Procrastination’s Purpose

Yesterday I cleaned out my freezers. Not just the one in the kitchen, but the big deep-freeze in the basement too.

How does this have anything to do with writing your book, you may ask? Ah, it is classic procrastination.

When faced with a daunting writing task, the first thing you always must do is find some completely unnecessary task that suddenly has taken on mammoth importance and tackle that instead of the writing work you are supposed to be doing. (In my defense it was getting to the point where you’d have to open the freezer from the side to protect defenseless toes from the kamikaze bricks of flying squash. Plus, was a bit tedious shoving and pushing and elbowing the peas and frozen waffles back in there whenever you wanted an ice cube.)

Now, WHY should anyone procrastinate in this way, and how could it possibly benefit a writer?

Procrastination, at its best, can incite the Productive Panic.  It works like this: after a day spent scraping dehydrated chicken breasts off the back wall of your freezer, suddenly you look up and it’s 3:00.  You’ve got exactly two hours until you have to pick up the kid, at which point all chance of work goes down the disposal with the frozen mystery stew and the shriveled cake from last Easter.

So you sit down and start to write something, anything, so that you’ll end the day by saying, “Hey, I accomplished something on my book today!” Instead of saying, “Well, I cleaned the freezer….”

Sometimes what you write in the Productive Panic is total crap. Sometimes it’s brilliant. Usually, it’s somewhere in-between. Bits of crap and bits of genius all rolled up together. Yesterday, what I wrote wasn’t that great, but it had the virtue of both being written, and getting me thinking about the new introduction or preface (I’m still grappling with which one) that I’m working on in a pretty productive and useful way. Would I have done more if I’d worked all day?  Maybe. But maybe not. Sometime’s there’s stress in the six-hour stretch of time that rebounds into massive unproductivity.  Sometimes it’s good just to take a quick pass at something. That’s what I did yesterday. And so today, I’ve got three pages of ideas to work with.

And, bonus!  Clean freezers.

Struggling Toward a New Ending…

Uh, Hi. I’m Stewgad, Ph.D.  Been a while, eh?

For years I wrote this blog as I desperately/slowly tried to finish my dissertation while I held down a full-time tenure-track job, raised a baby, and managed a marriage. It was a trip and a half, that’s for sure. (see previous blog posts.)

Then, I did it. I finished the Ph.D.  (Yay!)  At the same time, I stopped blogging. (Boo!)  I did this for a number of reasons:

Good Reason #1: After I finished the Ph.D., I was dreadfully sick of it. And of myself. And of my whole drama around its completion. I needed some space from it, and stepping away from the blog was a one way to find some of  that space.

Good Reason #2: I got INSANELY paranoid about blogging while I was up for tenure.  There have just been too many ugly stories circulating about online indiscretions (or perceived indiscretions) having bad consequences for academic bloggers. I felt extremely vulnerable without tenure, and while I was going through that process, (which was about as fun as getting a root canal WHILE finishing a dissertation) I figured it would be way too tempting to me to bitch about it here. And that would not have been a good idea.

Good Reason #3: I was tired, drained, and had no words left.  Especially not extra words that I could spill out over the internets. For a little while, I thought I’d try Twitter, ’cause, you know, all the cool kids were doing it.  And for someone who felt like she didn’t have any words, being constrained by the, like, 10 characters they allow seemed refreshing.  But I quickly discovered that Twitter sucks.  Ok, well, maybe not sucks, exactly.  But let’s just say, it’s not for me. I could just never get the hang of the short statement, and I remain completely confused by the tweet-speak linguistic alterations it seems to require. It makes me feel old.

Most critically, over the past couple of years, any energy I had couldn’t go to Twitter or the Blog – it had to go into getting tenure and turning my dreadfully hated (by now) dissertation into a book.

Which brings me to today: I’m a tenured professor, with a kindergardener, (I know, right?  The Gadlet’s FIVE!), a happy-more-often-than-not continuing marriage, and…. a book contract.  Gulp.

I know, I know, great news.  But it also means that I have to take this book manuscript-that-was-once-my-dissertation and revise it for publication. And, it turns out, all of that anxiety I had about writing did NOT go away with the Ph.D. or with Tenure.  I can’t decide if that is because I lived with the fear so long it has become an ingrained part of me I’m stuck with forever, or if it is just a bad habit like chewing hangnails that a little willpower and some cuticle ointment will cure.

Until I find that fabled Fear-of-Writing-Failure miracle ointment, though, I’m reviving the blog to help me work through the fear.  I’m hoping that being open about my writing struggles will not only help me with the process, but also perhaps help others who are in the Ph.D. process, or beyond, who also grapple with writing issues.  So in the next few months, I plan to check back in pretty regularly and post updates about my progress.  For a more daily account, I’ll fire back up the Evil Twitter feed (Stewgad or Pretty Hard, Dammit should bring it up if you want to follow me) to report in on what I do each day. I know, yawn. But, really, I think most of writing is about accountability — and if you can’t be your own accountability accountant, you must recruit others, be they dear friends or random internet strangers, to do it for you.

Thanks for reading.  Tune in next time for the continuing adventures of Stewgad in Writingland….

@stewgad on Twitter

Hello to the blogosphere — (if anybody is still out there following this poor, lonely, neglected blog.)

Looking for more Stewgad Stories?  You can find the new, reduced, and probably not really improved, albeit slightly more recent, Stewgad Stuff on Twitter.  (http://www.twitter.com/stewgad) .

PHD via UPS

It came by UPS last week.  A thin cardboard box, no more than 1/2 an inch tall, and about 11X14.  I heard the big brown truck pull up outside my house and ran to the front door, standing there until the delivery guy put his hand on my door knob.  Then I whipped the door open and scared the living daylights out of the man.  But I was too excited, I couldn’t wait for him to ring the doorbell.  He handed it to me, and I smiled at him, a little shaky, and as he gave me the electronic tablet to sign, I told him, “This is my degree!!!”  He gave me kind of a half-grin, and said, “Yeah, I’ve been delivering a lot of those today.”  I thanked him, and walked back inside.  What for him was a routine, and a repetitive one at that, was the most momentous day in my intellectual life.  It was the arrival of legitimacy.  He didn’t know it, and perhaps couldn’t know it, but he had just delivered back to me a piece of my soul.

I sat down at the dining room table, pushed aside my laptop, stacks of papers waiting to be graded, and my toddler’s breakfast dishes.  I pulled the ez-open cardboard tab, and slid out a large white folder.  Inside it was a thick piece of paper, although it wasn’t as thick as I thought it would be.  It felt oddly insubstantial.  The page had my school’s name on it in large, gothic letters at the top, and then my name underneath it.  Then it had a paragraph about how I was now to be admitted into the privileges and rights that all holders of my degree have, and finally there was a shiny seal and some signatures.  That was it.

I sat there holding that piece of paper in my lap and I wept out a giddy little laugh.  It was suddenly real.  Apparently in the months since August, nobody had called the graduate school and told them it was all a big mistake and that I should never have been admitted after all and all that coursework I did was of course inadequate and I my defense wasn’t good enough and all of those errors that still remain in the submitted text clearly disqualify me for this thing oh and by the way you didn’t pay a fee back in 1999 so it’s all over now.  Apparently none of those things happened because here it was, in my lap.

My Ph.D.

It was real. And it was mine.  My name was right there on it.  Printed in black ink.

Right after I had submitted my dissertation, Spousal Unit said that for him the stress of the whole experience fell away slowly over time, kind of like a shedding.  I’ve been shedding bits and pieces for the last few months.  But it’s not natural yet — and I’m still stressed.  It took 15 years to create the stressed out energy that pushed me through the process, and that’s not going away overnight.  Every now and then I’ll be cooking or eating or reading or walking with the Gadlet and I’ll think, “Oh shit! Stop what you’re doing RIGHT NOW and get back to work on your dissertation!”  But then I remember I don’t have a dissertation to work on any more.  It’s done.  And then I take a deep breath and shed some stress, feeling a bit of my anger, my pain, my fear, my armor, my sadness fall away.

But I still wasn’t sure it was real.  Until last Tuesday when a nonchalant UPS guy in doofy brown shorts who had clearly talked to 150 other overjoyed overwrought dissertators that day brought vindication in a small, white cardboard box.

Blurg: Gadlet Conversations

Yesterday Afternoon at the Beach:

Stewgad: “Hey Gadlet, tomorrow Dada is going to take you out on a Very Big Boat and you guys are going to sail around in the ocean and look for Dolphins.”

Gadlet: “No no Pat Pat Dolphins.  Dolphins Wild. (pronounced Whydld.)”

S: “Yeah, you’re right.  Dolphins are wild.”

G: “Elephants Wild.”

S: (surprised at this turn of conversation.)  “Yeah, they are.”

G: “Giraffes too.”

S: “Yes, Giraffes are wild.  What other animals do you know that are wild?”

G: “Yeah.”  (Her standard response these days when she doesn’t know the answer to a question.)

S: “How about Tigers?  Can you pat tigers?”

G: “Noooo.  Tigers wild.”

S:  “Yeah.  How about Lions?”

G:  (Giggles.) “No.  Lions wild.”

S: “What about kitties?”

G: (Very Seriously) “Kitties wild.”

S:  “Really?  What about Nana’s kitty, Shiloh?  Is Shilo wild?”

G:  “Yes.”  (kid’s right, that cat’s pretty intense.)

S: “How about doggies?  Are doggies wild?”

G: “No.”

S: “You can pat doggies, can’t you?  Do you pat Nana’s doggie, Buddy?”

G: “Yes.  Pat Buddy.”  (Pause.)  Doggies happy.”

S: “You’re right, kiddo.  Doggies do generallly seem pretty happy.”

———–

This morning, Beach House, 6:35 A.M.

Gadlet:  (Having been extracted from her Packnplay by that soft touch, Spousal Unit, she walks over to the bed where Stewgad is trying to sleep.)    “Mama.  Restaurant Please.  Eggies.”

—————

Ph.D.

It’s in!!!
I’m done!

Stewgad, Ph.D.

Making Lemonade

So what is that saying about life, when it gives you lemons, make lemonade? I guess I’m wondering what you do when life hands you a plate full of shit. Shit salad? Flambe? Smoothie?

I had two weeks between when we got back from visiting family to finish my dissertation to submit for the last degree deadline this year. I did it. I finished the changes, fixed all problems, turned in everything, handed it all in to my advisor, bought the archival paper, saw the thesis advisor, and found out about the WHOPPING $1400 bill. (that’s what they charge you when you take 15 years to finish your thesis…) I’m sitting here all poised to print this puppy off and run it over to the thesis czar for checking and final approval.

And I haven’t heard word one from my advisor since I gave him the whole thing earlier in the week. Not an email saying he got it in reply to my email saying I dropped it off. Not a note saying that it is all awful and I have to redo the whole thing so get going, Stewgad. Not anything.

So it doesn’t look like I’m going to get to file for the degree for this year.

I suppose I should just say, what the hell, after 15 years, what’s another year? Is a ’10 degree really that much different than a ’09 degree? Somehow, it is. It meant something to me. It meant a lot. It meant that I could go away on Saturday with my head held high. It meant that I could start the semester knowing that I had a degree. It just meant I was done. And now, I won’t be.

And did I mention that the fucking university doesn’t take credit cards to pay your fees? So I have to somehow find $1400 in CASH to fork over to those fucking greedy bastards. As if I haven’t given them enough of my money over the years…

Oh and if all of this isn’t stressful enough, I’m supposed to have a book review and an article finished by tomorrow. And did I happen to mention that my Dad is going into rehab today?

Yep. Plate full of shit. Anybody got any good recipes?

Update:

I decided that instead of sitting here crying, I should get on touch with my advisor and let him know the time frame. He finally emailed back!! We’re meeting tomorrow at 8 am to hand over the approval forms! Then I have to run to the thesis office and get the czar to check the format. Then fix whatever she says, run to Spousal Unit’s big science thingey, print the sucker and hand it in by noon when the thesis office closes. Wish me luck, hope, dignity, and no new arriving plates full of shit!