Saturday, January 21, 2006

Thank You

Thanks so much everyone for your support. I am feeling considerably better now. I'm definitely looking on the brighter side of things. Now I just have to decide if I want to make revisions to send this off to a publisher. I think it needs quite a bit of work for that, but people keep telling me I'm too much of a perfectionist, too hard on myself, and never give myself enough credit. I guess I'll make the revisions necessary for me to think it's good enough to turn in to the school (they give you a month after the defense to make changes, fix bibliography and format, etc.), and then I'll have someone neutral read it and give me an opinion.

I liked having this blog throughout this process...it helped to be able to anonymously "bitch" about stuff. Even if I never even got around to half the bitching I wanted to do! It was good to have a place to vent and to reveal my deepest insecurities without having them tied to me forever. Soon I'll be able to disappear into the ether if I so desire. If anyone else feels like joining the blog, please let me know. And thanks again for reading and being with me through my ups and downs!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Feeling Better

Well, I'm feeling better, thanks to some of your comments, friends' support, and the positive responses I got at a conference this weekend. I talked to one of the professors too and apparently I didn't do as bad as I thought I did, and some of what was happening had to do with inter-committee tensions. This is just further proof of how I'm way too sensitive. It was hard not to care about the judgment of all my committee because I spent so much time and effort on this.
In response to Dr. D.:

Dr. Porkorama,
What college do you attend? Just interested in knowing how someone could complete their dissertation in three months? How many revisions did you complete, how many times did your profs review and feedback info on your work-in-progress and what classes did you have to take before embarking on the work? Just curious...


I don't want to reveal where I go to school because that would kill my anonymity. But to give you some idea, while I've been here, we've been ranked #1 by U.S. News & World Report and are up top regularly. The course work is 15 classes in addition to the other requirements. I guess it can be pretty misleading to say that I wrote my dissertation in three months, because it had been gestating for much longer than that. 5 years to be exact. I had only written 30 pages of it, however. Everything else was research and notes. Yet, most of it was worked out in my head before I started. More than anything else I thought about this stuff A LOT. Just didn't do anything about it for a really long time! I also only ended up writing a tiny part of what I had in mind. It came out to about 300 pages. A lot of other people in my department have done more like 500, even though 250 is what's expected. So it's not like my school is shoddy or I pulled off a miracle. But I did work my ass off those three months, eating TV dinners while I read essays, not doing a single other thing except my teaching duties. No social life, not much eating or sleeping. It's certainly not the way to go. But it's over now and I can get on with the rest of my life!

Friday, January 13, 2006

What's Done is Done

I woke up after two hours of restless sleep, took a shower, printed out my notes, got dressed, quickly drove to campus. Last night for a moment I actually was able too think through the congestion caused by my cold...I even thought I might give a really nice presentation. Well, that's not how it went at all.

First, they made me leave the room for a good twenty minutes while the professors discussed amongst themselves. The defense was in our department lounge, which is in the extremely stuffy and hot basement of an old building (a bunch of pipes line the ceiling...it WAS like I had descended to hell!) I had put on a double dose of antiperspirant, worried that the sweat would soak through my silk blouse. It was so hot and I was so nervous that I broke through the barrier in less than 30 seconds. Still, I was afraid to step out of the building for some fresh air in case they called me back in. Each minute went on and on and on. What were they discussing for so long??? Was this a bad sign? I had thought this discussing would happen after the defense, not before. Why don't they walk you through it a bit in advance?

Finally the called me in. One professor was on speaker phone--never good. They asked me to start. I got off to an OK start, but then I blabbed away for too long saying the same thing over and over...I lost my train of thought. I didn't talk about all the relevant examples and wonderful things I had thought I would talk about. They cut me off because I was going on for too long. I am extremely sensitive to mood shifts around me. I could feel restlessness and something else, like boredom, or..."yeah yeah get on with it." But do I imagine these things or are they real? Then they took turns to comment and ask questions, but we only ever got to the first two professors because we ran out of time. They were supposed to schedule three hours but only scheduled two because one of the professors had to be at a meeting.

The two professors hadn't a single good thing to say about my dissertation. It was all criticism. I agreed with some of the critique by Prof. #1. Then I disagreed with his view of X philosopher a bit. Prof. #2 agreed more with Prof. #1 than with me. They spoke as if they were right and I was just getting it wrong. But I could have debated with specific passages and everything to support my view (I did a little, but they were just convinced I was getting it wrong so they didn't really engage my arguments). Prof. #2, I thought, might have liked what I had to say, but he didn't seem to like it at all. Nothing! But when I asked him to be more specific in his critique, he couldn't be. He'd say things like you weren't specific enough, or what you say is off the mark, but not tell me how. Then on three points he said what his perspective was and I thought it was exactly what I had thought I said...I agreed with him, but he didn't agree with me. Maybe I just wasn't using the right words (and different words are right for different people--I had to deal with crossing disciplines as well). He asked if I was familiar with X essay. I said no. He told me the gist of the essay, thought I would find it useful, because instead of talking about Y in terms of A, maybe I should look at it as B. But there is a section of a chapter where I specifically talk about Y in terms of B!! I responded to that question by saying, "you know when I talk about Y in terms of B in this chapter? I thank you for your suggestion, because that article sounds like it gives some background to my arguments." I just got the sense overall of not being understood by #1 and #2. Then we had to end. They made me leave the room again. I thought there might be a chance they would pass me because I knew the other two professors had a better understanding of my work (they'd read previous drafts) and were on my side. If I just had one of the other professors vote in my favor I would make it. But I felt like crying, I felt like it went horribly.

I ran to the bathroom, held back my tears, went back to the hall and paced. Then my advisor stepped into the hall and asked me back in with a "congratulations!" I passed!

But damn...it feels like a defeat, not a victory. Some people tell me it is because I always see the worst side, I always think I did bad and then it turns out I did good. But I distinctly felt antipathy to my work from #1 and #2. I really cared about what #2 thought, too. Bummer. I thought we might be on the same page. At the very end, before he left, he said he HAD liked the conclusion of my dissertation, where I brought up N, Q, and L [didn't want to discriminate against those letters that fall in the middle of the alphabet!], and that he agreed with me about that...he just didn't think I'd gone in the direction my intro suggested I would go. But at that point I already felt awful.

Afterwards, I had a talk with the head of my committee (one of the profs who didn't get to ask much). She said it went fantastically. !!!! ??? !!!!

Let me repeat. ??????

OK...she's prone to that sort of thing. I said, "really??? I thought it was awful." She said that I talked for the longest anyone she knows has talked at their defense before being cut off. I hardly think that's a measure of it having gone well, but I appreciated her support. She brought up publishing again. And then she mentioned that one of the things they talked about before I started, in their private discussion, was publishing the dissertation. She had said to them that she thought it was practically ready for publication, with hardly any revisions. I think that might explain to some extent why they were so hard on me. They probably disagreed with her (I know I do), and so they brought up more objections than support or encouragement because they thought they needed to counterbalance her enthusiasm. I actually had thought yesterday to ask her to play bad cop so that they wouldn't be so hard on me. Of course, maybe they would have just joined in on the pummeling, you never know.

OK...so it wasn't as bad as I've heard some defenses go. But it wasn't great in any way. It kind of sucked. But considering I wrote my whole dissertation in about 3 months, and only prepared for the defense yesterday and had a bad cold all week...what could I expect? I just have this insane need for approval and understanding. And academia has never been the place for me. It's like I can see them but they can't see me. I think my ideas are OK, and relevant, but with certain people...maybe I'm not using the right words...I don't know. Or I guess maybe it just wasn't their cup of tea. Plus it certainly needs some work, at least for it to be acceptable by my own standards.

I just wish I felt a little better about the whole thing now. I don't feel relief yet. I haven't extricated myself from the Stockholm syndrome. I know this feeling will fade and I'll regain my sense of self-worth, but right now I'm just going over and over in my mind what I SHOULD have talked about, and all my insecurities about grad school have surfaced again.

But it's over, right? It's over. Bang or whimper, I get the same degree.
And that's what matters. I'm the first person in my family on either side to have a doctorate. And I am finally free of this thing that was hanging over my head (aside from a few details like a second format check): my deep deep hatred of graduate school from the very first year of it through now (with peaks and dips of hatred, of course, but never like or love). Thirteen and a half years of dragging my feet through something I never wanted to do anyway! WTF was I thinking???

The moral? Do it or don't do it, but don't just stand there suffering! Use me as a negative example! You write one page at a time...you only ever have to write one page...one paragraph...one sentence...one word. And before you know it you're at the end. I know I will feel extremely happy to have completed this as soon as I'm able to process it all.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Last Day of Hell

Sorry to have been out of touch, and thanks for those of you who offered encouragement!! So...I turned it in last Friday, hoping the professors would not have time to read the really crappy parts I wrote last minute. Tomorrow is my defense. Yep, Friday the 13th...at 9am no less (I am not a morning person). Of course, due to my last post, I have a bad cold. I thought I would spend the past week making revisions and preparing for the defense, but instead I took a break and watched TV and took naps, trying to recover from the cold. Today I have to prepare my talk. I wish my mind were a bit less fuzzy from the cold, but I think it's going to be OK. I had a meeting with my dissertation advisor yesterday, and to my surprise she said that my first chapter especially is so good that I need to send the dissertation off to get published immediately...that she thinks Harvard UP is the place to try first. Hmm.... This could very well be merely a ploy to boost my self-confidence, but I appreciate her comment none the less. I'm still worried, but surprisingly not nervous. Which is not necessarily a good thing! I thrive on stress. She wants me to dazzle the committee with my intro tomorrow...and its hard to feel dazzly with a kleenex stuck to your drippy nose. I am going to buy one of those power drinks to take a bit before the exam, though. I don't want to take cold medicine because it will make me loopy.
Anyway...I'm going to get to work now preparing the talk and reading through my dissertation and trying to anticipate questions they might ask.

M asked how I balance this with my life. The truth is I never did! I did practically nothing for several years, letting the rest of life take over--teaching responsibilities, side projects, etc. Then something clicked and I did this for three or so months 8 to 14 hours a day every day of the week. My aunt died of leukemia during that time, but I had promised her I would finish so the night I found out I doubled my efforts and kept on going. EVERYTHING got put on hold. This is not the best way to do it. If I had worked 1 to 2 hours a day, even every other day, I could have gotten this done and it would have been less traumatic. Starting is the worst part. I think the advantage of doing it obsessively like I did is that you enter this intense thinking phase...you can really focus on just one thing. I tend to be obsessive compulsive anyway. My body went into emergency mode. The day after I turned the dissertation in I got sick. It was like my body was holding out for me.

I need to make revisions before turning in the final draft to the grad school, and I'm hoping to do a more relaxed work-on-it-a-couple-hours-a-day thing for that. I think the key is working on something every day, even if it's only for fifteen minutes. Just like exercise, it's hard to do if you're not in the rhythm, and its more likely you won't do it today if you didn't do it yesterday. Once you get the rhythm going, though, it becomes where you are at the moment. I had the luxury of not having children and only one pet to worry about.

Anyway...off to overcome the hump of not having worked the past week!

I'll report more details when it's over. WOW--my hell is going to be over!!!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Almost There

I have two more days to finish my dissertation, and I still haven't written a conclusion, the last third or so of the first chapter, and about half the introduction. All because I actually took a break over Christmas. Still, I don't think I could have kept going at the pace I was going before without breaking down. I'm lucky that I didn't get sick! Because I was so afraid of getting sick, I took a maitake mushroom supplement. It's expensive, but it's a powerful immune system booster. I knew ecchinacea just wasn't going to cut it. There were a few times when I felt a sore throat coming on, but I have successfully warded sickness so far (I hope this won't be a case of "famous last words").

So, the unwritten parts will necessarily be rushed and incomplete...right now I'm just aiming for the illusion of completeness. Half the time I feel anxious about that, because I know I'm not going to want to touch this after finishing at all, but there is a part of me that wants to get all my ideas out on the page.

Being in grad school you can really suffer from a sort of Stockholm syndrome.... Sure it would be nice to turn my dissertation into a book just to have that achievement under my belt, but when I really think about it, aren't there a million other things I'd rather accomplish? Being in the academic mileau, however, makes you judge your self worth by the standards that surround you. It's going to be great to finish this degree...will it be just as great to let go of this world?