Category Archives: Dissertation

Otherwise known as: The Beast, The Burden, That Which Shall Not Be Named (TWSNBN), That Fucking Thing, and ARRGH!!


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?


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!


Previously, on Pretty Hard, Dammit: 

Our feckless heroine began graduate school with a over-inflated sense of hope, and an underdeveloped sense of the dangers she was about to face.  Consequently, she stumbled into some excruciating scenes of advisor-inflicted pain, humiliation, and emotional abuse before the old guy (we’ll call him Advisor 1) retired and passed her along to the new guy (Advisor 2).  The psychic scars Advisor 1 left behind were deep, jagged, and wound up festering for years.  But, despite this, our heroine, as all heroines must do, eventually overcame the trials and tribulations she faced, and completed her degree.  


A few weeks before my defense, I was meeting with Advisor 2 about the process on the Actual Day.  We were talking about who would be present, and he asked me if I would like to have Advisor 1 there.  Cue a Very Long Pause during which I was trying very, very hard to come up with a polite way to answer his question.  (window into Stewgad’s brain at that moment:  So, self, what do you think? NO FUCKING WAY not if my very life depended on it, nope, there is not enough no in the world,  NO FUCKING WAY, I’d rather have anesthetic-free dental surgery and give birth at the SAME TIME, and by the way, NO FUCKING WAY!)  Instead of saying any of those things, I thought back on my many, many years of graduate training, pulled up every resource I could muster, and used my hard-won skills: “Do YOU think I should have him there?”  (genius move, eh?)  In the kindest way possible, he pretty much said “NO FUCKING WAY.”  He had asked, he said, because he thought I should have the option of having Advisor 1 there since I began this whole business with the guy, but that he wasn’t sure it was such a good idea.  I responded with some variation on, yeah, dude, you can say that again.   Then I said that I hadn’t even laid eyes on Advisor 1 in something like 4 or 5 years.  I expressed a degree of surprise that I’d never even run into him at the grocery store or anything,  since this is a pretty small town.  Advisor 2 said he probably thought Advisor 1 didn’t get out much.  We chuckled, and moved on to the next topic.

Fast forward to last week.  

On Sunday, we all skipped church, (yes, church!  Gasp!  We’ve gone over to the “dark side” and have been going to a church.  But before y’all revoke my potty-mouth atheist academic skeptic credentials, it’s a UNITARIAN church, so I’m not sure it REALLY counts as church.) Anyhoo, we ditched “church” in order to go grocery shopping — the absence of fresh food in the  house was that bad.  We’d pretty much finished shopping, and Spousal Unit was heading with the Gadlet in our cart to the checkout when I suddenly remembered that I needed some Very Important Things, so I ran off to get them and said I’d meet up with them shortly.  I trotted off to buy my necessary products, and returned to the front of the store, where I started merrily blabbing to Spousal Unit in a probably over-loud voice about the criminal rising costs of tampons and about how if men menstruated then those suckers would be handed out free on every street corner.  S.U., made a weird face, which I thought was odd because he doesn’t usually mind talking about feminine hygiene products, on the everybody-knows-they’re-not-for-him principle.  Then he rolled his eyes, and jerked his head to the front of the cashier line, with a grimace and an urgent eye roll that said, “Shut the hell up, Stewgad, and look behind me.”  

Time slowed in that way that it only does in movies or in really terrible real-life moments, and as I turned my head to look around Spousal Unit, I saw him.  Advisor 1.  At the Grocery Store.  And me, standing there, with my arms wrapped around a 5,000,000-count box of tampons.  

So I did what any sane person would do. I ducked.  Literally.  With lightning fast-graduate-student-terror-induced, ninja-like reflexes, I dropped down below the level of the cart, narrowly avoiding getting kicked in the head by the Gadlet, who had to have been wondering what on earth her mama was doing.  Then I crab-walked my way around so that I was hiding behind the candy/tabloid display.  There I crouched until S.U. gave me the all clear signal.  What the other shoppers thought of this, I can only imagine. 

As we walked out of the grocery, S.U. and I had a good chuckle about it.  Whew, we said, that was a close one!  Not only would have talking to him opened up a whole barrel of shit that I really didn’t want to deal with in the middle of the grocery store, but for chrissakes, I was holding a box of TAMPONS, which would have made everybody there think about where those things go and why and that would have just created a whole new universe of terribleness that would have made the shame of academic humiliation utterly pale in comparison.  After we got home, I didn’t think much more about the incident, except to send up a big boatload of gratitude to the Universe that the rich variety of American tabloid journalism had turned out to be so useful in preventing such an awful encounter. 

OK, now I know you’re not going to believe this, but three days later…

On a total whim, I decided that I absolutely could not bear one more instant of my fucking car lock clicker working only 1/15th of the time.  For months, every time I went to the car, I’d stand there and then: click, click, click, “fuck!”, click, click,click, “fuck!” click, click, and then finally, the car would half-heartedly unlock.  Wait, you say, do I know that I could have just stuck that nifty little piece of metal into the handy little receptacle on the handle of the door and turn it, and hence, open the car that way, the way people have been opening cars since cars began?  Why, yes, I reply, that is very handy, except for when you are very angry at the small and partially useless piece of technology in your hand that is supposed to make your life easier, and so are hell-bent and determined to get that fucking thing to work.  Where was I?  Oh yes, on a whim, I decided I could not stand it ANY LONGER and so after I dropped the Gadlet off at day care, I went to the Subaru dealer to get them to fix the clicker. 

I walk in, go to the parts department, and watch as the guy says that it probably only needs a battery.  Chagrin.  Months of excessive anger over a dime-sized battery.  Sheesh. Anyway, the guy prys open the clicker, he finds the battery type, and goes into the back for an interminable amount of time to find a new battery of the  proper type.  I’m standing there waiting, and I turn my head and look and in the next room is…drumroll please… Advisor 1.  

I can’t fucking believe it.  I haven’t ever run into the man in 15 years of living in this town, and I run into him twice in one week?!!??  

I start looking around for alternate exits so I don’t have to walk past the waiting room to get out of the building.  That duck-and-cover move worked so well at the grocery, but I didn’t think it would fly here.  For one, there was no grocery cart or tabloid display to hide behind.  There was nothing to hide behind.  Just the parts counter, a short wall, and the waiting room.  And that battery guy was going to be back any minute.  I didn’t see any other exits, oh shit, there’s no other exits!  Like a cornered rat, I started to panic. 

And then some small rational voice piped up in my head.  Stewgad, it said, I think that the Universe is trying to tell you something.  And I think it’s trying pretty hard.  You’ve never run into this guy in 15 years of living in this town and you run into him twice in one week??  What do you think is going on?  Do you think this is a strange coincidence?  Maybe, just maybe, you should buck the fuck up, get over yourself, and talk to the man.  

I took a deep breath, girded my loins, whatever the hell those are, and went into the waiting room and said hello to him.  He actually looked happy to see me, and congratulated me on finishing my degree.  (!!)  I said something like, “yes, finally!”  

And then a small miracle (for me) occurred.  He said, “Yes, I’m really sorry about that.”  


Now, let’s just pause for a moment and let that sink in.  


He was really sorry.  And he TOLD me that he was really sorry.  For all of the damage, for the way things turned out, for the psychic scars he left, and for how long it took me to finish.  In six simple words, he said all of that.  I knew it, and he knew it.  We shared that knowledge and the emotions of that mutual experience.  He was sorry. 

In my shock, I started babbling about, yes, well, full-time teaching position, baby, etc., extenuating circumstances, blah, blah.  All the while my mind was reeling.

He was sorry.  

We went on to have a really, really lovely conversation about my prospects for publication, about the article I was thinking about writing, and about the book I’m thinking about writing next.  That really perked his interest, and he had a great suggestion for something I should look at for it.  It was delightful.  We talked about my kid, his grandkids, his kids, and his work too.  At the end of the conversation, he told me to stop on by his office the next time I was up on campus and we’ll chat some more. 

I walked out in tears.  He said he was sorry. 

And suddenly, I was free.  Free of the burden of the last decade, free of the pain that the dissertation process brought, and free from my guilt and anger about him and our relationship.  It was like closure for my whole graduate school experience. 

Now, I’m not a big believer in universal conspiracies.  But, if his car hadn’t crapped out, if my car clicker hadn’t been annoyingly dying for months, if he hadn’t run out of milk and had to shop, and  if I hadn’t hid at the grocery with the tampons… I’d still be carrying all that toxic stuff around with me, and who knows when I would have gotten to deal with it.   Or, looked at another way, if I hadn’t decided to take a moment and solve a small problem, this huge one would have never been resolved either.  I suppose, though, that if I hadn’t gone to the car dealer that day,  I’d have run into him the next day at the taco stand or two days later at the beautician or the following Friday at the DMV.  I think that when the Universe wants you to get something, it can be pretty persistent.  

As I sat in the car for a few minutes thinking about what had just happened, it occurred to me for the first time that maybe Advisor 1 had also been feeling bad for years about the way it went down with the two of us, and that by finishing, I put all of that to rest.  Not just for myself, but for him also.  And then, I wondered if maybe, just maybe, that brief conversation in the waiting room had been healing for him too.  Maybe now he was also a bit freer than he had been when he went into the car dealer that day.  

So, it turns out, miracles can happen, and they can happen anywhere.  I mean, who knew that the local Subaru dealer sold car parts, clicker batteries, and forgiveness?


Um, hi.

 If anybody is still out there, sorry for the radio silence. I’ve been absolutely crazy with work since the defense.  Plus there was this whole stomach thing that drained me physically (literally …. eeewwww!!!)   just as I was at my most drained emotionally and intellectually.   I’ve been feeling all used up, with nothing extra left to spare.  

I’m certainly not done with the blog, and haven’t given it up, I think I’ve just been feeling utterly without words lately.  Like I’ve used them all up and haven’t generated any more in the reserves.  Even simple words just to describe my experiences are hard to find.  

For those of you who follow the more personal side of things, the Gadlet is so fabulous.  She’s learning her letters and numbers.  At 19 months, she’s learned most of the letters and can now count to … 2.   Yep, kid’s a genius.  Although that genius thing kind of falls apart because right now she says “yeah” to everything we say.  Like, “Hey Gadlet, is your Mama a supermodel?”  “yeah.”  “Is Dada an NFL Quarterback?”  “yeah.”  “You want some Tripe for dinner?” “yeah.”  “Can we cash in your college fund and go on a bender in Vegas?” “yeah.”   It’s pretty funny.  We figure we’re gonna pay for this blatant abuse of her trust when she figures out “no” and then we’ll hear nothing but “no” for the next two years.  But she’s taken to holding our faces and giving us kisses of her own volition, which is so lovely it shatters my heart into a million pieces every time she does it.  So hopefully that will continue well into the “no” phase.  (Wow, I managed to find a lot of words to talk about that!)

Anyway, there’s about 4 more weeks left in the semester.  After that, I get to devote myself full time to revising and polishing, then I can turn it all in.  So the diss. front is pretty good.  I imagine that I’ll return to a more regular accounting of (and for) myself when that gets going again.  

Until then, cheers and I’ll be back in touch soon!

Staring Down the Barrel

T-13 days and counting.  Gulp. 

I feel like I should explain why I haven’t been blogging, but hell, you all know.  I’m up for review, I’m finishing my god damned dissertation, teaching 3 classes, leading 4 (yes 4!!!) independent studies, directing 1 senior honors thesis, raising a toddler, and oh, yeah, fighting 5 (yes, 5!!!) episodes of the stomach flu in the last 4 weeks.  (Man, do I hate to puke. On the plus side, I’ve lost 10 lbs.  Can’t really recommend the method, though.)

And things just keep coming.  This week I got snowed in on campus, and so spent 3 days away from home and Spousal Unit and Gadlet.  And if that wasn’t enough, and I didn’t have enough going on, I spent 4.5 hours in the E.R. with a student on Wednesday after she came up to me after class and said she was going to faint and thought she was having a heart attack. Turns out, she had the stomach flu.  So, fucking hell, I’m expecting my 6th episode to hit any day now.  At least I got to take my first ride in an ambulance. 

I’m pretty much “done” with everything except tidying up the footnotes in the last chapter and writing the conclusion (which I’ve been struggling with for weeks now.)  And by “done” I don’t really mean done.  In fact, I think they’re just letting me defend out of pity because a) it has been 13 years, and b) I’ll lose my job if I don’t.  So, I’m not sure it really counts as “done” since I haven’t had a chance yet to make any of the revisions suggested by my advisor and I’m pretty sure that there are so many typos and errors in there that I’m going to be really embarrassed about it.  I’m hoping at the very least that they’ll pass me with the stipulation that I’ll get the degree if I fix it and clean it up. I have until mid-April to make that happen.  But, I guess I wouldn’t be allowed to defend if they didn’t think I would pass.  Right?  Right? (She says with great anxiety and hope.) 

After all of this time, I’m still kind of marveling a the fact that I’m going to defend, as well as marveling at the fact that it never, ever got any easier as time went on.  Shouldn’t it have?  Shouldn’t the words have come more readily, the ideas flowed more smoothly, the thoughts come more quickly as time went on?  Shouldn’t my fear of failure, of those with the incredible power to crush my dreams and ambitions, of my own limitations have faded over time?  Somehow, they never did.  I feel as terrified today as I did 13+ years ago when I started this.  Maybe even more scared, really.  And boy does that suck.

It also makes me look back on this process and really think about how much it damaged me.  I started grad school with this world of hope and self-confidence and curiosity and, god love my little self, innocence.  And in one fell swoop, one conversation, all of those things were crushed right out of me.  I was a 3-rd year grad student, I already had an M.A., and I’d recently survived a particularly brutal Ph.D. qualifying exam.  (One of my committee members later told me it was the second worst abuse of a graduate student he had ever seen, the first worst also was also by my advisor with a female student.  She left the program.)  But on that day, despite the brutality of the exam, I skipped my way into my advisor’s office with a sense of joy and anticipation — we were now colleagues engaging in an intellectual endeavor.  He had called the meeting, I thought, to begin discussions about my dissertation — he was going to help me think about where to begin, how to do it.  He was going to help.  I walked into his office, and sat down in one of those army-surplus green-gray metal chairs with a squishy vinyl seat that swivel, and faced him.  He sat in his army-surplus green-gray metal chair that swiveled at his desk.   He then began telling me that the oral exam that I had ostensibly “passed” four weeks ago was utter shit.  That I hadn’t had sufficient knowledge, that my interpretations were simplistic and uninformed, and that the only reason I had “passed” and was still in graduate school was by his good graces.  I was there because of his power, his benevolence in keeping me there, not because I had earned it or deserved it or was smart enough for it.  As he was saying these things, such awful, hateful, and devastating things, I started to look out of the window behind him.  It was one of those tall 19th-century windows with a high, curving beautiful arch of glass at the top.  I watched the tree branches beyond sway in the wind and let his words wash over me as I felt pieces of myself falling down around my feet.  All I could think of in that moment was swearing that I would never, ever say anything like this to anyone.  All I could do was think that I never wanted to have to say anything like this to anyone.  I don’t know how I finished that meeting, or what I said, or even what I did afterward.  It is all a blur.  All I can remember is that chair, the window, the tree branches, and the total and complete destruction of all of my illusions about myself and about academia.

I look back on this now and see it for what it really was — abusive.  It was a power trip that he was on and was an attempt to control me.  (Of which there were many more incidents that would follow.)  But somewhere, deep inside, I think that I’m still afraid of that experience.  I’m not afraid that they’ll tell me my work is shit.  (Well, maybe a little bit), but I think that criticism of my work I can handle.  What I can’t face is the thought that in yet another situation where I’m going to go in expecting an interesting, and somewhat supportive, conversation and I’ll wind up similarly destroyed.  I’m still afraid that in THIS exam that I’m about to take, I’ll face a similar abuse that will shatter the pieces of myself that I have spent the last ten years painstakingly putting back together.  And this time, I really don’t have another 10 years to recover.  I’ve got to publish and get tenure and hang out with my kid and my guy.  (Not in that order.) 

Fortunately, the abusive advisor is no longer a part of my academic world.  The new guy is nice, and young (only a year older than I am) and thoughtful and smart.  The other scary committee member also won’t be there, so I’ve got a proxy for her.  That makes one old codger, who was always pretty nice, and these two young faculty members — a profoundly different committee.  I’m hoping that that means I’ll have a profoundly different experience as well.  I’m meeting with new advisor early next week to talk about what to expect.   That should help. 

But I’m also going to protect myself a little better this time around.  Before I walk into that room, I’m going to pack away all of the most precious and fragile bits like  the newly remerging love of my project and my fledgling confidence that I have something interesting to say.  I’ll only let those bits out if it looks safe to do so.  

So I guess I’m leaving this process a lot sadder, quite a bit older, a little fatter, a bit grayer and quite a bit scarred.  But maybe I’m also leaving it a little more wise and a little more self-protective.  We’ll see, I guess.  

If I don’t blog in the next 13 days, do forgive me.  I’ll report back in (in gruesome detail, I’m sure) when it’s all over.   But please do send out good juju to the Big Wow for me from 3-5 e.s.t. Thursday, Feb. 12.


Is it a moral failing if you become horribly sick on the day you had designated for returning to work on TWSNBN after a week of mid-semester clean-up & recovery?  Is it a personal failure if you only feel good enough to lie on the couch in your sleeping bag watching Buffy and surfing the internets instead of hammering away at that darned dissertation?  

I think it very well might be.  Especially if you’re paying for daycare and not spending time with your kid so that you can “work.”  But, I swear, I feel terrible.  Every time I get up to pee, I think I’m going to die.  Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I’m not a happy person today.

It’s also making me feel a touch guilty about my behavior over the weekend.  After weeks and weeks of living in Total Chaos.  And I do mean TOTAL — the house was so bad that yesterday morning when Spousal Unit went to get dressed, he didn’t even pause to look in the bedroom for clothes, he went downstairs to the living room because all of our laundry has been living there for so long.  He then got annoyed that he couldn’t find his socks in the now-spotless living room.

Spousal Unit: (Hollering upstairs) “Where are all of my socks?  They were on the coffee table and bookcase yesterday!”

Me: “Did you check the dresser?”  

Spousal Unit: “Huh?  What?”

Me:  “The DRES-SER!!!”

Spousal Unit: “Oh, that? Why would my socks be in there?”  

Anyway, this weekend, I finally decided that if I wanted the house to be even slightly more clean than the hurricane-struck state we had been existing in for weeks, I was going to have to do something about it myself because clearly Spousal Unit was never going to get off of his exhausted ass and do it.  So, both Saturday and Sunday, I stomped around the house in a bit of a PMS-fueled cleaning rage and was more than a little pissy about the fact that SU and the Gadlet, both of whom were sick with this cold, didn’t help.  I don’t know what I expected the Gadlet to do to help, but she does love that Swiffer dusting wand… 

Anyway, now I’m feeling guilty as well as terribly sick.  Perhaps I should have been more compassionate with my poor sick family.  What with the Gadlet’s Ear Infection and all…

Early last week the Gadlet started stuffing her fingers in her ears.  A lot.  I thought maybe it was just a phase – like a “woah, Mama, did you KNOW there were HOLES in here??!”  kind of a thing.   It did occur to me to wonder if she had an ear infection, but other than waking up a bit more at night she didn’t seem to be in any pain or to be acting any different.  Except in hindsight, it seems that she was falling down a lot more than normal.  I thought that was also a phase.  Oops.

On Friday, I got a call from Darby.  The Gadlet had fallen off of a chair, conked her head, and was acting strange.  She was groggy and not eating.  Poor Darby was totally distraught.  I was amazingly calm, actually.  I was pretty proud of myself.  I called Spousal Unit and he and Darby took the Gadlet to the doctor.  Her head was fine, but they discovered that she did have an ear infection.  Par for the course, I think, for little kidlets.  Once the crisis was passed, I did find the incident to be good fodder for my twisted sense of humor.  I’ve been joking since then that the Gadlet fell off of a chair on Friday and caught an ear infection.  

Well, serves me right for mocking my 14 month-old’s pain.  Now I’ve caught her cold.  Hopefully, though, I won’t fall off of any chairs. 

I guess I just have to decide to give myself permission to be sick today.  To do what I need to do for classes tomorrow and to sit here pushing fluids and soup, and hope to feel better tomorrow.

News, Marvelous News

Well I guess the time has finally come. 

I have a defense date. (well, a defense date-ish.  A defense couple of weeks, anyway.  We’re coordinating with the committee to settle on the actual date.)  Late January it is.

Advisor has agreed.  He’s on board, supportive, and willing to let me go ahead and defend, so as to meet the requirements of my review committee, with the understanding that I’ll be doing some revisions afterward.  Even better, though, he told me that I don’t have to write the as-yet-unwritten “first” chapter.  I can just work the connections into the introduction that I need to do to get from point A to point B.  So all I have to do between now and then is revise 2 chapters to the point of readability and then revise as much of the rest as I can (they’ve already gone through one round of revision.)  

I’m still a little in shock.  And I can’t hardly believe it.  I’m inclined to be cynical, and at the same time fearful.  Something surely will come along and fuck this up so that it won’t happen.  But then I thought the same thing about the election and look how that turned out! 

So maybe, just maybe, after all of these years I’ll actually finish my goddamned degree.