Yesterday, I finished revising the section of the chapter that I have been working on all summer. (well, “working” on “all” “summer”…) I was totally psyched because I thought that pretty much took care of what I had to do for this chapter. And then this morning I picked up the commented/edited version returned by the advisor and realized that I’m only halfway through. Discouraging. Especially because I wanted to finish it before my Mom arrives for a visit on Friday since I suspect that we won’t be spending much time working on the diss., but rather gathering crap for the Gadlet. Shopping, and playing with baby clothes and toys sounds like much more fun for a grandmother-to-be than sitting in the coffee shop watching me type, even if it is on an Apple. (FYI – if you ever get pregnant, you’ll find that everyone you have ever met will appear on your doorstep wanting to look at you and rub your belly. I don’t really find it all that exciting, just inconvenient and increasingly uncomfortable, but apparently the belly exerts some strange power over my fellow humans. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the company, but I’m just finding it amusing that everyone wants to have a peek at the Internal Gadlet when I suspect the External Gadlet will be much, much more interesting, if slightly less easy to tote around.)
Anyway, so I was a little discouraged by the amount of stuff I have left to do on this chapter. But, like a good little Stewgad, I started plugging away at it anyway while I sat in the waiting room of the tire store as they patched up our flat tire instead of reading the temptingly trashy magazines they had sitting there. (Aren’t I virtuous?) Mostly, the advisor has a concern that the passive voice is overly used in the chapter, and the second half certainly has this as a problem. 🙂 (Who, me? Deflect authorial responsibility by passivising my language?) Anyway, that is a pretty easy fix. I just need to take agency and assert that actors are doing things. That, I can do.
So, I’m moving along, removing passivity, tidying up stuff, tightening things, and then I come across a supposedly harmless marginal question that pretty much undermines my confidence in the whole chapter and in myself and my whole dissertation.
Here’s the situation: I’m trying to make the case that something happened in the past for which I have no direct and explicit evidence. None of my historical actors EVER come out and say “Hey, we’re doing this thing.” However, they do do it (this fact is very well-documented), and there are many, many indicators that they know why they are doing it and that they are perfectly aware of the consequences of doing it. The whole chapter is, essentially, building up this circumstantial evidence into a strong case for the why they did it and their awareness of the consequences involved. Given this, what on earth do I do with the fact that on p. 26 of a 50-something page chapter, the advisor wrote “the goal here would be to show [these actors] saying Aha! We need to [do this thing].”
Yeah. No shit. That WOULD be the goal. I spent a year researching private papers at the Library of Congress looking for this precise thing. I spent more years than I care to recount sorting through microfilmed letters, attempting to read the handwriting of insane, blind, ancient historical figures who apparently wrote their letters in heiroglyphics with their feet, looking for this thing. I’ve read acres and acres of public political documents looking for this thing. I simply did not find it. Period. And, the thing that pisses me off, is that he knows good and well I did not find this kind of Aha! statement. He knows it. And he knows that what I do have — the preponderance of evidence for the action –is actually pretty effective and persuasive. In fact, he says so in his ultimate comments on this chapter.
So, what do I do with this marginal comment? Do I attempt to pursue it? Do I throw in a footnote detailing the years of work I undertook only to NOT find something, which then emphasizes the weakness of my case rather than focusing on the positive strengths of what I do have (a technique he tacitly advocated three pages later when he cut a section where I was hemming and hawing about the lack of some other info and told me to focus on what I do have) or do I just ignore this particular comment and continue with my de-passification project and move on, trying to plow through as much material as I can before Friday?
All in all, it reminds me of that great song on Free to Be, You and Me derived from a Shel Silverstein poem whose punchline is: “some kind of help is the kind of help that helping’s all about. And some kind of help is the kind of help … we all can do without.”
I strongly suspect that that comment was the Kind of Help I Could Do Without.