standard procedure. This is not our first quiz. This is not our first in-class assignment. This is fairly normal. I walked to the corner of the room where Pupil Scowlington was still writing feverishly. I told him to put his pen down and turn in the quiz.

“I didn’t know it was timed!” he protested.

I smiled in that way my mom used to smile when I would claim that my hand hit my sister, not me. It was a humorless smile. Meant to humiliate, mock, and ridicule. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. “Student,” I said, “of course the quiz was timed. We have a finite amount of time to be here. And we have more ground to cover before the end of class. Hand it forward now.”

He begrudgingly complied.

As I walked away to collect the rest of the essays, he huffed after me, “Next time, you need to tell us if a quiz is going to be timed.”

With my back to him and my humorless smile plastered on my face, I replied, “I appreciate your attitude. However, it is entirely inappropriate.” And that was that.

Except, my heart rate and blood pressure didn’t believe “that was that.” For the remainder of the class (the last ten or so minutes), as I assigned the second essay, I could feel myself shaking. I hid my hands behind my podium. As I recited what was already printed off on the handout, thousands of retorts that I wished I could have said galloped through my mind. Some of them were less kind and less patient than the one I said aloud.

I awoke this morning, two days later, angry, frustrated, and dreading this class. We’ll be discussing the subject of plagiarism in an hour, and I frankly have no interest in speaking to these people today. (Oh, just because I’m zeroing in on one student, do not believe that the rest of my class is innocent–he may have been the spokesman, but the rest of them agreed and made sounds to that point. They had also already said plenty in regards to when they should expect their first paper grades.) A part of me hopes this outspoken student has the gall to say something else to me today. I would love to dress him down and make sure he understands the inappropriateness of the way he expressed his opinions. I’m practically itching to be able to say the words, “Student, you will stay after class today so that we can have a little chat.”

Here’s the issue, friends.

1. My classroom is run as a benevolent dictatorship, not as a democracy.
Know who gets to determine how things are run? Me. Know who determines how long quizzes will take? Me. Know who decides whether or not to turn in papers by a particular deadline? That’s right. ME. I take into consideration very little about what my students think a composition class should look like. They have no idea what a college-level composition class is; I have been teaching this class since 2004. I’d say I’m an expert compared to them. If I left it up to them, we’d stare at each other for 75 minutes. Composition would see nary a word scribbled onto a scrap of paper. And how do I know this for certain? From experience. In my first couple of years teaching, I tried to run my class like a democracy, weighing their opinions equally with mine. It was a disaster and left me even less respected than I am now.

2. Students are entitled to nothing more than a desk and chair in my classroom.
Because colleges and universities are businesses first and institutions of learning second, students take it upon themselves to wear the mantle of Customer. They believe they are paying for a service, like paying the city for weekly waste pick-up. If my garbage collectors fail to take my garbage one week, I am entitled to some anger and indignation, not to mention some sort of restitution (preferably in the form of sending the truck back out). However, I am not in the service industry. I am not a waitress. Or a sales associate. Or a trash collector. I am a professional. In lieu of a teaching certificate, I have two degrees and will soon have a third. In any other profession, this alone should demand some respect. It seems, to my experience anyway, that the number of degrees, the number of years of expertise, have very little to do with how a student will respect or disrespect a teacher. Respect for the average student hinges almost entirely on evaluation, which brings me to the next point.

3. Grades are not to be the determining factor when respecting a teacher.
So much is tied to those ridiculous evaluative techniques that are drilled into us through years of teacher training. I personally despise the process of grading because of the visceral response I have while doing it. I have had so many aggressive confrontations in the past seven years that the very thought of grading causes my stomach to clench up, my blood pressure to rise. Despite the number of times I remind my students that grades are not up for negotiation, they still feel entitled to try to argue for that A. Because they paid for it. (See point 2.) I am not exaggerating. Each semester, I have no fewer than two students who will make the point that they have paid an exorbitant tuition (I agree with them on this point) and therefore should get an A. The students who rightfully earn A’s tend to be much more respectful toward me, while those who earn grades they don’t like are disrespectful and moody.

I don’t know what the cause of this resolute disrespect and entitlement is–college professors are fond of blaming our secondary-education peers who are fond of blaming parents and arbitrary standards set by ridiculous laws. But I have spoken to a number of high school teachers and parents, and I do not get the clear impression that either sect is responsible. I have heard from both sides that they do not tolerate disrespect, that they take an active role in the education of their students, that their students are taught to accept the grade they earned (because grades are never given, my friends). Because I have trouble locating the source of my students’ disrespect, I am left examining the common denominator in every confrontation.

What have I done as an educator to indicate that I should not be taken seriously?
What is wrong with my teaching methods that my students would not accept their grades willingly?
What is wrong with my classroom management that my students believe they have a say in how things are run?
Where did I go wrong?

I’ll tell you, friends, that I do not have the answer to a single one of those questions.

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?

Hell no!

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?)

Unexcused absence

June 6, 2011 § 4 Comments

Well, my faithful daily readers, you must have noticed a dearth in updates Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. There’s a reason:

I purposefully took three unexcused absences from my blog this weekend.

After a whirlwind week of intense proofing, editing, and revising, Robert and I went to my parents’ home to celebrate his real birthday (today! :D). At first, I had every intention of blogging those days. “The people will want to know my thoughts, surely,” I convinced myself on the two-and-a-half-hour drive on Friday afternoon. But after we settled in, I pulled out my laptop to finish making those last-minute revisions that I had previously run out of time to do (there’s a reason, but I can’t go into it right now–maybe later). I also e-mailed copies to my committee members of the introduction, chapter one, and chapter two. This week will be devoted to drafting chapter four and starting revisions on chapter three. For some reason, I feel like I’m way behind. Anyway. Just as I was hitting “send” on the e-mail to my committee, my mom and dad made it home (the former from work, the latter from a haircut). After that moment, I just wanted to be back in my parents’ home, relaxing and with as few responsibilities as possible.

So, I played blog hookie.

I figured you’d understand.

I accepted the Post-a-Day challenge because I wanted to make sure that I was composing something every single day. And I will still live up to that. As of now, I am four days down from being able to say that I wrote every single day of the year. But, to be perfectly honest, there have been (and surely will be in the future) days when I wrote multiple entries so that I could take a couple of days off; I merely set those posts to automatically publish on particular days. Even though my blog appeared to be participating in the Post-a-Day challenge (there was a post for each day, you know), I myself was still writing when I felt like it and not writing when I didn’t feel like it.

I am not giving up on this project, however. It has served a purpose and keeps me motivated.

I will still claim that I am a member of the Post-a-Day challenge, and I will not feel even one single trace of Catholic guilt over that.

In the meantime, you, my faithful readers, may be in for a load of boring posts. Life is about to go into hyperdrive for ol’ A.Hab. as she races toward graduate school deadlines in order to graduate on August 6th. If you don’t want to read boring posts, you have two options. The first, of course, is not to read them. 😉 The second, and certainly my preferred option if I were given a preference in the matter, is that you will consider making a post request at “Help A.Hab. Win the Post-A-Day Challenge!” Think of me as improv funny man Ryan Stiles and yourselves as the Whose Line audience. Shout out the scene you’d like to see A.Hab. perform for you, and she will do her best to delight! 🙂

In the meantime: let’s all wish Robert a super-duper HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!

Revisions: In Memoriam

May 30, 2011 § 8 Comments

On this Memorial Day, I am not sitting by the lake eating a hot dog. Nor am I throwing a frisbee around in the park with my dogs. Nor am I swimming off the coast of a white sandy beach.

No, my friends, on this Memorial Day, I am ensconced in my home office, work work working. I’m not looking for sympathy, really. It’s okay. I’ve observed the “holiday” in my own way. (It’s always bothered me that Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day are referred to as “holidays.” These are not exactly happy occasions. Not to my mind anyway.) I have shed a few tears to some rather poignant Memorial Day commercials, and I perused the ads for some great sales I wish I could indulge on, and I did spend my lunch stuffing my eye sockets with Bravo TV.

But mostly, I’ve spent my day paying tribute to the paragraphs, style choices, and quotes that just didn’t quite make the cut. Maybe they failed to make my point. Maybe they distracted from my goal. Maybe they only afforded me the opportunity to sound like a moron. Whatever the reason for their inadequacy, over the past couple of days, those instances have been meticulously excised from chapter drafts.

So, here’s to you, Personification: instead of using the word “I” and wearing my Big Girl Panties to argue with a critic, I relied upon you, Personification, to do the heavy lifting for me. Well, no more. No more shall I say “my dissertation argues that” and “the point argues against his thesis.” You are hereby banished.

Here’s to you, “Qtd. In”: only a marker for laziness, you lured me with the sweet promise that you would sufficiently cover my ass, and you tempted me away from doing my own research for myself. You are a seductress and a siren. But now I am a Greek soldier. Sing all you want, for I have stuffed cotton into my ears. I will forevermore rely on the original text itself.

Here’s to you, Generalization: when I was ashamed of my lack of knowledge, you whispered in my ear, “just say ‘most’ instead.” Little did either of us know, Generalization, employing the word “most” merely begs the questions “who” and “which.” Much like your twin sister “Qtd. In,” you reassured me that I would not need to do additional research. You have likewise been banished from the text. Most of the time.

Here’s to you, Lexical Errors: you shrink away from my eagle eye when I edit, convincing me with your pound puppy whimpers, “but I know what you meant to say….” Allow me to correct your shy attempt at misapprehension: meaning to say and saying are two very different ideas. I will find you, no matter where you hide. And I will eradicate you with proper sentence structure and concision, in spite of your pitiful pouting.

Hand me my screwdriver. I’m in the business of tightening this project.

Battling the I Don’t Wanna’s, part two: giving in

May 28, 2011 § 9 Comments

Yesterday, I lowered my sword Steel Will, fatigued and drained. I stared up at the Dragon “I Would But” and croaked, “You win.” I fell to my knees, too exhausted to hold up my own body. “I Would But” spewed black bile of guilt, shame, and humiliation over my head, drenching me until I became invisible.

I met V at our coffee shop for our weekly debriefing meetings. In these meetings, we give each other progress reports, offer support and encouragement when it’s needed (and wag our fingers on occasion). Twice while we talked, I felt close to tears. But we were in public, and I had to gain some control over myself. Today, I don’t remember what brought me to tears. It could only have been utter emotional exhaustion.

V left to meet a friend for lunch, and I called Robert. “I don’t think I can do it today, honey,” I murmured over the phone. The shame I felt giving in overpowered my ability to speak at a normal volume. With nary a negative word, Robert agreed. “You have to listen to your body, Amanda,” he consoled me. I went home to my husband and ate lunch. We went to the movies (Hangover 2, which is a must see if you enjoyed the first). We had dinner and caught up on our TiVo recordings. I forgot to write a post.

I rested.

Today I will dig my way through the mire of guilt and humiliation. I will draw up Steel Will once more and climb to my feet. I will engage the idle Dragon in battle. And I will win.

What approval means to an approval-seeking people-pleaser

May 20, 2011 § 3 Comments

I thrive on being patted on the head. As someone who pats her own back so infrequently and rarely without a derisive back-handed remark, I practically need approval from others in order to breathe.

This began when I was told in kindergarten that I had behaved well enough to earn the prestigious privilege of first-choice when picking my sleeping mat for nap time. “Amanda,” I remember Ms. B saying so sweetly, “I have been very impressed with your good behavior. Today, you get to pick the first sleeping mat.” I popped out of my seat as fast as I could and practically raced the sorry chumps who were much worse behaved than I. Grabbing the most desirable mat (the one that was still a little bit fluffy and had fewer rips), I taunted the rest of the class with my trophy. I was a better student, a better example, a more-favoritest-favorite.

And now I’m 29 years old. And today, folks, today was an “Amanda gets the first mat” kind of day.

I met with my dissertation director this morning, and we discussed the three latest chapters I’ve given her. She said a few times throughout our two-hour meeting that she thought the writing was working, that I was really on track, and that she was impressed with the rate at which I was producing.

I am glowing, my friends! 🙂 Literally glowing. I have been all day long!

Approval from my director means approval from someone whose opinion I hold in extremely high regard. Approval from her means that I have pleased one of the most important people in my life. Approval from her means that it’s okay to give myself approval.

I do know this is backwards…but I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who seeks self-approval from the approval of others.

Today has been a wonderful day. I am making progress; she’s noticing; we’re both happy with the shape the project is taking.

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