Corners & Pacts

Last week I got myself back into a writing rhythm, and then promptly wrote myself into a corner. I hate when I do that. You know that thing that happens when you write and write and write and things are going along just fine, and then suddenly, it’s like, you hit this wall. Not with the writing, but with the thinking. I don’t know what happened, but I created this major thinking block about how to connect the narrative introductory story to the analysis and major questions in the project. I couldn’t see a way out of what I created. I backed up and tried again on a different approach, but that didn’t work either. I repeated this process over and over, but nothing worked and finally I got really overwhelmed about where to go next and what to do.

So, I did what any overly-anxious, time-pressed, depressed, hypochondriac, agoraphobic dissertator does (only the time-pressed is an official diagnosis…) I panicked. And then sat on the couch for three days reading fiction. (By the way, the Anita Blake vampire hunter novels by Laurell Hamilton are nice little bits of bloody, violent, slightly repetitive brain candy.)

Spousal Unit has been at a conference at work every day and night for the past two weeks (except Sundays), so he didn’t really clue into what was going on with my little Howard Hughes-esque vacation from reality, which I like to call a “retreat.”

But, in one of those nice moments when the universe provides you with what you need just when you need it, a friend who has recently moved back to town to finish his dissertation stopped by the house and caught me at 4:00 in the afternoon sitting in my living room freebasing Oreos watching a Joss Whedon production of some sort, with a novel in my lap, while my backpack chock full of dissertaty goodness sat safely zipped up in the hallway. He seemed to think that this was an indication that I wasn’t working. Go figure.

DBG (Dissertating Bug Guy) decided that he and I, both 10+ year dissertators trying to finish this summer, needed to help each other out by reporting in to each other about what is going on. Sometimes, only another person in the same situation as you can understand the sheer terror that happens when you have this huge internal mental block and this enormous fear that you aren’t good enough, can’t do this thing that you’ve set yourself up to do, will never get this bloody thing done and off your back, and clearly will have to live with the consequences of personal failure for the rest of your whole damned life. Wait, where was I?

Oh yeah, help. So, we made a pact. DBG’s going to call me every morning by 9:00 to make sure that I’m up and working and at the computer. Then, at the end of the day, we’re both going to report in to each other about what we’ve accomplished that day. We promised we’d be brutally, completely honest. He’s got to tell me if all he’s done is walked around and chain-smoked, and I’ve got to tell him that all I’ve done was read 800 pages of fiction and consumed 2000% of my saturated fat for the day. But, ideally, we’ll tell each other instead that, “Hey, guess what? I wrote some stuff. I accomplished something!” Either way, we’ll have some accountability.

Yesterday, didn’t count, though, because I had to go have Frankentooth replaced by Cylontooth (almost impossible to tell from the real thing, but yet something is not quite right. Just a little to slick to be believable…) So — accountability begins today.

Anyway, the other day after DBG left, I decided that one of the things I needed to return to work was a writing space in the house so that I don’t have to be in the Cage constantly. Spousal Unit wrote his dissertation at a tiny little antique typing table that belonged to my parents and held their typewriter until we got an Apple II+ in the ’80s. Anyway, S.U. put this table in the dining room, which in that apartment was the center of the whole house. It was a great thing for him because it physically shifted the whole focus of the house to his dissertation — it was in the heart of our lives for the three or four months it took him to write up. (Bastard Scientist.) For some reason, even though I have a whole study of my own, I’ve never been able to work in my study. I think it is too lonely and too far removed from all of the action. I’m always wondering what is going on while I’m up in my study, and I feel like I’m missing out on the BEST stuff if I’m up in the study. Even if there’s no one else in the house.

I’ve been eyeing this little corner of the living room as an ideal work space for a while — but it held a huge bookcase filled with oh-so-useful stuff like cassette tapes. (Yes, we still have our cassette tapes. Neither of us can bear to chuck them until we find out what is on them so that we can replace it on iTunes, but who has that kind of time?) The typing table of S.U.’s dissertation fame was sitting in the entry by the front door holding bills and junk mail and crap. So, I got this genius idea — put the cassette tapes in a box to either toss or deal with another time, and swap the bookcase for the table. It was a little challenging since the bookcase was too tall to fit through the door and I was moving it all on my own, but I got it done. Now, we have a lot more storage space in the entry for even more junk mail, and I have a nice little workspace in the living room — at the heart of it all.

And, oddly enough, finding a little desk in the corner inspired me yesterday to sit down and write myself out of that corner that I had gotten into. I found a way (a nice tidy little way, I think) to link my narrative to the central questions of the diss. So, I think today I can get out of my pajamas, take the Kleenex boxes off of my feet, and return to the reality of dissertationland.

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7 responses to “Corners & Pacts

  1. Very wise moves!

  2. I’ve been meaning to punch in and say hello again, and good luck! Selfishly, I’m so glad that you’re back to blogging *as well as* back to the diss.

    (Oh, wait, you probably have no idea who this is–I’m the blogger formerly known as La Lecturess.)

  3. Well done — both about creating accountability for yourself and for creating a physical place that feels better for writing.

  4. Good for you! Keep it up!

  5. grumpyABDadjunct

    Hurrah, good for you! I have an accoutability buddy, we talk once a week and it has been a great help for both of us.

    “freebasing Oreos” – I’ll have to try that someday!

  6. Good job. I am also stuck, and have been contemplating moving things around. Another friend who is writing has agreed to share work with me, in the name of mutual accountability, but maybe just a call would work, like you are doing. Maybe we could set up a network of blog-accountability for diss writers. Not sure how that would work, but it sounds neat. I was thinking about putting a counter or something on my blog with number of pages/words, so everyone can see how much work I’m (not) getting done.
    You have inspired me. Keep writing.

  7. I’m so totally stuck right now that I had to squinch my eyes up really, really hard and think really optimistic thoughts in order to get to the “this enormous fear that you aren’t good enough, can’t do this thing that you’ve set yourself up to do, will never get this bloody thing done and off your back, and clearly will have to live with the consequences of personal failure for the rest of your whole damned life” stage.

    But yesterday, I made a deal with one friend adn today I’m calling another to make some sort of accountability arrangement. Damn, I hope it helps.

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