Reports of my Death have been Greatly Exaggerated

So there I was, sitting on the beach in North Carolina minding my own business, enjoying the crash of the surf when up swept this mildly deranged and yet sexy guy in dreadlocks, a bandanna, and excessive eyeliner who tucked me under his arm and put me on a sailing ship where all of the sailors turned into skeletons in the moonlight. We sailed around for a bit until they forced me to walk the plank and swim to a deserted island. After I burned (oops, I mean drank) all of the rum stowed in a secret dugout, I started walking on the island and ran into this crazy bunch of folk who insisted that if they didn’t type these bunch of numbers into a computer stowed into a subterranean bunker every 27 minutes the world would end. I thought I shouldn’t stick around too long with these guys, particularly because I found the fact that they seemed to have a limitless wardrobe and perfect makeup even though they claimed to have been survivors of a plane crash a bit suspicious. I kept walking around the island until I encountered another starved and crazy group of people who were organized into “tribes” that banded together to complete these random and ridiculous tasks to earn “immunity points.” Since they insisted that the inanity that were engaged in was “reality,” I just couldn’t hang with that crowd. So, I spent a few weeks spearing and eating raw fish and coconuts, shredding my feet on the coral, and transforming a washed up Federal Express package into a raft that I then sailed back to my inland home.

What, you don’t believe me? Damn. It was that last bit about the Fed Ex package that gave it away, wasn’t it?

The real, more mundane version is that as soon as we got back from beaching it with the Unit family (which was delightful) I realized I only had 10 days until the semester started and hadn’t even begun to think about teaching yet. So between the prepping for classes and the start of classes and the first rounds of grading turning up on my doorstep, I’ve been away from Dissertationland, and hence the blogoverse for quite a while now.

Finally today I’ve surfaced from the teaching enough to hide myself out at the best kept secret library on the Big University campus (it overlooks a wooded small lake with islands and abundant wildlife, could it be more idyllic? Plus, I’m the only one in here other than the librarian. How often does that happen at a R1 university library?) and am sitting down to grapple with what Spousal Unit and I are calling “That-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named.”

So, Where am I with that damned thing? I don’t know, really. I’m still trying to deal with the last few bits of the introduction. And, there’s a bit of a rush on things now. I’m not registered, I’m not on leave, or anything official, I’ve just happily ignored all communication from the Big University for a while now. (I think that, actually, they think that I may owe them something like $20,000 in tuition. Hopefully, they’ll hold off on sending the large men in black tracksuits with baseball bats for a few weeks.) In order to jump through any of those important bureaucratic hoops that maintain me as a legitimate PhD candidate, including completing the oh-so-humiliating “petition to extend time to degree” that they are telling me I need to do, I have to see 1. My Advisor. 2. My Whole Committee. I can’t bear to do it. I’ve successfully hidden from #2 for two or so years now, I see no need to break that happy state of things at his stage just to get their John Hancocks on a piece of paper that is the graduate school equivalent of wearing a hair shirt. (What are hair shirts, anyway? Were they made of hair? Whose hair? Was it really so uncomfortable or was it just the shame of it all? Hm. Something to Wikipedia when I’m done with this post.)

Furthermore, I just don’t feel like I can show up on these guys’ doorsteps empty handed. So, I need something to show them. And that means at least having a finished Introduction. I would, of course, like to have MUCH more, but that’s all I’ve got even close to ready right now and I don’t think I can put off this official paperwork for another month or two while I putz around with the next chapter revisions.

I’m also in the middle of a not-so-healthy cycle of self-flagellation and whining about the dissertation, too. I just keep wondering, what is wrong with me? Why can’t I seem to finish this? Everyone else I know has done it, why can’t I? It’s not like I don’t have any reason to finish. I’ve got both negative and positive motivations for finishing. Here they are:

Negative #1. It has been strongly suggested to me by a person in position of power over me at my job that I “absolutely need” to finish. (Implication: My job could be jeopardized.)

Negative # 2. Spousal Unit is sick of living with this shit and has threatened dire actions if it doesn’t wind up soon.

Negative #3. The Shame, shame, shame of being a decade+ dissertator.

Positive #1. I get a WHOPPING big raise when I finish.

Positive #2. SU and I feel like we’re just waiting for our lives to start — that this thing is holding us back in so many ways. We want a dog. We want a family. We want to travel without having to lug along a laptop and a crate of books and documents.

Positive #3. Once I’m done, I don’t think I ever have to reveal how long it took me to finish, do I? I mean, it’s like that old adage about the last guy in his class at medical school. The decade+ dissertator when done is still called doctor, right?

So, given all of these important motivating reasons, I once again, keep coming back to the question: what is wrong with me?

Well, I’m sure I won’t come up with an answer today, or at least today before I start working again on the Intro. So, I’ll cross my fingers, hold my nose, and dive in — and hope that while I’m sitting here typing, some sexy deranged guy in excessive eyeliner will whisk me away to a deserted island chock full of stockpiled rum where no one has ever even heard of a dissertation.

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11 responses to “Reports of my Death have been Greatly Exaggerated

  1. She lives! Hooray!

  2. All I have to say is “I love you.” As a family member, I get to say that on the blogosphere. You hold your head up!! I believe in you. Just keep going, one step at a time. You’re at base camp for the trek to the top of Mount Everest. You’ve already negotiated permission to climb from the government, trained and gotten the experience and skills you need to get to the top, gotten yourself halfway around the world, and halfway up the mountain. Read “Savage Arena” if you want more visuals and good stories about mountain climbing. :>
    So…just one step at a time. And don’t you forget, hold your head up high!

  3. I’m glad you’re back, and I’m sending good wishes your way…

  4. Welcome back. Now just finish that little paper, will you? And be done with it. The nice thing about dissertations, aside from all the things they might be, is the most important thing for them to be… and that’s DONE!

  5. You know that all of this perceived inability to finish is 100% pyschological, don’t you? Don’t give it that much power over you, stewgad. And do spend some time thinking about what may be at the root of your hesitancy to finish.

    And, stop being so hard on yourself.

  6. Oh, Oh, Oh! You are out there! Focus on the positives and get to writing! Good to hear from you.

  7. Good to see you back! It’s a lot easier to give dissertation advice than it is to take it, but a little perspective helps – this is supposed to be the last stage of your apprenticeship and therefore the beginning of your career, NOT the last thing ever written in your field. It only needs to be good enough to show them you know the basic techniques, not the be-all and end-all of your whole professional existence.

    And the hiding out from your professors thing? a) they really don’t spend as much time judging their students as their students think they do, and b) it drives them nuts when students disappear for those reasons (waiting until you have something “good enough” to justify your absence… the catch with that is that the longer you’re absent, the more you feel you need to show for it, and the longer you have to work on it.) Break the cycle and check in! Trust me, they’d rather hear from you than not, regardless of how much you have done.

  8. I have not read this blog or the other comments, but the title has me in stitches! And so very glad you are right! And back. Now… I look forward to reading…

  9. Hey welcome back! Hoping the work goes well. Listen to that Pilgrim/Heretic woman–she’s smart.

  10. Heh – thanks, Scriv! I confess I was thinking of you too as I wrote that comment… 🙂

    I know, I know, it’s easy to judge from the other side of the fence, but it kills me to see so many really talented people get so hung up over their dissertations that they can’t move on. A month after you’ve defended, it will completely recede into the background, and in most cases will have very little impact on the rest of your life. So don’t let it grow so much out of proportion.

  11. New Kid on the Hallway

    Yay, good to see you! And for the record, it took me ten years to complete my degree (including a humiliating 18 months of revisions between my official defense and when I actually submitted the thing – I had to revise before submitting and it ended up with me rewriting the entire second half). And no, no one has once said word one to me about how long it took me to finish. Honestly, no one cares. I know a lovely man who took 14 years to get his degree and now happily has tenure at a school where they love him. (I do know a woman who took 17 years to finish whose career has crashed and burned, but it has nothing to do with how long it took her to finish; she actually got a TT job when she was done, but then didn’t get tenure, which isn’t especially surprising, as she’s one of the world’s most annoying human beings. But clearly the people who hired her didn’t care how long it took her to finish!)

    I hope these little anecdotes are remotely helpful. Also, have you encountered any of the academic coaches floating around the blogosphere? It’s an expense, but they might be really helpful for breaking the cycle of anxiety and beating yourself up over what’s not done, and helping you move forward.

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