T: Amazing Husband ST: Three-year-old Wonder Prof. G: Advisor I Prof. C: Advisor II Julie: Stylish Sister Rob: Awesome Brother Belle: Our Cat Bill: Grumbling BIL Rita: Uncomplicated SIL SMU: Smallish Midwestern University Doctoral University: where I got my Ph.D.
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Quote of the Day
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Me, Busy Bee
I'm having a "get stuff done" day, one of those days where I cannot let a loose end remain loose. I don't have very many of these days, unfortunately -- I'm a world-class procrastinator, and so I have to suck the marrow out of "get stuff done" days when they come around. Here's what I've been working on today:
Finished boring section of writing -- only the fun part remains! This is the day's largest achievement, as it means the really complicated arguments are behind me. I'm sure I'll have to go back and revise the boring and complicated (and long) section, but for now, I'm leaving it as is. I can easily work with what I have.
Did three loads of laundry early this morning (before 9:00am) -- washed, dried, folded, and put away. This was kind of fun for me; I'm one of those sick people who actually enjoys doing laundry, which is good for this family since we have so much of it.
Figured out (with T) the terms of our counter-offer on the house. While we really want this family to buy the house, we don't really like the contingencies in their offer. I think we've come up with a clever compromise that allows both families (ours and theirs) a degree of security about this sale. We'll see what happens. I'm impatient, but I know that deals like this take time, especially when there's another house (theirs) to sell.
Finished glazing the Oatmeal Apple Crumble Bars I made last night for my sister's arrival tomorrow. These bars, which are from the More From Magnolia cookbook I bought months ago, are like portable apple pies -- absolutely fantastic, and so easy to make. I made them especially for Julie, since apple pie is one of her favorite desserts.
Made a list of things to accomplish tonight in preparation for Julie's visit (she's coming with her boyfriend, who we'll meet for the first time) and for ST's birthday party this Saturday. All I really have to do is wipe-down the guest bathroom and then the house is ready (since my house is technically "for sale," it's always squeaky clean these days!). We bought ST's birthday present last night, a 16" child's bike* from Target, and since the party has a Curious George theme, T found the book Curious George Rides a Bike for him.
What's left to do tonight:
Ironing, a task I really don't mind most days. I dont' have that much to do, since I've been keeping on top of it lately. (I used to let it build up until I had 20 of T's dress shirts to iron at a time... not fun.)
Finish a large chunk of the "fun" section of this Chapter, so I can be in good shape to finish it tomorrow (or come pretty doggone close). I wanted to finish it earlier this week, but I knew it wasn't going to happen. Oh well. It will all come together, sooner or later.
Make notes about my concluding chapter. I really, really, really, really hate writing conclusions, and because of that I'm bad at writing them. My dream is to write a conclusion like this: "In conclusion, sometimes my hypotheses were correct and sometimes they weren't. For details, see Chapters 1-7." Since I know that, aside from Profs. C and G, the other members of my committee probably won't pay too much attention to my case study chapters, I know that this conclusion is important and has to be good. Grr.
And it's already after 3:00pm here, so I'd best keep tying up the other loose ends in my day. After all, who knows when the "get stuff done" day actually comes to an end?
* That seems so large to me, but ST is already 41" tall and the 12" bikes are only recommended for kids up to 38" tall. I hope he can ride the bike we bought; the 12" bikes really looked too short for him.
1.) Find a realtor. 2.) Decide on asking price and commission. 3.) Put sign in yard. 4.) Have open house(s). Have strangers tromp through your house. 5.) Wait. 6.) Wait. 7.) Wait. 8.) Receive offer. 9.) Decide if it's good; counter-offer if necessary. 10.) Accept offer. 11.) Close the deal and move.
How to sell your house, Prof. Me and T. style:
1.) Decide on asking price by doing a little research. 2.) Casually mention to neighbor that house will be for sale. 3.) Show house to neighbor on a whim. 4.) Neighbor makes offer because house is so incredibly cute.
The Prof. Me and T Style of house-selling is as of tonight only perfected through Step Four. I imagine Steps 5-7 will mirror Steps 9-11 in the "normal" way.
So, we have an offer on our house*, and what's more, the offer is from an adorable family we like very much. If we decide to accept their offer (we're probably going to counter-offer, as we'd like to get a bit closer to our full asking price; we're not far off, though), we will close in August. I cannot tell you how good I will feel if we end up selling our beloved house to this family -- as I've mentioned before, we are very attached to this place and want to sell it to someone who will love it as much as we do. I am sure this family would take excellent care of the place; indeed, it seems perfect for them.
I never imagined that we'd sell this place without so much as putting a "For Sale" sign in our yard! It's amazing how, no matter how much worrying I do about things, the pieces eventually start falling into place in the craziest of ways.
* Kudos to my friend ABDmom for guessing my "something cool to report" correctly!
I am seriously lacking in creativity these days; yesterday I could not think of anything interesting to blog about, and today's not looking much better. For your reading (dis)pleasure, random thoughts:
1.) Had nice meetings with both of my advisors today. They're happy with the state of the dissertation and happy with my plans for finishing. No major issues. I feel good about it.
2.) Saw two friends in the hallway on campus today, and both of them are defending in May. Both of them also have Prof. C. as an advisor, and they met with him before I did this morning. When I asked Prof. C. about the length of my dissertation, he told me that mine was probably the longest of all the dissertations to be completed this year. One of my friends has a dissertation less than 100 pages, which Prof. C. is quite concerned about. He said that the trend in the discipline (or in his subfield, at least) has been toward shorter dissertations (i.e., less than 150 pages). I wonder why that is? Mine will probably be about 160-175 pages when I'm done, including acknowledgements, references, and the table of contents. For the department, the length of my dissertation is slightly above average. I guess one year someone wrote a 900 page dissertation; he never defended it, though (probably couldn't remember what it was about!).
3.) I had lunch with Kurt today to go over some translation issues for this chapter I'm working on. To my delight, I discovered that I'd translated everything nearly perfectly; only one section needed tidying. Hurray for me.
4.) T came home from last night from visiting his grandparents and I am so glad. I love being with ST and we had a lot of fun while T was gone (he left last Wednesday), but I forget how exhausting it is being a single parent, even for a short time. I thought again to November, when T did the single parent thing for a whole month while I was in Europe without complaint -- what an awesome guy I married. Hurray for me again.
5.) As I was rereading the comments from my advisors on my draft chapters this afternoon, I came across the word "inexorable" (e.g., "Do you think [process I'm studying] is inexorable?"). I have looked that word up hundreds of times, and I still cannot remember what it means. There are a few words like that in my life; it's annoying.
6.) Since tomorrow is Wednesday, ST and I will be together all day and I can't wait. We're going to meet Brigitte (Kurt's wife) and Hans (Kurt's almost-three-year old son) so that Brigitte can teach me how to make real Kaiserschmarrn. It's a simple recipe for a delightful pancake-like dish doused in applesauce and powdered sugar, but mine never tastes quite right. Maybe it's one of those dishes that are best when someone makes it for you. When I lived in Austria, I had Kaiserschmarrn once or twice a week. I could have eaten it everyday, though. It's that good.
7.) If all goes well, I might have something cool to report in the next few evenings. How's that for mystery?
8.) Now, I'm going grocery shopping and then I'm off to pick up ST. Exciting times...
I am finally, after much lamenting, back on track with this chapter. I didn't have a chance to work on it much this weekend since T is out of town and I was an (exhausted!) single parent, but I nonetheless made some progress and am feeling better about it. Before I fall asleep (which I may do in the middle of this entry), I thought I'd quickly write about why this chapter has been so horrible. For my own personal writing method, how can I avoid a train wreck like Chapter Six in the future?
1.) Don't begin a chapter by first relying on a pre-existing version of the chapter, thinking "I'll just plug in additional details and do some revising and, voila!, the chapter will be done in no time!" This was truly the kiss of death, and I should have realized it a long time ago. This chapter existed in a very juvenile form as a conference paper, a paper I wrote before I had even thought-out the theoretical section of the dissertation. I kept trying to re-work about 12 pages of existing conference paper text, pulling passages out and trying to remember why I wrote what I did and how the sources fit together. But the fact of the matter is that I know so much more about this case and the entire topic now that the vast majority of what I wrote in the conference paper draft is no longer valid or no longer makes sense to me. In fact, I discovered a huge, glaring error in the conference paper draft (an error so specific to the case, however, that no one else would have noticed) that, had I not corrected it in this new chapter, would have led me to incorrectly evaluate a part of one of my hypotheses. The correction, now fully executed in the chapter after a lot of painstaking attention to boring details, makes me "more right" hypothesis-wise than I would have been if I had relied only on the conference paper draft.
2.) Don't believe that you "already know" how the chapter will look because you have a "working draft." This ties in with what I wrote above. Because I thought I knew exactly how this case worked in my dissertation, I tended to push it off, to take it less seriously. I felt, in a way, that the "hard" work was already done. I was really wrong here. The hard work had only just begun, and every time I felt myself getting in deeper and deeper, the more discouraged I became. I kept thinking, "Gosh, I've already done this for a conference paper, so why is this so hard to write as a chapter?" In reality, the conference paper case study draft is nothing like what I wanted to accomplish in the chapter. The conference paper "working draft" did not work at all.
3.) Don't be afraid to ask for serious help. Each of my case studies requires me to learn an entire new body of rules in which I have no background. (Hard to explain without revealing too much!) For the most part, I can figure things out because I know just enough to get me through a case and into the aspects of it that interest me most for the dissertation. But Chapter Six presented (and is still presenting) a unique challenge in that it involves a complicated mess I could not, despite translating every word in the documents I'm working with, unravel. This weekend, I sought not only help with the language (my friend Kurt), but also the help of a specialist in the topic of the case. Once I did that, I could more easily work through the "nasty" section of the chapter that has been holding my progress hostage for days. I am now almost finished writing it, and it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought. Knowing what's going on really helps. (That's one thing I'll really miss about being at Doctoral University: ready access to experts in a variety of topics. When I begin my job at Smallish Midwestern University, that expertise will be over 100 miles away.)
4.) Don't be afraid of writing something because it's really hard. This chapter has been so difficult to get motivated on precisely because the subject matter is so complex and the arguments so subtle. I really hated to think about it, and especially hated that I couldn't figure it out on my own. The chapter made me feel stupid, and no one likes that.
5.) Don't undertake a dissertation with such a huge foreign language component. Too late to correct this one, but I've learned my lesson. I remember, at my prospectus defense, one of my committee members saying, "Wow! Your German must be fantastic if you want to do this project!" I was so confident back then, assuring them that even though I knew it was going to be difficult, I could handle it and would relish the opportunity to further enhance my language ability. Hah! My German is good. I understand the bulk of what I read and hear, no problems. Most of my dissertation research, however, involves foreign language skills at the highest end of my ability, and sometimes just outside of it. Heck, most of my dissertation research involves lanuage skills at the highest end of Kurt's ability, and he's a native speaker. This makes for very frustrating days, although I must admit that although my vocabulary was good before, it's pretty awesome now (although specialized to a level that no native speaker would be interested in hearing what I had to say!).
So, it's progressing. It's been a long haul. I would like to say that my final case study will be easier than this one, but I doubt it. I know it will be significantly shorter, though (Prof. G. gets annoyed by chapters over 30 pages, and Chapter Six has already outgrown that), and that's a good feeling. God willing, tomorrow will be a good day for writing. That would make me happy as well as T, who always worries about me when I'm frustrated with a chapter. I'd love for him to walk in the door tomorrow after almost a week away from home and be able to tell him that the plague of our existence, Chapter Six, is on its way out.
Clean house. Clean sink, even. Laundry was done last night. Supper plans are ready, as are lunch plans for tomorrow. Pantry is stocked. Office is immaculate. Necessary research materials have been read and reread. Computer was defragmented and is running smoothly. Usual blogs have been read, some commented on. Weather is dreary. House is quiet and smells vaguely of last night's cupcakes.
I cannot write, despite the fact that my usual distractions have been eliminated. I HATE days like this, when I sit in front of my computer, research materials next to me, perfectly organized, and I still can't seem to eke out a paragraph. I think I've written 300 words today -- not good, when I NEED this chapter to be out of my hands by next Tuesday. It's 20 pages so far (after lots of tinkering and deleting), with many, many left to go.
I think part of the problem is that I know where this chapter is heading, and I feel like it's already written in my head. I also know that the next section I have to write is a big and complicated one, followed by a substantially easier and more interesting one. I think part of me is reluctant to start writing it because I know that once I start, I'll have a long slog until the end and that sounds completely horrible to me right now.
I always imagined when I reached this point in the dissertation, just one more case study after this and a conclusion away from finishing, that I'd want to race to the end. I imagined that once I could clearly see the finish line, I'd want to sprint to get there. Don't get me wrong: I want this over, and soon. But why am I holding myself back like this? Why have these past two days -- indeed, this entire week -- been so unproductive? Being sick can account for the first few days, and Wednesday I had ST all day, but I have no excuses for yesterday or today. This is pathetic.
Guess that means a long night after ST goes to bed. Of course, I said that last night and couldn't bear to face the computer then, either. I am praying for inspiration.
I am having a bad writing day. I've been sitting here for hours, diligently tapping on my keyboard, but everything I write sounds ridiculous and my translations have been clunky and inaccurate. I am deleting more than I'm keeping. I just can't seem to get into the "groove" of this chapter again today. I think I'll keep plugging away for another hour and then pack it up until tonight after ST goes to bed.
I think I'm feeling a little out of sorts because T is away. His grandmother is very, very sick -- she will not recover, and he figured he'd rather see her now than wait to attend the inevitable funeral. He flew south to visit her until Monday, which was a good thing for him to do. Not only will he be able to spend some much-needed quality time with his grandparents, but he'll also be in warm weather. I think T suffers from a touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder, where weather patterns influence his mood to a significant degree. Every year around this time, like clockwork, he gets into a funk that doesn't dissipate until the snow is gone for good -- he mopes around, is bored all the time, and eats a lot of junk and drinks soda (this from a marathon runner!). I'm hoping that he'll get a chance to go for a few nice walks with his grandfather while he's there -- it would be good for everyone to let a little sunshine in.
And I'm really missing ST today. I know he's only a block away, having a ball at daycare (actually, he's probably napping about now), but we had such a nice day together yesterday that I just wish he was here with me. We had a "date" last night since Dad was gone -- we went to dinner (french toast and chocolate milk for everyone!) and then lounged around at Barnes and Noble for a few hours. We bought James and the Giant Peach -- one of my favorite books from when I was a child -- and read a few chapters before bed. It was such a sweet time, made even sweeter by the fact that his new thing is to tell me how "cute" I am, which is hysterical. "You know what I think, Mom?" he'll ask, grinning. "I think you're really cute!"
Better get back to it. My goal today is at least five pages, and I know I can do it if I keep my mind on it and stop thinking about the cupcakes I promised ST we'd make tonight for him to bring to daycare tomorrow as a special treat. Doggone cupcakes.
Although she calls herself "New Kid," it's pretty clear to anyone who reads her posts that New Kid on the Hallway is an experienced academic with loads of great advice for us true "new kids." I don't read New Kid's blog every day -- I try to limit myself to reading 6-7 blogs each day, mostly from fellowABDs (or recent Ph.Ds!) -- and so when I do manage to read her site it is always filled with little treasures. Last night, as I cracked open my second box of Kleenex for the day, I happened upon this post, in which New Kid describes how she struggled through the dissertation process. The post is an invaluable source of advice, warnings, and inducements to write.
So much of what New Kid talks about in that post is or has been true for me at some point, although on a smaller scale ("smaller" in that I will have spent a year and a half on the dissertation when I am finished). When I think back to the times I've been the most productive dissertation-wise, they've always been those times when I've had other commitments, such as teaching in our campus writing center, teaching a course, or handling the administration for the largest course in our department. I am not a person who handles open blocks of time well -- I have always known this about myself. I like to have a lot of competing demands on my time and then try to squeeze everything in, juggling deadlines and projects with the ever-present fear that something is going to slip through the cracks. I like to be busy; the more I have to do, the more I get done.
This year, I've been on fellowship. The fellowship has been fantastic in that it has allowed me to do many things that would not have been as easy for me to do if I had a full teaching load or a research assistantship. I barrelled onto the job market, which took a lot of time both in the preparation of my applications, the fretting about call-backs, and the eventual campus visits. I was able to spend a month in Europe. Since I returned from Europe and accepted my job, however, it's been really difficult to get going again, to get back to the normal doldrums of dissertation-writing. It's been hard to come off the excitement of last fall and early winter. I think I'm "back" now, or have been since February, but there are still some days I feel like I'm just frittering away the time, getting nothing accomplished.
New Kid also writes about the importance of having those confrontations with advisors and colleagues even when you least feel like it, when you feel like you've not done anything of note. I totally agree with this, too. The times I've felt the worst about my project and about my writing have been when I was "overdue" for a "come to Jesus" meeting with my advisors, either via email or face-to-face. Although I haven't met with my advisors face-to-face in March, I have corresponded with them weekly via email and, as I've written about, they've sent me mountains of comments on my work. These comments, even if they're discouraging, keep me going. They keep me engaged. And without that sort of feedback, I'm sure I'd be dead in the water with this dissertation and nowhere close to being done. (I still feel like I'm nowhere close to being done, but the light at the end of the tunnel that used to be the size of a pinprick is now at least the size of a saucer.)
Finally, I completely agree again with New Kid's advice about not lying to yourself. Don't do nothing today and console yourself by saying that you'll write double the amount tomorrow. You won't do it, and then you'll feel worse as the week progresses. I have done this -- had one non-productive day and then promised myself that I'd write 15 pages the next day. It never happens, and then I'm disappointed. Once I started keeping myself on a schedule, I started making better progress. Once I figured out that if I said, "Well, I'll work on Chapter X today and see where I get," I was doomed, but if I said, "I'll finish Section XX of Chapter X today" I was successful, this process became more bearable. I don't always stick to my schedule. I'm off of it already with this case study, because the language element has really thrown me for a loop. But the important thing for me is that I am making continual progress, a little each day, and that feels good. Although I'm a little "behind" schedule, at least I have a schedule to be behind on, which is important to me.
After I read New Kid's post last night at around 10:00pm, I vowed to stay awake until I finished the nasty section on Chapter Six that's been bothering me for a few days now. And I did it. I wrote five more pages last night before 1:00am, five good pages that I won't simply delete later today. When I did go to bed (only to be pulled out of bed again by ST, who wet his bed for the first time since he's been diaper-free at night), my mind was clear. I didn't sleep well due to my incessant coughing, but at least I wasn't kept awake by thoughts of my own shortcomings.
Now I am off to put some finishing touches on the house and grab ST's sheets and mattress pad out of the dryer so I can make his bed. We're showing our house for the first time today, later this afternoon. After the showing and supper, it will be back to the dissertation to tackle another mound of documents.
I wasn't going to do this meme because I didn't think mine would be interesting, or at least not as interesting as hers. And it's not totally interesting, but it was fun to do anyway. I had iTunes up on my computer to get myself psyched for doing some work today despite my illness, and so I figured I'd give it a go. It's funny how the songs actually do seem to answer the questions sometimes!
You're supposed to set your music player of choice to "shuffle" and then answer the following questions:
How does the world see me? Ac-Cen-Tchu-Ate the Positive (Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters); good!
Will I have a happy life? Excuse Me, Mister (No Doubt); huh?
What do my friends think of me? Little Miss Can't Be Wrong (Spin Doctors); the actual first song that came up on shuffle was a classical piece by Ravel. I don't think classical music works too well for this meme. I found the Spin Doctors result pretty funny since that WAS my actual nickname at one point in my life.
Do people secretly lust after me? This Love (Maroon 5)
How can I make myself happy? Smooth (Santana and Rob Thomas); what the heck? Maybe make myself a smoothie?
What should I do with my life? Cool (Gwen Stefani); another hard-to-interpret result
Will I ever have children? Tomorrow We'll See (Sting); funny result!
What is some good advice for me? Wake Up (Alanis Morrissette); another one that originally came up with a classical piece (a Scottish dance by Malcolm Arnold), but "Wake up!" is good advice for today.
How will I be remembered? I've Got a Great Idea (Harry Connick, Jr.); awesome!
What is my signature dancing song? Manhattan (Stacey Kent); hmmm. I don't really dance, unless it's waltzing.
What do I think is my current theme song? The Best Is Yet To Come (Frank Sinatra); another good one!
What does everyone think my theme song is? Kind and Generous (Natalie Merchant); hurray for me.
What song will play at my funeral? Over the Rainbow (Jane Monheit); hey, this would be a great one!
What type of men do I like? Mysterious Ways (U2); interesting, and T is definitely mysterious sometimes.
What is my day going to be like? Upside Down (Jack Johnson, from the Curious George soundtrack); this song makes me smile, so I think it's a good one for the day. It's also ST's current favorite song.
ST: (shuffles in from his bedroom) Dad, this bear is making me mad. (Holds up large brown bear for T to examine.)
T: (barely awake) Well, put him in our closet, then.
ST: This bear said, "Grrrrrr! I'm going to eat you!" And then I told him that he was making me mad.
T: (annoyed) ST, just put the bear in the closet and go back to bed.
ST: I don't want to put the bear in the closet.
T: Then take him back to your room.
ST: No. I think we should give him to Goodwill or take him to the city dump.
Can you tell what we did all weekend long? Loads and loads of unused or unwanted items made their way to Goodwill on Saturday, and loads and loads of half-empty paint cans, old Venetian blinds, miscellaneous pieces of lumber and drywall, and cracked flowerpots found their way to the city dump. Our house is squeaky clean, to the point that there is no "junk drawer" anymore because we've tossed out all of the junk. It's a nice feeling, being free of clutter, pared down to the essentials. Our house feels huge.
The weekend was busy. Saturday was a cleaning day, and then Sunday was a sick day. ST recovered from his mini-illness by Friday afternoon, but then Saturday night I started to feel sick. I was in bed all day yesterday and am still feeling weak and feverish today. I think I have the flu, actually -- body aches, chills, fever, headache, tinge of sore throat, and a raspy cough. ST had a flu shot and I didn't, so maybe that's why I'm so sick and he's fine? Doggone it.
Back to regularly-scheduled academic blogging when I'm feeling up to regularly-scheduled academic work. That may or may not be today, depending on how fast this medicine kicks in.
I haven't had a lot of time to work on the dissertation lately because, as I mentioned earlier, ST's daycare is closed for Spring Break. Days with ST are full-on and I love having this "bonus" time to spend with him, even if it does put a kink into my dissertation schedule. We've had a great time together visiting friends, shopping, baking, pretending, and chatting. Today, however, we're taking it easy because ST woke up with a fever of almost 102 degrees and is currently napping, red-cheeked, in his sunny bedroom. We were supposed to go see Clifford the Big Red Dog at our local children's museum this afternoon and then attend a St. Patrick's Day parade (ST adores parades), but it doesn't look like either of those things are going to happen.
On the work front, I made a wise move this week and decided to call in some reinforcements. As you know, the massive foreign language component of this dissertation has, at times, been a major headache for me. Since 90% of the research for the case studies must be done in a foreign language, case study work progresses very slowly. I decided, at last, to call on my friend Kurt and his language expertise, and he has been a godsend. I've been dealing with some complex ideas, ideas that even Kurt has problems with and German is his native language, and these ideas have occasionally stymied my progress on this chapter. Kurt graciously offered to read some of the more complex and vital documents for me and then work through them with me. Heaven! I feel like a burden has been lifted from my brain.
I also picked up the hard copy of the comments from Prof. C. He printed out the dissertation and wrote all over it, generally very positive things that made my heart sing. (Instead of just a "good," I even got a "This is very good!" on the last page of my first case study! Hurray!) Prof. C. and I come from very different methodological viewpoints, and in his written comments he pointed to places where he thought his approach would be useful; indeed, he said that by including his approach (in addition to mine), I could make a "very significant contribution to the field." The thing is, I'm not sure how much time I'm willing to spend on changing a section of the dissertation to reflect his approach, although I have considered it before. I am, at best, a novice in the approach he suggests for Chapter Three -- I've taken a course on it, but I never felt like I truly understood it or how to do it, although I certainly understand why it is effective. I'm not confident in my ability to add this idea effectively, no matter what the impact on the "significance" of my contribution. But, depending on how the remaining case studies go, I may call in some reinforcements here, too, and see where adding this facet would take me.
But now, back to tending to my feverish little boy, who is stirring in his bedroom. It appears that, today, I have other significant contributions to make.
Yesterday, as I was preparing dinner in the kitchen:
ST: (from the corner of the living room): Mom! Mom! Mooooooom! Come in here and look at my cars.
Me: (concentrating on recipe and not really listening)
ST: Mooooooooom! Mooooooom! MOM!
ST marches into the kitchen and pulls on my shirt.
ST: Mom, you have to percomate when I'm calling you.
Me: Percomate? What's that?
Me: Yes, but what does it mean?
ST: It means you have to listen to me.
Me: OK, I'm percomating now. What do you need?
We proceed to the living room and have a chat about the lovely parking lot he's made under the coffee table. Evening proceeds as usual. Fast forward to around 8:00pm, when I am running water for ST's bath.
Me: (calling downstairs) ST! Come up here please! It's bathtime!
Me: (louder) ST! Come up here now. It's time for your bath.
I run downstairs and find him happily playing with his cars in the family room. I pick him up and start carrying him upstairs for his bath.
Me: (undressing ST) Why didn't you come when I called you?
ST: I don't want to take a bath.
Me: I understand that, but you still have to listen to me. I mean, you have percomate. Didn't you tell me that percomate meant "listen to me?"
ST: (authoritatively) No, Mom. Percomate means "listen to ME." (Points to himself.)
After a weekend of working on the house and playing with ST in the sunshine, it's time to get back to the dissertation. This morning I received, via email, comments on Chapters 1-5 from Prof. G., who has been my mentor from the day I stepped foot on the campus of Doctoral University during my campus visit in March 2000.
As I've mentioned before, Prof. G. is the founder and editor of a major journal in my discipline. Indeed, he's been editing journals of various stature for over 50 years now, and so it's fair to say that the editorial hat is never off. Because of this, drafts in the double digits are fully expected when one has Prof. G. as an advisor. I think I lost count of the drafts of my prospectus, but it was at least 12. This drives me batty, but it will not change, and I've simply accepted it.
Anyway, Prof. G.'s comments were extraordinarily useful, as always. He takes a lot of time with everything I send him, giving me two sets of comments: 1.) an overall assessment of whatever I've sent, pointing to strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and opportunities; and 2.) a full, line-by-line commentary in the text of my draft. This is great. Indeed, this is what many scholars, notably him, crave from their committees: real attention to the nitty gritty of the research and the way it's presented.
So, now I have two full sets of comments from my two dissertation advisors. Pages and pages and pages of comments and questions about my work. Challenges to my thinking. Revisions of my writing. Questions about the data. Suggestions for further refining the hypotheses. Comments on word choice. Comments even on the layout of tables and line graphs.
Suffice it to say, I am overwhelmed. As I continue to write on The Case Study With No End, at the back of my mind I am thinking about how to respond to all of these comments. As I mentioned in my last post, none of the comments are damning -- all of them point to things I should modify to make my dissertation an even stronger document. Both of my advisors like where the dissertation is going and how it's organized, but both have a slew of suggestions for enhancing it. At what point do the thoughtful comments stop being helpful to me? At what point should I say, "OK -- enough. Thanks for reading, but you're driving me nuts!" I find that, in contrast to Articulate Dad, I really wish I'd have a little silence from my committee so I could work in peace.
I just received an email from Prof. C, my second dissertation advisor and the more critical one.I adore Prof. C., but he’s the type of academic who can cut you down in a second (with a sweet smile) and you don’t realize it until you’re out the door, thinking, “Hey, what just happened back there?”He’s the type of academic you simultaneously dread and delight in seeing in the audience during a presentation you’re giving, because on the one hand you know he’ll give a lot of great feedback but on the other you know that a single negative comment from him can destroy your confidence in the quality and importance of your work for months.My dearest friend used to say that “Prof. C. can make you feel like crap, but he’ll do it in the nicest possible way.”
When I began writing this dissertation last year, I really didn’t know what I was doing.Sure, I had a prospectus that had been revised to death (courtesy of Prof. G.), but when it came to expanding that prospectus into actual chapters, I floundered.A lot.I drafted the first chapter and both Prof. G and Prof. C. liked it.I drafted the second chapter and they both hated it. I redrafted the second chapter and they still hated it.Finally, the third version of the second chapter (the literature review, for goodness’ sake!) passed muster and they were both happy.But then the wrangling over Chapter Three began – a total nightmare – and before I knew it, three months were gone.In June, before I started this blog, I really didn’t feel like this dissertation was ever going to get off the ground.Finally, however, Chapter Three took shape and both advisors liked what they were reading, I had direction, and I was able to take off, make progress on the job market, go to Europe, get the job, and set down to work again.
Throughout this long process, Prof. C. has been the one I feared the most, the one whose emails make me feel queasy before I even open them.Each time I read his comments on my work, I'm waiting for the axe to drop, the red light that will stop progress in its tracks and mark the demise of my confidence until at least 2008. Conversely, each time he says something nice -- even if it's just a scribbled "Good!" in the margin -- I am floating on air.
This morning I received an email from Prof. C. that said that he had read the five chapters I sent to him at the end of last month.His verdict:“Overall, this is in good shape.”I breathed a sigh of relief and my hands stopped shaking.Pages of comments followed (graduate students expect nothing less from Prof. C.), but they didn’t point to any major problems I cannot address in the long weeks ahead as I finish drafting a few chapters and revising old ones.I feel like now I have an official green light to continue, to press forward, and to finish.
Last night I was reading an article related to the case study I'm still plugging away at, the case study which promises now to be the largest in the dissertation (it keeps growing, and growing, and growing). In the article, the process I'm writing about in the dissertation was described as being "mechanically tied to numbers." That phrase has stuck with me overnight and into this morning, and I realize with some dismay that my life these days is kind of the same way: mechanically tied to numbers. I'm constantly calculating in my head, figuring out how to make things work out, determining how much time I have left. I cannot avoid it.
For example, I have a calendar posted on the bulletin board above my desk that shows the number of days I have left before I should have a completed draft of this dissertation to my advisors. There are deadlines to be met, goals for each day. Each night I ritualistically count down how many days I have left until the next deadline, looking with both dread and excitement at the last notation on the calendar that reads "Draft of entire dissertation to advisors." Tick, tick, tick.
I have another calendar on my computer that shows various deadlines for my new job at Smallish Midwestern University. I have to have my book orders in by late this month, syllabi drafted and sent off by late next month. Fortunately, I've already decided on my textbooks, after ordering a stack of now-rejects I can use for lecture preps. The syllabi are in various stages of completion, and it's now really a matter of adding supplemental readings from journals and other books. I'd like to start planning out the lectures sometime, too, so I don't feel so overwhelmed this summer, but (tick, tick) the dissertation still holds top priority.
Numbers are also at play as T searches for his next job. So far, we've found one suitable job opening for him in New Town. One. The job just came open this week and he sent off his cover letter and resume this morning. This process is frustrating because New Town is about an hour and a half from two major cities in Midwestern State, and T has found dozens of jobs to apply for in those cities. We're resisting looking at those jobs, however, because T wants to work in roughly the same community he lives in (and we know precisely where we want to live in New Town) -- it's something he doesn't have here, and it has always bothered him. T is a very outgoing, likeable, and charming person; he wants to establish contacts in his own neighborhood, rather than in a city 75 miles away.
Salary, of course, is also an issue. My salary is decent -- almost exactly what I was expecting to make in my first year as an assistant professor -- but it sure would be nice to know our full financial picture for this summer. My last fellowship payment is June 1, and my first paycheck at SMU doesn't arrive until October 1. Although we are savers (to a fault, sometimes) and could easily cover a few months if neither of us were bringing in a paycheck for a few months, it's not something we want to do. We're hoping that T can stop working here in late July and start in New Town in August or September.
The financial picture is also important as we think about where we're going to live. We'd love to buy a house we can stay in for a long time -- a house we'll raise our children in, the house that they'll associate with "home." If T has a job, we'll easily be able to do that. If he doesn't, we'll probably have to settle for something less for now and go through the whole moving, selling, and buying ordeal again next year. We're hoping that doesn't happen.
And then, of course, there are the numbers associated with this house, the house we love and hate to leave. Putting a price on it is a terrible notion to me. Even T said that he'd be willing to sell it at a bargain price to someone he knew was going to take excellent care of it and love it as much as we do. T has been printing out information on houses that have sold in our neighborhood in the past year so we can get an idea of how much we could reasonably ask for our house; the picture is encouraging, but it still eats me up inside to think of handing over the keys to someone else.
Finally, there is the page count thing -- the number of pages I hope to write at the end of each day. Today, that number is 5-7, which will take me just outside of my "dead zone." As I've explained elsewhere, my writing tends to go in 10-page fits and starts -- it always has. Pages 1-10 are miserable, a battle for each paragraph. Pages 11-19 are noticeably easier, probably because my argument from the beginning is clearer in my head and I'm often telling an interesting story. Pages 20-30 are difficult again, but this time because I'm getting bored and am feeling ready to end the chapter. If I go beyond 30 pages (which I only sometimes do in a chapter -- 30 pages feels "right" to me, somehow), the writing usually isn't that difficult since I have something I need to get out and I'm probably excited about it again. I've mentioned before that my attention span seems to have become shorter as the years have progressed, and I think that has really affected how much I'm willing and able to write: I used to be kind of long-winded, and now I'm much more succinct and clear in my academic writing (in stark contrast to this babbling post). A big shot professor in my department is famous for saying, "If you can't say what you need to say in 15 pages, adding another 20 pages isn't going to help you." I used to scoff at this a bit; now, I believe him.
ST has discovered rhyming, and now loves to hear poems (Shel Silverstein) and nursery rhymes every night before bed. We cycled through "Humpty Dumpty" for a few days, followed by "Hickory-Dickory-Dock," and two nights ago I recited "Little Miss Muffett" for him before bed. The child has the best memory of anyone I've ever met, and so I wasn't shocked when, after hearing the rhyme only once, he started reciting it yesterday while we were eating dinner.
"Little Miss Muffett sat on a tuffett..."
He put special emphasis on "Muffett" and "tuffett," as if to show me that he understood that these were the special rhyming words.
"Eating her curves and waves."
Curves and waves, curds and whey -- whatever. Then something went horribly wrong.
"Along came a spider... and crawled up her leg. And then she screamed, 'Someone get this spider off of me!' But the spider crawled on her face and she ate it. And then she ran home."
A meme about my experiences with education, courtesy of New Kid:
In Kindergarten I remember not wanting to go to kindergarten at all.In fact, when the school bus arrived that first day, my sobbing mother had to force me to board.“You have to go to school – you don’t want to be dumb forever, do you?” my Mom asked*.Tears were streaming down my face as I screamed, “Yes, yes, I DO want to be dumb!”Needless to say, I got on the bus and traveled to my Catholic elementary school, where I was greeted by the lovely Mrs. Smith, who hugged me and said (and I can still hear her sweet voice), “Hi, MyRealName!I’m so glad you came to school today!”I loved kindergarten and adored Mrs. Smith, and soon discovered I had the neatest handwriting out of all of the students and that I was the only left-handed student in the bunch.
* My Mom often says that she didn’t realize that when she forced me to go to school that day, I’d never STOP going to school for the rest of my life!
In Elementary School I went to a Catholic elementary school until seventh grade, and I can honestly say that I loved it.My classes were always small (my “graduating” class in seventh grade consisted of eight students, four boys and four girls), my teachers were always outstanding and compassionate, and I remember feeling excited to go to school almost every day.Highlights for me were the annual Christmas plays, student-led Mass every Wednesday morning, winning the school district spelling bee in sixth grade, the annual school district science fairs (where my “solar system” project won first prize one year, and my “color” project won first prize two years later), starting flute lessons at the public elementary school, and hanging out with my best friends Sarah and Bridget. I remember that we only had hot lunch in the cafeteria on Tuesdays. The only thing I dreaded about elementary school was gym class, and especially the day of the fabled “Mile Run.”
In Junior High Junior high for me was eighth and ninth grade.It was my first time in a public school (our Catholic school only went to seventh grade) and I remember being completely overwhelmed by the number of students in all of my classes.I liked having a locker, though, and liked seeing different teachers every day.I remember really enjoying being a part of the wind ensemble and looking forward to playing the flute every day before lunch.I also remember really loving my English class, which was run as a “Writer’s Workshop.”We had to write something every day and give it to a partner to critique before handing it in, and then decide if we wanted to “publish” it.(“Publishing” meant sending it as a letter, submitting it to a magazine, giving it as a gift, etc.)I published one short story I wrote in a magazine for children.In eighth grade, I also began studying German.
In High School High school (10th-12th grades) was also a very positive experience for me.I was in the school’s top symphonic wind ensemble as first chair flute and I won several district and regional music awards and earned a space in the All-State Band a few years in a row.Wind Ensemble was really where I built my personality, where I had most of my friends.I loaded myself up on AP courses and was completely absorbed by them, especially AP U.S. History, AP Comparative Government, AP German, and AP Literature.(I took AP Calculus as well;the teacher was fantastic, but I learn mathematical concepts very slowly and so this class did not go well for me.) I had a short story published in a national magazine and was "interviewed" about it in our school newspaper, which made me feel like a celebrity. I had my first taste of romance in high school:in tenth grade I was courted by a smart, handsome senior drummer, but we never really dated because I was friends with his childhood sweetheart and I felt guilty about coming between them – they’re now married.As a junior I had my first real boyfriend, a lovely romance that lasted for two years.I also met Jim, a treasured friend and confidante for many years until our falling out in 2002.Overall, I was sad when high school ended because it had been a glorious time for me.
In College My first year in college was fairly miserable.I broke up with my high school boyfriend, who was a year ahead of me at the same university.I started out living in an all-girl dorm and had a psycho roommate who wore her underwear twice (once right-side in, once inside-out), refused to cut her ratty hair, used all of my stuff and ate my food, and flatly denied that the Holocaust ever happened.I hated my intro classes because they were boring. Things started looking up when I found a great house to live in with some friends of my then ex-boyfriend’s, I tested out of my intro courses mid-trimester, and I figured out how to be happy without a boyfriend (although I dated a little, but nothing serious).I made some wonderful friends and figured out what I really wanted to do with my life (become a professor, although I initially thought I wanted to be a German professor, which is not what I’m going to be after all), spent almost a full year in Europe, and finished college in three years due to guidance from an excellent advisor.In my last year of college, right after coming back from Europe, I met T.In a journal I kept then, I wrote that “I could never marry a person like T.”Hmmm.Guess I was wrong!
In Graduate School I’ve been to grad school twice:first right out of undergrad, taking courses toward a Master’s degree while T was earning his professional degree at Private Expensive University.This first attempt, although I was successful, was a waste of my time.I now have a Master’s I never use, and only debt to show for it.Oh well.I applied to Major Research Institutions after T finished his professional degree and was thrilled when I was accepted with full funding to Doctoral University.I started my studies here in 2000 and absolutely hated it.Things started looking up in 2001, when I was able to choose my own courses, teach for the first time, and form a relationship with my advisors.I enjoyed graduate school a lot, even my comprehensive exams, until I started the prospectus-dissertation process, which has been quite the rollercoaster.Now that I am nearing the end (first deposit for summer graduation is June 29!), I can say – for the first time in my life – that I am READY to be done with school.And with that in mind, I’d better get back to Chapter Six.
On Saturday, T was all geared up to get the house ready to sell. We've decided to put it on the market ourselves (for sale by owner, no realtor) March 15 through April 15. If we don't have any leads by mid-April, we'll enlist the services of a realtor. Since March 15 is not too far away, we spent almost all of Saturday cleaning and putting things in boxes.
T rented a small storage space on the outskirts of our little town, and we started filling it with boxes and odd things that made our basement look cluttered (e.g., a cradle T's grandfather made in 1970 that we can't bear to part with but also couldn't use for ST, since the cradle tips over with excessive rocking!). In my home office/guest bedroom, the closet was and still is full of the books I've collected during my years in graduate school. I boxed most of them up, those books I'm sure I won't need for the remainder of dissertation work or syllabi writing. I also boxed up non-essential kitchen items, like the deviled egg plate and the extra cooling racks and cutting boards I had lying around cluttering my cupboards. Most difficult, however, was packing up all of our framed photographs in an effort to "depersonalize" the space. With each frame I wrapped in newspaper and set in a cardboard apple box, my house seemed to be less mine.
I cried a lot on Saturday afternoon as we packed and cleaned. I cried because we built this house; we chose everything in it, from the retro chandelier in the dining room to the knobs on the bathroom cabinets. We've painted every wall, some of them more than once. There's a small ding in the ceiling leading up to the bedrooms where T and my Dad knocked it with our king-sized mattress the day we moved in. There is a tiny, almost unnoticeable red food coloring stain on the carpet next to the kitchen where ST went a little crazy while baking with me. In the kitchen, there are three pellets of cat food in the vent on the floor where ST decided to hide our cat's leftovers when he was about 15 months old.
There are things about this house only we know. We know all of the plants outside and where they came from (usually our local greenhouse or cuttings from my Mom's garden). We know that if you walk on a certain place in the living room, you'll hear a spooky banging sound as the vibrations travel along the ducts under the floor. We know that every night at around 11:00pm, you can hear the FedEx plane fly over our house on its way to our tiny regional airport. We know that our backyard, which now overlooks neat little houses separated by privacy fences, was a corn and soybean field the first three years we lived here, invading our yard with strange bugs and large frogs whenever it rained. We know that the most beautiful place to be in the late afternoon is ST's bedroom, where the golden sunlight floods through his big window and illuminates the clean lines of the hallway beyond his room.
But someone else will learn these things. Someone will paint over the walls we so lovingly covered with Sherwin-Williams Superpaint in colors like "Sands of Time," "Pacer White," and "Ivoire." Someone else will figure out that you have to cut down the sedum in the early spring. Someday someone will rip out our carpet and get rid of that little food coloring stain forever, not knowing the adorable toddler who created it or the mother who tried not to fret over it. Someone will get rid of the ancient air compressor in the garage, not knowing it once belonged to my grandfather. This is the way it is supposed to be.
As much as this place means to me and to my family, we are letting go. It will be a lot easier to do once T finds a job in New Town and we can buy a house there -- it will be easier when we have a specific "destination," a new place to call home. But for now we're beginning the process of a long and leisurely goodbye, one box at a time.
Ugh. This week marked the beginning of a new case study, the second-largest of the dissertation (I already wrote the largest), and thus it also marked the beginning of yet another frustrating period of wading through foreign language documents. I have spent the morning paging through document after document, getting out my trusty light blue pen yet again to highlight important passages. This is the case study I started to write for a conference paper last year, and so a lot of the documents are already marked-up, which is nice... except that by now I've forgotten why I marked those pages up, and so it really feels like starting from scratch. I've written about ten pages this week -- far less than I hoped to write -- but there is a silver lining.
Just after Valentine's Day I made an "Ideal Dissertation Schedule" and sent it to both of my advisors. I needed something concrete, a real plan where I outlined what I was going to try to accomplish each day. I made the schedule through late April, when I hope to have a complete draft written and sent to my advisors. So far, I've been right on schedule -- until this week, that is. For today, my schedule says "Rough draft of Chapter Six done." That is not going to happen -- not even close, judging by the sheer number of documents pooling next to my desk. But here's the silver lining: when I wrote up the schedule, I forgot to schedule an entire week -- the week of Spring Break here at Doctoral University. So, although my daycare is closed for the bulk of that week and I'll have ST here at home, I have a LOT more time to finish this mega-chapter than I originally thought. Hurray!
I'll spend the rest of the afternoon reading these documents, then. I find that I am finally getting faster at reading them, which is good, and I'm finding that, in general, they support my hypotheses. That's a good feeling: even though I'm often told that "no result is still a result," it feels good to say, "I hypothesized that if Y, then X would happen, and you know what... it does!"
On a side note, ST declared last night that he wants me to make ice cream sandwiches with him. He wants us to make chocolate cookies and then fill them with chocolate chip ice cream. No problem, except that part of my Plan for Lent is not to eat between meals and not to eat dessert*. How will I possibly resist a homemade ice cream sandwich? I may actually see Christ this weekend, since it will take the sight of Him in my kitchen to keep me away from an ice cream sandwich. (And if I DO actually see Him, I'll blog about it. Really, I will!)
* For other blogging Catholics: is it true that you are released from Lenten obligations on Sunday, since Sundays aren't really a part of Lent due to the fact that they're a celebration of the Resurrection? I hope it's true, because I'm dying for something sweet. If it is true, I'm sure I'll gain 10 pounds on Sundays.
Although the previous template was very pretty, it was giving me a lot of problems almost every day. So I decided to make the quick switch back to my old template this morning. I think I'll save the "fancier stuff" for my post-dissertation blog -- I simply don't have the time to deal with learning how to make a perfect webpage right now. (And, you know, I'll have tons of time as a new faculty member...!)
Maybe I'll mess around with the colors a bit this morning, just for kicks. It's only 9:00am here now, and my dissertation-capable brain doesn't officially kick in for another hour.
Last Friday, dear friends of mine arrived in my town from Germany with their two-year old son. "Kurt" has his Ph.D. in my field and studies roughly the same thing I do -- we met at a conference here at Doctoral University in 2002, where we both gave presentations. His wife, "Brigitte," is not an academic but we became close friends when they popped in to visit me when I was in Europe this past November. Their son, "Hans" is only two months younger than ST, and so we all spent a fair amount of time together since Friday keeping Hans occupied and happy as his parents started their transition to life in the U.S. Kurt, Brigitte, and little Hans will live here until the beginning of June, as Kurt has a release from his job in Germany to come and work on his book here in the U.S.
Kurt is several years older than I am. He completed his Ph.D. in 2003. When he, Brigitte, and Hans were at our house this Sunday for dinner, we talked about the differences between academia in the U.S. and in Germany, which are considerable. Kurt began the conversation by asking me about my dissertation, and if I'd collected all of the data I'd hoped to collect while I was in Europe. I told him that although I'd collected a LOT of the data I needed, there was still a lot missing due to the fact that I was only there for a month, that many of the people I'd hoped to talk to were unavailable, and bureaucratic red tape. "Will you still be able to write the dissertation?" he asked, concerned. "Of course!" I responded. "I have a lot to work with now, and if I choose to continue working on this project after I get my Ph.D., I'll simply go back to Europe and collect more data." Kurt looked confused. "How will you publish your book then, if the data is not complete?" It was my turn to be confused. "Book? I'm only writing a dissertation," I said.
Kurt didn't understand the difference. In Germany, at least in my field, doctoral students are not expected to write merely a dissertation, but a book. And in order to actually have their doctoral degree conferred, students have to have a publisher for the book. Kurt explained that, at his university, he had to physically bring copies of his published book to his university library before they would grant his degree. An unpublished manuscript = no Ph.D.
I then started to ask Kurt about his job, which is at a high school in Germany. It is a job he despises, but it is the only one he could find. German high schools are more "advanced" than American high schools, with students learning at a level Americans would recognize as the first few years of college. People with Ph.Ds often teach at high schools for this reason. Kurt wants desperately to teach at a university, however, and so is working on his Habilitation. He described the Habilitation as a sort of "second Ph.D." (Roughly translated by me: Habilitation = hell.) The Habilitation (for which he is currently writing his second book) will allow him to teach at a university in Germany -- provided that he can find a position, which is the most difficult part of the entire process given the small number of universities in Germany and the bulky hierarchy one must wade through in order to even be given a chance. Kurt says that although he's wanted to teach at a university all of his life, the chances that he'll actually be able to do it before he's 40 -45 are slim.
This strenuous process infects every part of Kurt and Brigitte's life, right down to their decision to have a family. I spent a lovely day with Brigitte and little Hans yesterday, and Brigitte told me that although she would love at least one or two more children, Hans will likely be an only child. She said that Kurt's job prospects are so uncertain that he doesn't feel comfortable having more children, especially not in a waning German economy. Brigitte works, too (although she's been off since Hans was born almost three years ago), but says that her income would not be enough to support the family in the event that Kurt's quest for a university position fails.
Speaking with them over the past few days has made me feel incredibly guilty for whining so much about how difficult and stressful life in academia in America can be. I'm stressed about finishing a stupid dissertation that at times seems like less an academic endeavor than a gigantic hoop to jump through while Kurt labors over his second book. I'm gearing up to start teaching at a university this fall, something I've always wanted to do, and Kurt's chances for doing the same are uncertain for at least the next decade. I'm worried about how I'll fit ST and future children into my tenure-dependent future, and Kurt and Brigitte have already ruled future children out. It makes me feel like a bit of a lightweight, actually, and like a big whiner. I know that the systems are entirely different and that there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to both, but right now I'm feeling quite lucky to have chosen this career path in this country.