Thursday, October 30, 2014

Early Fall Update (Part 1 of 2)

I don’t know who all has been praying for me, but thank you. The transition to the new semester has gone better than I had really dared to hope. Several months ago, I could not have imagined that I would be able to get through an eight-hour work day, much less have energy to make dinner afterward, or turn around and work on my dissertation the next morning. My energy levels have improved pretty dramatically (helped somewhat by the discovery that coffee is powerful). The loosely structured, lengthy summer was exactly what I needed (and no doubt a big part of what’s helped me feel better and more ready to tackle things), and the more regimented schedule is exactly what I need now.

It is worth saying that, unless I were truly under the gun to finish a chapter, I still don’t think I could get through a full day of working solely on my dissertation (at least not without plenty of existential angst and pitiful whimpering). The partitioning of energies seems to be the only thing that makes this work. And that is useful information to have as I think about what might come after I graduate.

I’m in awe of people who can work demanding jobs while carrying a full course load. I don’t think I could have handled that. But for whatever reason, my current 20-hour-a-week job seems—so far—to lend itself pretty well to the way I approach the dissertation stage. I like having a totally distinct set of responsibilities that I don’t have to carry with me into the other set, and vice versa. And I like getting up early in the morning (!) and being able to do several different kinds of things over the course of the day. Again, these are things I would never have learned about myself if not for the struggles of the past two years!

For the time being, the dissertation progresses somewhat slowly, since I haven’t yet managed to balance writing and work as equitably as I will probably need to. Between full days at work, then making and cleaning up from dinner, and getting some time with my husband, there really isn’t space for writing during the first half of the week. But the good thing is that it’s progressing, even though it feels like it’s inching along more days than not. I am going on 70 pages at this point, and once adrenaline kicks in, I shouldn’t have trouble hitting my goal of 100 pages by Christmas. As long as I set goals focused on tangible output rather than time spent, and don’t worry too much about comparing my process to anyone else’s, I seem to do pretty well. As soon as I start comparing myself to other students, or trying to adhere to a certain pattern for what dissertation work should look like, I start to falter.

I had hoped and expected to teach in my fifth year, but since that didn’t work out, I was offered the opportunity to work as a graduate research assistant in my library’s Special Collections department. I hope to explain this in more detail in a later post.

I have to say, I was a little bit crushed when teaching didn’t work out. Not even so much because of the teaching itself, but because it threw my career expectations into yet more of a muddle. I’m not sure what this will mean for my future career in academics.

However, it must also be said that I’m happier than I’ve been for a long time. There are plenty of struggles, certainly; but I no longer feel trapped in a routine that wasn’t serving me well at all, no matter how hard I tried to convince myself it was right. Thank you, again, for praying.

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