on rewriting

02Aug11

As I’ve worked on my dissertation, I have become something of a compulsive rewriter. I quickly rack up drafts. Now not all of these drafts represent significant changes, nor are they all sent off to the advisor. Most of them are for me because, as I’ve discovered, the only way I can really identify problems is when I retype.

Of course, when I’m in the middle of retyping, I wonder whether this is really necessary. I type very fast (it helps to be the daughter of a secretary who typed in the 80-90 wpm range, numbers included, though she was more accurate than I am, typewriter v. computer and all that). But still, when you’re rewriting chapters that are 15,000-25,000 words each, retyping takes time. And I can be lazy.

But inevitably, while I’m in the process of retyping, this happens: I see something that doesn’t make sense, something I wouldn’t have noticed if I weren’t putting it down to paper again. Today, it was a footnote, in which I made a claim about how several newspapers in one country had printed in full a piece of government correspondence originating in a far-off colony. And as I was typing it, I said to myself: “how the fuck do I know that?” So I dutifully went off to a few newspaper archives databases, only to find more detailed information on other aspects of the chapter, information that will shape my analysis.

So yeah, is it tedious to retype and to have 3-5 drafts of each chapter sitting around on my computer, with a few more to go? Yes. Is this the way I have to do it? Yes.

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question

30Jul11

Is it really possible for there to be an event that’s MAJOR in the historiography and that involves a MAJOR political change that many MAJOR scholars have written about and it be impossible to find a copy of said legislation (created by the most famous parliament in the world) anywhere other than the law library? And is it really possible that none of these MAJOR scholars have a citation to said act in their footnotes?


Not only am I still here, I actually have things to blog about, like why I never want to have a roommate again even though my current roommate experience has been brilliant. Or about my money malaise and why it might push me out of academia. Or about the woeful state of American television at the moment.

But instead, all I have to say is this: I don’t yet have a defense date scheduled, I still have serious revisions to do, but–as you might know if you’ve been following the writing group that Notorious, PHD and ADM have been hosting at their blogs–I’ve finished the last chapter of my dissertation and I’m writing my introduction. At the end of this week, I will have a full draft (minus conclusion) of my dissertation, ready to send off to the advisor.


woeful

31May11

I’m a woeful blogger, but I’m still here, I’m still blogging (even though the blog has been idle over the last while), I’m spending the summer finishing a dissertation, prepping two classes, and hopefully traveling, and hopefully I’ll be a bigger presence on my own damn blog.


jobs

28Feb11

I’ve done abysmally badly on the job market this year. Bad to the point where there’s a very good chance I might be working a non-academic, dead-end job next year (book store, coffee shop, the like) just to pay the bills.

To be clear, I didn’t apply to anything and everything I could have. I have a salary in mind that I won’t go below (the number’s different for jobs or postdocs). There are areas of the country I’m not willing to live in, my concern being less geographical and more refusing to live somewhere else that’s in the middle of nowhere. I won’t adjunct, except at an institution close to where I am now. I’m not going to move somewhere for a one-year (or one-semester) gig with a paltry salary and no benefits. And, since I’ve spent this year living in an area where I’m enjoying life a bit more than I did last year, I’m in no hurry to leave. Add to that the fact that I have moved every 2-11 months over the past 10 years (moving in and out of dorms, moving to and from another country twice), and it made my selection process pretty easy. Since leaving home at 18, I haven’t spent a full year in any single living situation (dorm room, apartment, etc). This peripatetic lifestyle has grown tedious, and among many other things, is a pretty significant factor in my perpetual singlehood.

All that said, I applied to a fair few things, and all I’ve gotten is a steady stream of rejections (actual and wiki). No conference or phone interviews, only one request for additional materials. It’s not that I’ve been rejected once folks have looked at my meager “additional materials” (although now they’re not so meager). It’s that I’m not standing out in any fashion. Being black isn’t helping…so much for affirmative action. And, to be an elitist for half a minute, I didn’t go to my graduate institution and work with the advisor who’s made my life so unpleasant not to make it to the “more materials” phase of the job search at more than one institution.

Given the emotionally cataclysmic events of last year, I’ve remained pretty calm about the whole thing. I’ve already seen my institution for what it is: an institution sitting on its laurels, convinced of its own inherent worth (as though students learn simply by breathing the air) while simultaneously doing absolutely nothing to establish even a baseline of graduate instruction. It’s an institution that prizes itself on its “generosity” to students, but yet nickels-and-dimes students and seeks out ways to claw back money from its students. (Yeah, it’s a sore point with me that I wrote the department a check for $1000 of my own money for reasons they fabricated.) All the while, the institution repeatedly refuses to deal with basic and significant graduate student concerns, on the grounds that the money that they’ve provided makes up for every other failing. After all, since we get so much money, it’s okay when “computer errors” mean that we get our money two or three days late; it’s okay that they say one thing about funding and mean something else, and when you go in to figure out why suddenly you’re down $5000, they use funky math to insist that the money lost is somehow a gain. No folks, I’m really not kidding.

So I saw the institution for what it was, and the fact that I’ve done so poorly on the market (despite the fact that a faculty member mentioned to a seminar several months ago that the name of our institution puts us automatically into the top 20 — number, not percentage — a fact that I never believed for a minute and now know to be hilariously untrue) hasn’t really surprised me. What does surprise me is that some of the people that I’ve known for years, who have watched me be dicked around for years, who say they would never recommend someone work with my advisor, who go on and on at length about how I’ve been done so wrong — what surprises me is that these same people are now completely undone by their similar lack of success. Suddenly I’m the one listening to rants against the department and the university, as though my own horrific experience didn’t somehow suggest that there was something rotten going on.

I don’t really know what to make of this. In some respects, I feel vindicated. It wasn’t just me, it wasn’t just my personal failings that made me vulnerable to the piss-poor treatment I received. Nope, there’s been something funky from the start. There are systemic problems that allowed my situation to occur and for it not to be resolved appropriately (and although things are better, the underlying assumptions about my performance haven’t gone away, nor have the implications that I’m woefully behind my colleagues). So on that score, this is good.

On the other hand, it’s profoundly depressing that people watched my graduate career almost go up in flames through no fault of my own, sat by while I was victimized by a professor and virtually accused of stealing thousands of dollars by another, and saw how the supposed go-to person in the department cared more about minimizing hir discomfort in directly addressing the situation than protecting me, a defenseless grad student — that people saw all that, somehow made it in their eyes all about my failings, and continued to assume that all was right in the department. As long as they didn’t have to deal with any of the bullshit, everything in the department was right. The institution wasn’t a right fit for me, they said, without wondering how things could get so bad. Only now that they aren’t getting jobs is there something wrong in the department.

It’s yet another bitter pill to swallow. Thank goodness there are only another 6-8 months of this bullshit.


I’ve written before about my “writing process.” To recap: when I am first drafting a chapter, I spend several weeks reading through my sources and taking notes. (For various reasons not worth getting into, my dissertation is structured in such a way that each chapter really is a blank canvas and I read the set of sources relevant to each chapter as I go along.) As I’m reading the materials, thoughts and arguments come into view. Around the time that I’m roughly 70-75% through the material, I have a fairly strong sense of the argument that I’m going to try out. I then rush to pick and choose the most key pieces out of the remaining 25-30%, and then get writing as soon as possible.

So while I am constantly working, and while some of that work involves “writing” (there are long paragraphs in red strewn throughout my notes), there is a distinct shift when it comes time to actually commit to writing the chapter. Notes are printed out and piled up. A few handwritten, rough outlines appear. My thesaurus makes its way onto the table.

In other words, I have a distinct chapter mode. And I’m in that chapter mode right now. And given that I’m writing in slightly less than ideal circumstances (i.e. no office or carrel or other private space that isn’t my bedroom), some things have become clear. First, I work best in complete isolation. I need to be able to control the heat. I need to control the volume on the television. For the most part I work in silence or with my headphones in but occasionally some background television noise is desired. But not just anything will work. Food Network or HGTV are ideal, Diane Sawyer banging on about herself on OWN is not. The volume setting of 2, or 3 at a push, is fine. 7 is unacceptable. I should not be able to follow along word-for-word with ear plugs in.

It also turns out that when I’m in chapter mode, I get irritated incredibly easily. My roommate’s job is in a bit of a lull right now, and she’s constantly at home. This does not work for me. We end up spending hours a mere few feet away from each other b/c there’s only one space in the house to work other than the bedroom. Today, I’d made breakfast around noon and was getting ready to sit down to work when my roommate unexpectedly waltzes in. My mood plummeted instantly, especially since I already knew she’s taking tomorrow off. The TV was loud, in part my fault b/c I’d set it that loud when I was relaxing before sitting down to work.

Other things happened today that are even more tedious that what I’ve just described, but suffice it to say, I gave up and my irritation and anger levels were out of control.

So, things I’ve learned about what I need when I write: complete isolation, competence from the people I interact with (not my roommate but a library staffer), a steady supply of coffee and food, a large table to spread out my materials, and most importantly, a room that I can sit in for hours at a time that has a door that shuts between me and the world. I used to think that having a man in my life would be ideal during chapter mode but now I’m not so sure. I was in chapter mode last summer and proceeded to permanently wreck an on-off situation I’d been in for three years.


it turns out

14Jan11

…that french toast made from the homemade brioche you made earlier in the week is a delicious breakfast.