Tuesdays are my days to write. I usually drop off the Gadlet with Darby, find a cozy place that will serve me coffee and food and not mind if I park my butt there for the rest of the day. Alright, if I’m really honest that is what I do on a GOOD day. Bad days usually involve a lot more farting around in the form of shopping for Gadlet stuff, reading, web-surfing, television, and anything else I can find to keep me from having to face TWSNBN…sigh.
Anyway, my point is to tell you that on the way into the cafe today I realized something huge. Here it is:
All of my problems with this dissertation are self-generated and psychological. Yep. Psychological. As in psycho, bonkers, nuts, bananas. As in “it’s all in your head.”
Yeah, I’m sure you’re all out there going DUH, Stewgad. Big fucking Duh. I know, I know … always the last to know
I probably have known that my problems are in my head for a while kind of unconsciously, I mean, you don’t go 12-13 years on any project and not finish it and NOT know that something is kinda fucked up in that noggin. And I’ve certainly put in my fair share of couch time with the therapist as a result. (So much so that the last time I went, I think she was not only bored but really sick of hearing AGAIN that I’m scared and tired and overwhelmed and did I mention scared? I think I even caught her clenching her teeth to contain the emerging yawn.)
But despite all of this I think I was still willing to some degree to attribute some of my difficulty to outside sources: the first bad advisor, the trauma he caused, the distractions of a job, a baby, a husband, a house, a life, (none of which I’m willing to give up), the still undeveloped real relationship with the current advisor, pressure from people, etc.
But you know what? It’s been 10 years since the first traumatic advisor related event, 6 years since the second. That’s a LONG fucking time ago. The fact that I’m still grappling with this is ridiculous. It’s WAY past time to let that shit go.
And the rest? I’ve been asking myself if these things are really keeping me from finishing or if they are just helping me choose to distract myself so that I don’t have to face the work that lies ahead.
A couple of conversations I’ve had in the last few days have also made me think about this in a new way. The Gadlet’s Auntie Unit came to visit for her birthday. One morning, while Spousal Unit read to the The Gadlet on the potty (which I’m starting to think is a big mistake, by the way. She never wants to be done on the potty these days. That kid will sit there for hours after she’s shat if only we’ll sit there with her reading Miss Spider’s Fraking Tea Party, anyway, I digress..) Auntie Unit and I had a really lovely conversation about our lives and our paths. She asked how my work was going. I offered my usual reply — I grabbed my head and groaned. She then told me this nice story about her own life and about how sometimes we get stuck in an emotional pattern that used to apply to a situation but that those emotions are old, and habitual, but that perhaps they don’t really apply to our current moment. It was a very nice and sweet way of saying, “Hey, Stewgad, that old shit is OLD. And getting kinda tired. Can’t you come up with some new emotions that might actually be relevant to the moment you’re in right now?” To which a little light went on and made me go, “huh.”
Maybe, just maybe, I’m afraid not because of who I am now and what the project is now but because of what it used to be and who I used to be. I mean, I used to be a 23 year-old clueless graduate student who naively thought that if she just worked hard enough that she’d get told everything was perfect, congratulations, and here’s your PhD, well done Stewgad. Boy did that poor kid get the everlivingshit crushed out of her. But you know what? I’m a 37 year old professor and mother who picked herself up from that pile of crushed everlivingshit and moved on. So why am I still approaching this dissertation as if I am that scared, inexperienced, and innocent little kid? Hm.
Then yesterday I was talking with one of my colleagues about my student’s honors project and she told me that you have to watch these over-achieving types because someday they’re going to hit a wall where they realize that working hard and throwing all of their effort into something just isn’t enough, and you want to manage them so that they don’t have to learn how to get past that in the middle of their honors project. (Presumably, you want them to put off learning that until they’re in a Ph.D. program.)
As I nodded wisely and agreed, it occurred to me that she, too, probably without knowing it, was telling me nicely to get over my own shit. Everybody hits that wall at some point, right? I think it is what we call adulthood. The moment when we realize that all of our effort might not be enough to do what we want and so that we have to think about new ways of learning, of knowing, and of doing to either achieve our goals or find different goals. So maybe it is time for me to find a new way of thinking about this. Hm.
I think that that moment happened for me a long time ago — I realized that my whole effort wasn’t going to be enough. So, as a very clever but not so very useful solution, I decided just to not give it my whole effort. In fact, I decided to give it very little effort and give my energies to many other things with more immediate and tangible rewards. Like teaching and loving and living. Combine this effort-reduction with the emotional baggage the dissertation held, and a sense that I couldn’t handle either the pressure or the fear, but yet absolutely had to finish, I made a perfectly good trap for myself. Or a nice recipe for depression, guilt, anger, and defeat. Hm.
So where does that leave me?
Of course, I have the option to stop. To quit. And to walk away from both the degree and my career and choose to do something else. And, let me tell you, this is such an attractive option.
But. There’s always a little nagging but that appears when I think about this. A sense that if I do this, if I let this chance to get over my own shit, to overcome the fear, to find a new approach to the project, to complete it, and to learn how to take criticism of it without being destroyed, I think I will lose something profoundly important to myself. I will miss this really important chance to grow. And that would really suck.
Plus, there were a couple of moments in the past decade where I was on the verge of quitting and then the universe thrust me back into the way of the project. The first was when I was in Cold Midwestern College Town while Spousal Unit did his post-doc. I was ready to quit and then he got a job back here, at my Ph.D. institution. Fate throwing me back into it. Then a few years later, I was really really ready to quit and then out of the blue I get a phone call with a job offer for a tenure-track job that I had applied for and not hired for a year before. How often does that happen? I think the universe keeps giving me chances to do this. I think I need to listen.
So I’m thinking about a couple of things.
The first is a dissertation coach. Someone to help me get through this next step and help me finish this project. I’ve done only a little investigation — as in I imitated my students’ research methods and contacted the company with the first google entry that came up. They want $400-450 a month for coaching, with a free initial consultation. Which, egad, seems like a lot of money. But, on the other hand, it may be the best freaking money I ever spent. I don’t know.
Anybody out there have experience with a dissertation coach? Anybody out there a dissertation coach? Any thoughts on this are most welcome.
The second thing is that I’m thinking I need to just find the time every day to work on this. It clearly isn’t getting done on the piecemeal times I’m giving it. So, I’ve decided to get up at 5:30 each day and give the dissertation an hour. I’m going to start tomorrow, after I’ve had today to work so that I won’t be starting on an uphill. But I think that giving it some time every day will keep it in my mind and therefore I’ll make a lot more progress on it.
The last thing I think I’m going to do is just do an emotional flush. I’m going to be done with all of the emotions I’ve got about this from the past. When they happen I’m going to recognize them, say hello, and tell them that they’re a decade old and way past their prime. I don’t think I can quite manage a clean slate, but I think I can manage a new slate next to the old one.
So, here I go. Diving back in. Wish me luck.