Saturday, January 29, 2005


I really decompressed over the holidays, and it struck me once again how distressing I find the whole academic world now that I'm back. I went to a lecture by a professor on my committee, and just 5 minutes in I started feeling anxious. I have all sorts of thoughts from "my ideas are so brilliant and I need to put them out there now because no one seems to have realized these things" to "I am the most assinine graduate student ever and everyone thinks I'm a joke." I know that this crazy see-saw between feelings of competence and incompetence is normal. I've heard so many graduate students say that they feel like they are a fraud and are just waiting for someone to find them out. But then I feel worse, because they seem to really have their shit together. Or someone complains about having such a hard time with writing, and about how much they procrastinate, but I would consider myself ultra-productive if I got as much done as they did. I mean, I REALLY SUCK as a grad student.
So anyway, I started getting all sorts of feelings of anxiety....that my topic would have been great four years ago when I should have finished, that there are so many things I have analyses of that I think are good but I suck at expressing them, that I hate the insularity and pompousness that plague so many academics, that I've not published anything ever (or even sent anything out to get published), that I haven't done what I really wanted to do, because I was supposed to be doing my diss, which I didn't do either. I was thinking I came back all recharged and ready to tackle another semester and really get down to writing, and then the day after the lecture I find myself crying my eyes out when I'm about to meet with someone from my committee. Luckily she was late and I was able to stop crying before she got there. I just felt like such a massive failure yesterday, and about everything, not just grad school. I've put my whole life on hold for the past ten years for what was supposed to be this backup plan, and consequently I don't feel qualified to do anything else either. I'm in my 30s and still in school. I never took a year off (huge mistake). And maybe I've stayed in the university all this time because I was just afraid to really grab life by the balls and take a risk. Maybe that's why I keep on putting off finishing this damn thing. As much as I'm craving and looking forward to and dreaming about my freedom, maybe I'm just too afraid I'll be a massive failure at what I really want to do. It's a lot easier being a failure at what I never really wanted to do in the first place.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Delayed Gratification

I don't think I ever learned delayed gratification. I was beating myself up about that today, but a friend of mine said that her therapist thinks that you either have to find something gratifying in the moment itself or just give up what you are doing. I hadn't quite thought about it that way. I'm reluctant to really dig into work on my dissertation because it seems like it's just going to be such a long, long period of hell (of course, the hell of just putting it off is worse, I'm sure). But I suppose I'm going to have find some kind of joy in writing the damn thing. I enjoy thinking about what I'm going to write about. It's just the actual sitting down to do it in a formal way. It's so tied up in my head to hatred of graduate school, memories of suffering through writing papers, stress of having to write in a particular academic way. I need to reinvent my relationship with writing. I need to make this a new project, something different than everything that came before that I hated so much.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

And if I Gave Up?

"It's easy, after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren't writers, and very little harm comes to them."
--Julian Barnes

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

OK...I can't see it, but I met someone who already got there, so it's gotta be there. I was in the grocery store when I ran into a past "fellow sufferer." I asked her how her diss was going, expecting to get the usual grumble, but she said she had finished! She's a doc now. Wow. She said it was anti-climactic. But I could feel her aura of relief and doneness. I can't wait!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

What I Am Afraid Of

Well, I'm not sure there's a precise answer to that question, or at the very least it is a convoluted mess of an answer, but I'll give it a stab.

Although it's not just fear. There's plenty of disgust and laziness in there too. Lack of discipline. BUT...I have been getting up between 8 and 9AM, exercising for 30 minutes to an hour, and then cleaning the house like mad. I'm getting ahead on my Spring cleaning. And it's not just procrastination...I really could not live with how dirty the house had gotten. And as soon as I'm done getting things to a livable level (I'm very affected by my surroundings, they need to be orderly and clean for me to feel right), the time I spend in the mornings doing that I'll spend writing. That's the plan, right?
But something inside me resists. there's fear of WHAT NEXT? I finish this stage of my life, and then there is THE REST OF IT. This might be a shitty place, but it's really familiar, and there's some comfort in that. And I have a very open schedule. It always seems like I have too much to do...just living seems to take up an inordinate amount of time (I'm talking about maintenance activities like eating and sleeping)...but I don't have to be anywhere 9 to 5. I TA, and at the beginning of the semester it's not too much work, less than 10 hours per week. I should take advantage, because that changes to up to 40-60 hrs a week later in the semester. Which would be fine if it were the only thing I had to do. But I digress....
I'm afraid.... Am I afraid it will suck?
Man, I think I'm past that. I don't give a shit how it comes out. But then my committee seems to. I don't want to write it how they'd like me to write it. That's another wall. We agree on some things. But goddamnit, this is something I fucking hate about grad school. A certain term is NO LONGER "IN." I'm not supposed to use it. Mind you, I had used it with a footnote saying that I was using it provisionally while I tried questioning it and approaching it in a more useful manner. But they didn't care. It just set off the little alarm bell. It's not my concept they have a problem with, it's the word itself. I'm wanting to make it mean something else, just because there really isn't a better damn word for it unless I made one up. In fact, when I ask them what term they would use they don't have a clue. Because it doesn't exist. They want me to come up with one, I guess. Well, that's what I am working up towards with the whole dissertation. But you can't go expecting to cross the bridge before it's built. Whatever they want from me, it feels like some kind of damn koan. Fuck, it would be COOL if what they wanted from me was a koan sorta exercise. But it's not like they have some kind of wisdom I'm just not seeing. I know their fucking game, I know exactly what they are thinking (I've been in grad school waaaaaaay too long), and it's STUPID. They seem excited about the things I think everyone is getting wrong, but the only way I can express them is to go my own way about it. I'm not that great of a writer. I have these ideas, and I think I can get them out, but I need them to make some room for me and give me the benefit of the doubt before jumping on ONE TERM. They don't see that the language is just a stepping's not THE THING ITSELF. All I can do is approximate, approach slowly. When I finished one chapter, they dug it. They had been against a lot of what I was trying to do with it, but they admitted when they saw the result that it came together. If they were just better listeners they could see that I know what the fuck I'm doing, I just need some freedom to do it how I want to. Which is not the ideal "academic writing" I guess.
It's that complex mix of feeling completely inadequate and yet like I know my shit all at the same time. I hate their world. I don't want to be a part of it. But I want my damned degree. It could help me get a job. And I deserve some sort of badge for the blood, sweat, and tears that I've put into this so far. I'm not talking about the blood, sweat, and tears of any of the actual school work. I'm talking about the emotional cost of being treated like you're worth nothing, the backstabbing, the general disgustingness of the high stakes academic career. Makes me wish I had gone to a small state school. Or is it the same as the big name private university?

I should never have started this PhD. I just did it as a safety. And now it's swallowed over 11 years of my life.

I haven't talked much about fear, have I? Right now I mostly feel hate.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Solution!

Wow. Turns out I can get a PhD in two weeks with no study required! According to the email I got, these are "real, genuine degrees" and the "opportunity exists due to a legal loophole allowing some established colleges to award degrees at their discretion."

What was I thinking taking classes and doing all that work? I can just buy a degree. This really makes my day.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Drastic Measures

I realized yesterday that dissertation bootcamp wouldn't cut it for me. What I need is to hire an assassin to kill me if I have not finished my dissertation by a certain date. All contact with this person would be cut off so I couldn't back out on the deal. I find that I can only write under pressure (I'm trying to change that--if anyone has any advice, please let me know!), so maybe this would stress me out enough that I would actually do the damn thing. I wonder if I could find someone to do it cheap, though....

Monday, January 03, 2005

Dissertation Boot Camp

I've always thought that if grad students (at least in their majority) weren't so broke, it would be a great business idea to have a dissertation boot camp. I often daydream of such a place: Someone standing behind me in professorial garb yelling, "Write, you sissy! Give me twenty sentences, now!" and me obediently answering, "Prof, yes, Prof!" and typing away.
OK, so maybe I don't respond to that kind of motivation well, but having someone else enforce some kind of structure on my life and not allowing me to procrastinate sounds like, well...if not dissertation heaven, then certainly dissertation purgatory.
Turns out there is such a thing: Scholars' Retreat. Thing is, it costs $1500. Hmm...what if I take a leave of absence and use my grad school fees to pay for something like this? Or maybe a bunch of us ABDs could get together in some kind of dissertation-writing commune. *sigh*

ABD Survival Guide

Here's another resource that a friend pointed out to me that could be very helpful: All But Dissertation Survival Guide. Among other things, it has a great article on Overcoming Parkinson's Law, the law that states that work expands to fill the time available for it. (I think there's a corollary that states something along the lines of "and then some.")

Tips from

Here are a few tips I got from the site PhinisheD, which is a really nice resource for those of us struggling with our dissertations. Thanks to Francesca for introducing me to the site.

1. "40-minute method": Work for 40 minutes and then take a 20 minute break. Repeat as much as desired.
Research suggests that any method loses effectiveness over time, so the trick is to rotate systems.
2. "Thesis binder": a work in progress version of one's thesis. Basically, you put in research drafts, notes, stream of consciousness writing, chapter drafts, etc. into a three ring binder. It organizes your work while lifting your spirits as you see it grow.
3. "Dissertation log": keep track of all the hours you spent working, and what activities you were doing.
4. "Word counting": log the time and your current word count. The idea is that you feel good when you see it adding up.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Year's Resolution

I hereby resolve to finish my dissertation this year. May the force be with me!