11 October 2011

The Long and Winding Road

Before I get to blogging, I want to take a moment and write that today is National Coming Out Day and that I’m coming out as a straight person who fully supports the LGBT community’s right to exist and right to voice that it exists without fear of physical or mental harm. Straight and LGBT people I know have been posting a similar message on their Facebook pages, so I wanted to state here in this space I have created that I am with them, unconditionally. Today and every day.

Today’s entry will not be terribly long (okay, I’ve now finished writing, and I’ve once again lied about that). I have begun reviewing material I’ve written since I changed my dissertation proccess. This is a fairly lengthy and time consuming procedure in which I won’t be doing nearly as much writing as I have been, though I am asking meta-questions about what I’ve written so far. ‘What’s going on in this passage?’ ‘What grabs my attention?’ ‘What was I trying to articulate?’ ‘Do I still believe this?’ ‘Is there an overarching argument somewhere in here?’ Do I keep coming back to any particular ideas or themes?’. I’m not quite sure how to write about this stage of my process. But I didn’t write an entry yesterday either, so I wanted to at least think about what’s going on in this stage thus far.

The short answer is that going back over everything feels time consuming. And of course I’ve written one of my red alert words there, ‘time’, since I have purposefully and mostly successfully been avoiding thinking about how much time I spend on my dissertation each day. So it might be better for me to think about the kind of energy it takes for me to go back through everything. And ‘going back’ might be another red alert word or phrase here, because I don’t feel like I’m moving forward at the moment.

At any rate, I haven’t made it very far in terms of how much material I have gone through over the last two days. I knew this was going to happen going in, so it’s not a surprise. I also know I will come through to something better in the end. But it’s hard to shake some of the feelings of pressure, stress, and anxiety I am currently experiencing, even though Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day prepared me for those feelings as well. I’m already asking myself, ‘Is this really what dissertation writing is mostly about?’ Is it, like Hemmingway said of creative writing, ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration? I suppose I have been perspiring quite a lot already. The difference is that it did not feel like perspiration to me. And now it does. I also realize that I don’t have a lot of patience for this stage of the process. Upon reflection, in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever had that kind of patience at any point in my writing life. I very much want my polished thoughts to magically materialize out of the pixels on the screen.

There are ways of making this process more interesting, of course. Adopting a color coding scheme or something similar that helps me to visualize what I am working on. And I don’t only mean by visualizing what I have in front of me that I am able to see what is front of me more clearly, though that is a part of it. Rather, I mean, quite literally, to visualize my writing as something tangible and stimulating. A close friend and colleague of mine suggested a similar strategy to me a while back. Her idea was that I write my thoughts on note cards and create a visual map of my chapter (which is not the same thing as an outline). As someone who is about equally left- and right- brained, I find this method very appealing. I’m also not sure it would work today-though I was excited by the idea when my friend mentioned it-given the sheer volume of writing I need to go through at this point. But I think working with hard copy rather than a digital representation of what I’ve done so far is something I need to do.

I’ve only just begun this stage of the process, so I still feel like it’s too early to commit to any one strategy that is going to get me through it. In a way, this is a transitional step in my process, and I know from the way I have approached life and the countless number of dreams I have had about it that transition scares me. I had at least two such dreams last night, in fact. In one of them I was running a loop that would take me home, but I never got there. I kept going out of my way to find this dog that a friend was about to adopt but which somehow got loose. In the other dream, which was an extension of the first dream, I met up with a friend whom I haven’t seen in real life in while on my route. I wanted to show him this church on the route that had this amazing PEZ dispenser collection (I wrote an article about a person’s PEZ dispenser collection for my job last year!), which I thought my friend would enjoy seeing. From here we somehow ended up in the middle of Philadelphia. We spent the rest of the dream attempting to get to our respective homes. The trouble, from my perspective, was that I was unable to open the GPS software on my phone so that I could plot a course. Or it partially worked at some points, but my friend and I had to deviate from our course on several occasions: avoiding muggers; going around construction; making a side trip to a house where Ozzy Osbourne was producing an album (!), and the like. Each of this side quests required additional GPS plotting and resulted in additional malfunctions and frustration.

I think the point to these dreams is fairly obvious, as they both involve roads I must travel to get to a particular destination, as well as the unexpected altering the road. It’s very easy for dissertation writing to feel like the kind of road that has no final destination or that it is easy to get lost on. And that feeling can be scary and overwhelming. But I do know that the only way to wherever it is I’m heading is to continue walking. And to not be overly scared or anxious. Or at least to acknowledge those feelings in writing and to nonetheless resolutely walk into the unknown.

No comments: