Friday, September 23, 2011

Set back...

So, we've hit a setback and have bumped back the date a few weeks.  Trying not to get too bummed out... as long as I walk in December! Chin up... kind of...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sign Sealed and Delivered!

Holy Hallelujah Batman! The dissertation is done! God bless Kyle and Jax for formatting it for me--I mail it out tomorrow and await the defense.  I didn't think I was going to be able to address all of the edits, write an intro, write an abstract, but it's done, really done!!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Worst Week

This has been the hardest week of my life, and it doesn't end until Thursday afternoon when I mail out hard copies of my dissertation two weeks before the defense.  I've been revising my chapters according to edits and recommendations from my adviser and co-chair, which are spot on by the way, and made the whole thing so much stronger! But have yet to attend to my introduction and conclusion! Must push forward though, as my adviser is flying in from her new University--rescheduling is just not an option.  It's come down to just working as much as I possibly can and accomplishing what I need to accomplish.  It's unreal what you can make yourself do when you simply have to!

Poor Craig has been reduced to errand boy (driving the hour into U-Penn where his student ID grants me access to all texts Ivy League) and my grad assistant, looking up historical data I need to back up my claims regarding Thackeray's perceptions of Jewish and black citizens in Victorian London: not sure which role he prefers... It's frightening how much he knows now regarding all thing Victorian.  Ask him not only who wrote The Prime Minister but how it ends and what this reveals about nineteenth-century Antisemitism, I dare you!

He goes back to work tomorrow, so in this regard I'll be on my own.  But I have incredible IT savvy family and my brother and father are ready to help me format the monstrosity, currently 220 pages and counting.... Onward and upward.....

Sunday, August 28, 2011

48 hrs to submitting Chapter Four...

I should get back to writing! I have about 10 pages to go and Chapter Four (of four) will be complete.  I submit it to my adviser on Aug. 31, then have two weeks to rework my intro, write a five page conclusion, edit chapters three and four, and format the whole thing! On top of this, I'm teaching at two colleges (four sections; two courses), but when you have to accomplish something, you just do!

So to motivate myself, here are a list of things I look forward to upon defending:


  1. Never paying another semester bill at SUNY Binghamton
  2. Returning 100+ books to two different libraries 
  3. Seeing the surface of my dining room table, coffee table and nightstand
  4. Watching bad TV without feeling guilty
  5. Going for a hike without feeling guilty
  6. Going out to dinner, a movie, a friend's house, a bar, a road trip, or Vegas with my girlfriends without feeling guilty!
  7. Joking that I'm the kind of doctor that is of absolutely no use in an emergency situation
  8. Having my students call me "Dr. Ray" for one class, then going back to "Susan"
  9. Telling my husband it was worth it
  10. Thanking my family for supporting me through this and actually coming through
  11. Having this tremendous weight lifted off my shoulders


Okay! Sufficiently motivated, now back to work!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Still in the Game!

So a friend has reminded me that I haven't posted in 6 weeks and I'm horrified at how quickly time passes! We're established at the new place in Blue Bell and really happy here; it just absolutely feels right! Even the dog and cat seem pleased, though less enthusiastic about being permanently reunited.  I start teaching Composition & Business Writing at two colleges nearby and they have been amazing as well, both the people and the facilities and I look forward to meeting the students next week.

As for the dissertation! Chapter Three has been submitted, but I find myself struggling over Chapter Four, the final piece.  I've been told that things click towards the end, that you clearly see it as a cohesive whole and everything falls into place, yet I find myself struggling.  Also, I've decided I need to read one of the Thackeray novels I've somehow overlooked (all whopping 720 pages of it) in the next to days to incorporate a fascinating character... Having created a day by day breakdown of what needs to be accomplished by Aug. 31 to submit this chapter before September (thus leaving myself two weeks for editing) I'm trying to remain positive, but all of those middle-school anxieties and self-doubts persist.  But admittedly, I see the light at the end of the tunnel and am reminded of Tom Hank's quote in  A League of Their Own: "If it was easy everyone would do it" and my dad's comment "You don't have to be a genius to get your PhD, it's about diligence.  I actually know a lot of stupid people with PhDs..." or something to that regard ;-)  More soon...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chapter 3: A Deadline and a Schedule

Well, peeps, I'm finally working on Chapter 3...or something similar to working. After I struggled for a while to get this chapter started, I decided one day to just pick a thing and start working on that. So far I have rewatched West Side Story and reread Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. At the moment I am reading Hansberry's informal autobiography, To Be Young, Gifted and Black, in search of leads for my chapter. In other words, I'm not sure what I'm looking for, but I continue to read in hopes that I'll find whatever I am looking for.

In other news, I put together a concise outline for my dissertation for the rest of the academic year. My goal is to be Dr. S by May 2012. I am two chapters in, and I have two more chapters left to write. I also have to work on the intro and a conclusion, but these sections don't worry me as much. Honestly, I think I could sit down and write half of the intro this weekend if I had to--operative phrase being "HAD TO." When my advisor saw I planned to hand in my draft of chapter 3 at the end of September, she suggested I be more ambitious and submit it at the end of August. I'm too proud to back off from a challenge, so I agreed to September 3rd. That's the date.

Of course, after I emailed her that date, I panicked. Now I have to write it before September 3rd! Because I work best with deadlines and guidelines, I put together a mini-schedule.

The physical process of me trying to figure out how to write a dissertation chapter in 7 weeks.


This looks a lot better...

Last week was Week 1 of my schedule. During Week 1 I was supposed to put together a work plan and do some research (aside from the writing and reading that are supposed to happen anyway). I have yet to dive head first into the research. I'm not sure why I'm postponing it (does looking for one book in my library's database count?), but it's Week 2 of my fantabulous schedule and no research yet.

Frankly, I'm having trouble focusing and staying on track. I think part of the problem is that I'm not sure what I want to say yet. I have written plenty of ideas, things that I could delve into about both texts: Cold War urban politics, violence against minorities in cities, white flight to the suburbs, Broadway...I know, I know: wasn't I supposed to be looking only at New York City in my dissertation? Yup. But I feel that Hansberry's play is crucial to this conversation about urban space and home, even if I am focusing on New York City in my dissertation. And even though West Side Story is not written by Puerto Ricans, it represented Puerto Ricans in urban space and propelled these representations to a mainstream audience.

So where do I go from there? Sometimes I feel like I don't have a clear focus yet. Other times I feel like I shouldn't even be writing about these texts and I should just start over. (I have written and presented on West Side Story before. It's something I can talk about at length. But for some reason I feel like I am at a loss for words right now.) So I come here to share my ideas and get feedback. I need a sounding board for the thoughts inside my head...

My bigger problem is that I am worn out and feeling more and more anxious every day. Instead of moving my chapter forward, my daily writing just reminds me of how aimless I feel and how I have no clue where this is going. My writing so far has consisted in me talking out ideas and questions I have, but nothing that I could use to start writing chapter 3. Also, I'm starting to feel constrained by the research. I'm avoiding doing the research because I don't know where to go. I am avoiding the writing because I haven't done much research. It's a vicious cycle, as you can see.

I'm hoping by this time next week I am in a better place and that the gears are in motion. So far I've had two suggestions offered to me (both via Twitter):

1) Just sit down and write the chapter (or at least a bulk of it). Do research and insert quotations AFTER you write. (via my tweep @readywriting)

2) Take a short break from dissertation work (a few days? a week?) to stop feeling anxious and reboot my energy level. My tweeps @jovanevery and @escapeivrytower suggested I don't see this break as me being lazy but rather me recharging my batteries.

(Thank you, ladies!)

At any rate, I'm hoping to finish reading Hansberry's autobiography this week and write an abstract of what I think my chapter is going to do. I'm hoping it helps me decide once and for all what direction I'll be taking this chapter in, before I take my break from dissertation work.

Any other suggestions, dear readers? Am I the only one who gets anxious when starting a new chapter? How do you tackle the writing? What's your writing process like?

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Journey into July…


End of June**
We’re officially homeless, well almost.  After the harrowing ordeal in which Craig’s apartment was robbed while he was sleeping, he’s remained uneasy about residing in South Philly.  Last week, he arrived home late and parked his car several blocks away (as his street was packed).  Sometime between midnight and 7am, kids threw a brick through the side window of the Prius and stole 3 books of CDs; we’re assuming it was kids as the thieves didn’t bother to explore the armrest compartment which contained money, our GPS, etc.  The bad news, the CD cases included both of our combined collections from high school and college (though, as per our music savvy friends, this assortment is no major artistic loss) and more importantly, the mixes I’d sent to Craig in Iraq.  The good news: insurance is covering everything and I’m guessing the adolescent robbers will not be congratulating themselves on their new collection of Tori Amos, Dave Matthews, and 90’s country music!

On a happier note, our generous friends, A&M, who are currently travelling Asia this summer, are allowing us to temporally make their lovely house our home base when we’re in the Philadelphia area.  Sometime in August we’ll rent our own place, if we ever find one with two decent sized bedrooms and a tolerance for furry, four-legged children.   Also, I have two adjuncting positions, so I feel reenergized knowing there I’ll soon be returning to the classroom and my destiny is not being forever tied to this laptop and a towering stack of stale books!
As for writing, it ain’t easy! Even with all of this time to dedicate to the project, I find myself over-thinking and re-thinking, typing and deleting, way more than I should.  I spent the past few weeks still fine-tuning the critical frame after my adviser exposed its weaknesses.  Ten books and eighty pages of notes later, I think it’s finally congealing. First, I need to craft an intro that properly acknowledges the work of critics who have tread this cerebral path before: revisit Said’s explanation of how the Western colonizers (England & France) defined themselves against the Orient and romanticized and exocitized it countries and their natives (what makes Thackeray so fascinating is how acutely aware he was of this typically absurd romanticization and repeatedly pointed this out in his satire).  Secondly, I need to consider the ideas put forth by more recent critics such as Amanda Anderson, Ann Stoler, Benedict Anderson, Ian Baucom, etc. and to explain how they perceive the nineteenth-century English struggling to define themselves and justify their empire, to categorize other nationalities, creeds and races and to figure out how to make the incongruent groups, spread across continents, somehow fit neatly beneath one British flag.  What makes Thackeray so remarkable is that he doesn’t try to justify, condemn or explain empire, but rather points out its absurdities and simply navigates himself out of the way of controversy.  What until you hear how he handled the issue of slavery while lecturing in the United States…

 All in all, with this new approach, I can successfully revamp Chapters 1 & 2, and complete 3 in the coming week(s).  The goal is to begin Ch 4 by July 14th.  I’m sure you see that deadlines keep getting pushed back, but the feedback I’ve received on Chapters 1 & 2 from academic folks I deeply admire has been positive and uplifting, so I must be doing something right!

JULY 4th***
We have a home! We’ll be living in Blue, Bell, PA, about 30 minutes north of Center City (all depending on 76’s day to day mood of course) and we move in on August 1.  Craig (and an amazing group of UPenn grads) moved the last of his items out of South Philly yesterday.  Craig seems much more relaxed these days, no longer wondering what is going to be stolen next…

This 4th of July I’m comfortably working at A & M’s house and this evening we’ll scout out some local fireworks.   Tomorrow I sit in on Craig’s final speech for his summer graduate course at U-Penn.  For his final talk, his instructions were to discuss someone or something inspirational, and we co-created a pretty miraculous speech about our dog Blue—his resilience, persistent and devotion.  Blue and I will of course be in attendance.  After that, the pup and I head back to the lake for at least two weeks of solitary writing (save a trip or two to the Binghamton library) and I hope to bring this project much nearer to its end.  I've recently had the chance to reconnect with friends in the area and feel ready to for another hefty dose of productive isolation.  Here's to positive thinking…

Saturday, June 18, 2011

One chapter ends, another begins


Dear readers:

Last Monday I submitted a draft of Chapter 2 to my advisor. I have to say, this went better than when I submitted a revised version of Chapter 1 earlier this year. There was no crying (but crying is ok), there was no hurrying to write at the last minute (although adding stuff at the last minute is ok too), there was no frustration about the finished product (ok, maybe a little, but not nearly as bad as with the last chapter). Although Chapter 2 still needs some work, I think it was a more articulate attempt at a dissertation chapter. I felt good about the finished product, even though I knew I still had work to do. I said what I needed to say, whereas with Chapter 1 there was so much I didn't do but wanted to do.

What made this chapter different? For starters, I wrote a lot during the whole process. I didn't write every day but I wrote almost every day. I didn't just write to put down my ideas on paper: I wrote to vent, I wrote to flesh out ideas, I wrote to figure things out. In the end, the focus of this chapter were my ideas. I wasn't overwhelmed by all the reading I did. In fact, I think I spent more time writing my ideas than reading criticism. This is something I want to adjust slightly for Chapter 3, but only slightly. Whereas before (when I started on my dissertation), I felt unsure because I thought I hadn't read enough, I was somewhat comfortable with not reading all of the PDFs in my Dropbox. Does this happen to any other dissertators?

The other thing that made this chapter different was I took time to edit. Two of my tweeps offered to read my very rough draft two weeks before my deadline. This gave me time to go through the chapter and tidy it up too. Their feedback was very helpful. it was also great to hear that, despite how rough it was, they were able to read it and understand what my big argument was. Pats on the back for me. :)

This week has been a break of sorts. I did take some time to do some freewriting and clean out my desk, but I haven't really done much. The past two days I haven't done anything about the dissertation, and I only cleaned out my desk today. I vowed I would keep up my routine and do something dissertation-related every day, but I think I really needed the mental break. However, I'm having trouble getting started again. I know I'm writing on West Side Story and Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, but other than that I am stuck. With Chapter 2 it was easier to get started because I had already done some work when I ended Chapter 1. But here I am starting fresh. (I did write a conference paper on West Side Story for the Puerto Rican Studies Association conference a few years back, so that might be where this chapter starts.)

So instead of beating myself up about my so-called laziness, I am tossing the question out there: how do you start a new chapter? where do you begin?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

To Buffalo and Back Again

So with my laptop precariously balanced on my knees, I’m on the swing on the bank of the lake, drinking my late grandmother’s staple brand of fruit punch, pleading with Blue to stop eating grass—overall utterly relaxed and indulging in waves of nostalgia.   After a vibrant week with family members in Erie and sharing in the wedding of dear friends’ in Buffalo, it’s disheartening to leave everyone, knowing I won’t see them for quite sometime. But I still feel welcomed by the quiet and the gentle routine here at the cottage.  I have so much to accomplish in the coming weeks, and while it won’t always be exciting, and at times even dull, I’m totally resigned to it, even mildly pumped.
Where to start with what’s taken place over the past week and a half? Last Wednesday Craig and I hosted a lunch for my adviser (who left Binghamton University for UT a year or two ago).  I was shocked and delighted that our group would make the trek to the cottage from Binghamton—40 minutes replete with multiple twists and turns down dirt roads.  Also, it was downright fortuitous that the faculty members who could attend made up my dissertation committee and the one fellow grad-student, who made it, Angela, is a close friend I hadn’t seen in nearly 2 years!  Overall a downright delightful day!
What else to relate? Realizations from the past week? Buffalo would be an incredible city, I’d seriously consider moving there right now, if it weren’t so obviously dying—I’ve never seen so many boarded up storefronts since my last viewing of a Clint Eastwood Western.  But it’s still very much alive in terms of culture and youthful energy—Laura and Dan’s wedding at the colonial-esque library was an inspired venue and the sheer joy and enthusiasm in the room spoke to both their characters and the impact they have on those around them.  The Pearl Brewery, where the reception was held, put most Philly venues to shame in terms of atmosphere and beer selection.  Also, I can’t remember being to utterly happy, simply enjoying the company of friends and family.  My brother’s best man speech deserves immediate Youtube status for both heartfelt sentiment and humor (who else would chime in with an Adam Sandler-esque song, with guitar accompaniment, halfway through?) Craig and I were repeatedly (though playfully) berated for our cheesey and enthusiastic dancing, which of course only inspired him to lay on the fancy footwork—in short, all was at it should have been.
                The next day Craig literally dragged me from the hotel to our friend Jes’s apartment (before a Binghamton friends-reunion picnic was to take place that afternoon) and she not only took mercy on nauseated misery, but magically cured my hangover with unknown hippy remedies! Ally and Chief generously agreed to congregate at Jess’s and it was one of the most pleasant afternoons I’ve spent in years—reminiscing, playing with their adorable daughter Coraline and fully embracing the spirited, drama-free, grown-up friendships that miraculously blossom in your 30s, one part I truly don’t mind about getting older…
But back to the dissertation stuff---FLASHBACK---after the luncheon here at the lake I sat down one on one with my adviser, and overall, she seemed enthusiastic about Chapters 1 & 2; though she gently pointed out my theoretical frame is lacking.  I don’t need to start over my any means, but rather fine tune what I want to say, especially since my overall focus seems to be on Empire and challenging postcolonial readings of Thackeray rather than exploring his conception of nineteenth-century English-ness in an increasingly cosmopolitan society.  Thus, I need to brush up on the theoretical conversation regarding British Empire and place myself within it.  I've gathered copies of Said, Spivak, McClintock, Stoler, and Pratt (despite the diabolical efforts of other grad students who thoughtlessly hoarded these books in their carols without checking them out!) and will be taking notes and annotating for the next week. 
The most positive news: with my focus on Empire being so central and my chapters being so thorough, my chapter on France is out! Thus I only have to write four chapters!! With one and two done, and three started, I’m well over half way there.  As long as I meet my deadlines and revamp 1 & 2 in the next two weeks,  submit CH 3 by the end of June, and then Ch 4 at the end of the July, leaving August for formatting and writing an intro … I can officially be Dr. Ray (or “Dr. Dre” as Craig has affectionately dubbed it) by October, which is simply surreal! 

But I’ve babbled too long and should return to dear Thackeray—we’ve been estranged for nearly a week as I decided I was on vacation right along with Kyle and Jacqueline.  Though it should be noted that they were enjoying a well-deserved week away from their IT positions while I was simply indulging in my unemployed status… Speaking of which! A great adjuncting job has produced itself at a university I’m very excited to teach at in the Philly area, so things are looking hopeful for fall 2011!

Congrats again to Dan & Laura, hugs to my brother and my enchanting almost-sister-in-law, and thanks to my folks who always make it so comfortable that it’s hard to leave! Back to work, and more to come!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Just Do It.

Now that grades are in and I am no longer teaching, I can finally focus on finishing Chapter 2. It's a relief, to say the least. I can put aside my dissertation guilt and get to work. As I was finishing with grades, all I could think about was, I need to get back to work! I have a deadline coming up! So many ideas! So many ideas! But once I sat down to work on Saturday, nothing came out.

Maybe it was the burnout of the semester that took over. I tried to sit down and freewrite, so I ended up thinking about organization of the chapter (something I haven't really thought about). That didn't really get me anywhere, for how can I organize a chapter if I haven't put down my thoughts on paper? What do you organize when you have little to organize?

I stepped away from my work and decided to get back to it on Monday. (I try not to write on Sundays to take a break from the dissertation. However, I don't think it counts as a break when I'm constantly thinking about the dissertation. Ugh, dissertation guilt!) On Sunday I did some reading and planned my dissertation work for Monday.

Once Monday morning rolled around, I was eager to sit down. But my plans did not pan out. There was plenty of craziness Monday (including an unplanned trip to my ex-school to fetch some student records only to find that the office was closed), and what I ended up doing was just jotting down ideas that were swarming my head. As a result, I went into panic mode: I'm supposed to be writing, not scribbling ideas!

I have to admit: I am fretting over this chapter, a little too much considering the amount I've already written. I think I'm obsessing over my advisor's comments for the last chapter: this needs a lot of editing and you need to take time to do that. It's the little voice inside my head. I know I should just file it and move on, but I haven't.

On Tuesday, I was catching up with Susan, and she gave me a piece of advice: to paraphrase, she told me I should just write everything down, not worry about incorporating the criticism. Just do it. Although I've done this in the past (and it's the kind of advice I give my students when they don't know what to write), I don't know why it didn't click for me. Of course, why not write it down? Ugh!

This makes me think that, as a writer and as a writing instructor (ex-writing instructor), I sure have forgotten about the basics of putting your ideas down on paper. Isn't a dissertation just another written text? Sure, it's a genre in itself. Sure, it poses challenges unlike other kinds of writing. But in the end, it's writing, right? So why am I so afraid of writing?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Learning at the lake...Writing in the wilderness...


There’s no excuse for my extremely tardy post (three weeks!?) but the good news is that I have been productive.  Chapter Two, “Thackeray and India: Poking Holes in the English Narrative of her Indian Empire” is completed and submitted and Chapter Three (on Thackeray and America) is well-underway.  At the latest, I want to submit Chapter Three by the first week in June.  Also, my adviser, a fellow Victorian grad student, and two other Binghamton professors (who are coincidentally my readers!) are coming over for lunch tomorrow! Afterwards, I'm having tea with my adviser where we’ll discuss Chapters 1 & 2.
           So where exactly am I these days? The family cottage in northern  PA which is fortuitously located 40 minutes down the road from Binghamton University.  I've been to the library twice, loaded up on books, and reconnected with friends and professors.  But most of the time you can find me here, lakeside, 15 miles off the highway, down three dirt roads, and surrounded by farms and forest. Craig is here four days a week; and when he is back in Philly for his various sports leagues and summer classes, I’m happily isolated with limited cell reception.  Understandably, my progress has never been so prolific!  In between working, Blue and I walk take long walks on dirt roads 2-3 times a day and occasionally take out the rowboat.  However, we’ve done this more rarely after he leaped from the boat before take-off-, panicked as I drifted a few yards away, swam out to me and then jumped not only in the boat, but on my lap leaving us both soaked and muddy...
          Not much else to report, save the next few weekends will be manic, meaning I’ll have to be guarded about my writing/reading time.  This weekend is the Valley Forge graduation, so I’ll be in Philly watching a family friend give the commencement speech and then shaking the hands of my students.  The following weekend, two wonderful friends marry in Buffalo, (and my brother and his enchanting fiancĂ© will come visit the cottage before returning to California!), and the first weekend in June a friend from grad school marries a great guy to whom I introduced her, good stuff!
          So am I as far as I thought I’d be after a semester solely dedicated to writing? Of course not. Sometimes I lay up at night reprimanding myself, but Craig reminds me that this does no good.  I’m starting to chart my hours at the computer and restrain myself from taking those winding roads of unnecessary research and instead hopefully fixate on my tentative defense date of September 30…

Friday, May 13, 2011

And Write I Must

Oh readers, I disappeared there for a moment, didn't I? Or at least it seemed like it. I was on a roll in March. Then April came around and I kept the rhythm going. But once I left town at the end of April to go to NYC for a few days, my carefully constructed routine fell apart.

I planned to re-read Ann Petry's The Street on the plane ride. I thought, if I read it on the plane, I can afford to not think about my dissertation that whole weekend. This did not work: traveling with a small child was not easy, even if Radioguy was there to shoulder the responsibilities with me. Miss E is overall an easygoing baby, but after an hour or an hour and a half on the plane, she was done with it and ready to move on. Result? Crying baby. I managed to read when Miss E and Daddy napped, but once she was up I was on Mommy duty. I don't blame my daughter or Radioguy; I should have planned things better. Now I know for next time.

When I returned, I had only read less than 100 pages of The Street. So I had to come up with new game plan for May. (And did I mention that the rough draft of Chapter 2 is due at the beginning of June? I need to finish it by May 31st so I can edit it the first week of June.) But that game plan? Out the window. I've been grading and dealing with end-of-semester stuff since I returned. I've been able to squeeze some reading here and there, but today I finally feel like I might be done with the novel--three weeks after I started it.

Last night I got frustrated because, when I thought I could sit down to do some dissertation work, I remembered I had some quiz grades to input. I worked on the grades, but I wasn't happy about it. When Radioguy came home from doing the Radio Thing, I was cleaning up around the house, in my own little funk. Before I went to bed I typed on my iPhone some things I had on my mind while lying in bed. I figured I had to get up early in the morning and needed my rest. My frustration was not about to let me go down easily, so I wrote. It wasn't anything coherent or groundbreaking, but it was good to let it out. Today I feel ready to move on.

The thing that clicked for me was that we're two weeks into May, but I have two and a half weeks left. I am grading next week, but I can schedule my grading around dissertation work (not the other way around--sorry, Papers Yet to Be Graded). After that, I have a good week and a half of nothing but dissertation (and job hunting). So it's not as bad as it sounds. If I were writing a paper for a class, I would've owned that paper and finished it in a week. I was good at this during coursework. Heck, I wrote a half-decent, 26-page field exam in 72 hours, from start to finish--and from scratch. I can do this.

So that's where I am, readers. Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Drive to Dissertate...


So on Thursday I start my drive cross-country once more… My friend Eve, and her pup Raleigh, are opening up their home to Blue and me in Bloomington, and on Friday I’ll drive from Bloomington to Erie (8+ hours).  And it’s dawned on me that long-distance driving is a lot like dissertating.  You don’t want to do it, it’s sometimes mind-numbing and lonely, but you need to stick it out in order to reach your destination.  Okay, it’s a rather mundane simile, but today I had to delete 10-15 pages and all I can say is that it physically hurt! I was trying to formulate an argument about Thackeray’s criticism of the British consumption of Indian goods, illuminated through the character of Jos Sedley in Vanity Fair and the silver cocoa tree in The Newcomes, but it was truly an argument going nowhere.  Can you imagine the depths of postcolonial theory I’d have to probe to try support such a broad point, plus how do I prove this was Thackeray’s intent? That it wasn’t just another aspect of English gluttony/green in general that he was moralizing against? So I took a wrong turn, had to back track, and just deal with the fact that I lost a few days…
Instead I’ve been writing about how Thackeray is challenging the fictions and nonfictions of empire (which I’ve recently learned where mostly written by British soldiers and surgeons) which both worked to compose “rose-colored” visions of the empire and the military’s valor abroad.  He exaggerates it to such a point of absurdity to make the audience reconsider their initial preconceptions on India.  Kudos again to Douglas Peers for his article on the military abroad: he quotes a CPT who felt Arabian and Nights and Orme’s history were the two texts every young man with his eyes on India had read.  And Thackeray seconds the notion! Both young Dobbin and the COL Newcome’s son(Clive) see India through the goggles of the Arabian nights (all silk tents, elephants carrying castles on their backs, and ruby-coated palaces).  Thackeray mocks this in The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan in which he asserts the Maratha camp is complete with 383 elephants, each with a 12-room, two-story tent upon its back.  He enters one of these tents and tells the reader: “I suppose that the reader, if he be possessed of the commonest intelligence, knows that the tents of the Indian grandees are made of the finest Cashmere Shawls, and contain a dozen rooms at least, with carpets, chimneys, and sash- windows...” (46).  He’s mocking the absurd but established conceptions of India in the collective British imagination.   I’m rambling, of course, but all I can say is it’s finally coming together.  And it needs to be! I have a week by week schedule to get me through to my imposed deadline, and this chapter needs to be complete, clean, and submitted by May 7!
On the home front, just more health drama with poor Blue.  For a “doggie-dental cleaning” they shave a ring around the middle of a front leg (presumably for an IV), and the poor guy can’t stop licking and biting it, which will inevitably lead to infection… so… we’ve found the following solution (see the picture below…)  Otherwise, besides being terribly behind in calling my friends and loved ones, all is well.  More soon, and from Pennsylvania!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gotta Love Loyola!

So… what have I been up to? Flying, mostly, on planes with infants, mostly… First I went to Philly for a 36 hour visit for an adjunct interview.  As soon as I got back to St. Louis, I had a day to sort out my 14 hour trip to Chicago.  When the Victorian list-serve sent out an email that there was a Thackeray/Vanity Fair—Emily Bronte/Wuthering Heights conference I couldn’t believe it! Judith L. Fisher (who writes on Thackeray’s illustrations), Micael Clarke (who wrote one of my favorite works of criticism, Thackeray and Women), and Peter Shillingsburg (who has published on all things Thackeray) were all presenting and helped me to really reconnect with what I was doing and rekindle that sense of academic community I'd been missing.  Marianne Thormählen (who travelled all the way from Stockholm to give a fascinating paper on Bronte and morality) kindly told me “it’s okay, we like when you ask questions!” when I got a little tongue-tied. You always hear about those awful encounters with your favorite scholar/writer and they turn out to be horrible--a former professor once told me that she sent Jamaica Kincaid her dissertation on her fictions and Kincaid replied “I used it line my cat’s litter box!" But the conference at Loyola was a really positive experience and I’m trying not to send off emails too quickly to the folks I met too quickly; don't want to appear like too much of a groupie! The hardest part about the trip was the 4am wake up to drive to the airport, to take a shuttle, to a plane, to a rental car, to drive across Chicago (which I’d never visited before!), to drive back, to take a shuttle, to take a plane (complete with four screaming infants, yep, four!), to take a shuttle, to drive back… I get tired just typing it! But, again, totally worth it, and much love to Loyola University for a wonderful (and free!) conference.


Other news: I plan on finishing Chapter 2, in all its glory (meaning it's somehow longer than Chapter 1), by April 27! On April 28 I begin the journey back to Pennsylvania to set up shop at the cottage and start my shortest (thank goodness!!) chapter (on Thackeray & America).  What else? Noella’s visit was wonderful, Blue and I are hiking regularly at Castlewood State Park (yay for reliable 70 degree weather), and I’m in knots about his dental surgery on Tuesday.  Does anyone else get so upset over their dog getting mild anesthesia? Be in touch—keep me honest, ask about my progress!   I’ll post again before the trip back!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Gimme a break

This last week I did very little regarding my dissertation. My routine has been disrupted by a big proofreading project. For the last week I have been hard at work as a freelance editor, proofreading a dissertation. I considered this a good opportunity to earn some cash on the side and get more experience editing. (Still looking for a job, so any non-academic experience should come in handy in that regard.) Also, I'd never read a dissertation from beginning to end (only chapters); reading this dissertation on modern American literature helped me to visualize better what a dissertation should look like, at least in my discipline.

Of course the guilt settled in earlier this week. But I beat it down by writing my random thoughts on Evernote any time I could. I already have a schedule for this upcoming week. And I feel motivated to get some work done after not doing anything "big" dissertation-related. I really missed my morning "dissertation hour," for I had to fit my proofreading work into different moments of the day, and I had to prioritize what needed to get done immediately.

I also put together an online reading group this week. After Jo VanEvery suggested to me on twitter that I reach out to my online buddies if I couldn't find any writing groups here in KC, I put the shout-out on Twitter. The idea of sharing chunks of writing at a time puts the pressure on, in a good way. Also, we're talking about putting together a schedule for sharing, so that way we know when we'll be posting and when to give feedback.

I'm excited about this! I really need to get detailed feedback on my work. I oftentimes feel dissertating is a lonely venture (and I'm not the only one to say that); although I like sharing my dissertation adventures with you, my readers, I need specific feedback too. I'm not sure about posting parts of my dissertation online--in the vein of open-access publishing by sharing works-in-progress--at least not yet. It's something I have considered though. On the other hand, I also enjoy reading other people's papers and giving them feedback. Not sure if it's the comp instructor in me or the curious intellectual in me, but one of those enjoys engaging the writing of others. Maybe both?

In other news: earlier this week in #phdchat on Twitter, folks were posting links to "plain language" versions of their dissertation projects. In other words, they tried to summarize in plain English, for all to read, what their dissertations were about. That made me think about my project too, for I am constantly thinking about the importance of my dissertation outside of just my degree and how to articulate it to people outside of, say, my committee. So here's the plain language version. Keep in mind I am not going to look back at my proposal or go over my chapter notes to write this. I want this to be as true as possible to what I want to do, not what I have done so far.

I am researching representations of urban space, particularly representations of New York City as a home. The body of creative expression I am looking at is twentieth-century African American and Puerto Rican literature: fiction, poetry, and drama. My main goal is to analyze New York City's potential as a homespace for these displaced communities who have migrated to New York City. Both African Americans and Puerto Ricans migrated en masse to New York City at different points in the twentieth century. The reason I am bringing different genres/media together is because these representations of home are not limited to one author or one genre, but overlap across genres and across authors. This shows a concern for finding and/or constructing a home in urban space. My first chapter focuses on Langston Hughes and Willie Perdomo and their representations of Harlem. My second chapter looks at Piri Thomas and Ann Petry and their representations of street life (also located in Harlem, mostly). My third chapterwill analyze Broadway as a place for these representations to be staged for a mainstream audience. My last chapter will close the project by bringing the Nuyorican Poets' Cafe into the conversation. This part is the one I haven't really fleshed out, but I feel like it would end the project nicely.

So this is my dissertation, in a nutshell. Any comments, feedback will be greatly appreciated!


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chi-town bound!

So I think I’ll follow Liana’s precedent: I’m going to blog once a week! Any more would A) take too much time and B) chase off the handful of friends and family who read!
Things are going well (I think!) I stopped at 14 pages into Chapter Two, trying not to make the same mistakes I did with Chapter One.  If you recall, I wrote a whopping 60 pages on Ireland.  And after a lovely brunch at my friend V’s home (who’s accomplished the task of completing her PhD) and her friend M (also a PhD, and fellow Victorianist), they broke it down for me: a solid chapter is 30-35 pages.  So instead of sending my patient dissertation adviser another chunk to help me whittle down, I want to do it correctly from the get-go.
The problem is for Chapter Two (which focuses on representations of India, Indians and the England’s relationship with its Indian Empire)… there’s so much I want to cover! 1) The theme of miscegenation of course; I’ve previously detailed Thackeray’s issues with his illegitimate, half-Indian-half-sister and his hostility toward interracial relationships in his fictions 2) how he satirizes the romanticization of the British military and contemporary literature of empire and finally 3) the notion of an idealized Anglo-English society that is somehow more pure and less corrupted than middle/upper class English society back in England. 
On another note, I’d like to send a big thank you out to Douglas M. Peers (and if he doesn’t get it, to the universe in general) for his incredible article on the British military presence in India in the early nineteenth century, the popularity of the biographies of British soldiers, and how British soldiers and surgeons were the ones who constructed England’s understanding of both Indian natives and her empire.  AND  I’m thrilled there is a Thackeray/Bronte conference taking place in Chicago/Loyola University later this month and I’ll be attending!! Whoo-hoo! I only learned of it recently and the names of those Thackeray scholars I so frequently cite make up the program!
Last bit of good news—my dear friend Noella, who moved to Philly from the UK in October—arrives tomorrow to spend a week with us! Blue and Grandma will be equally thrilled, and I can’t wait to show her the Art Museum, the Arch, downtown St. Louis, and introduce her to our traditions of happy hour  followed by a classic movie! Then my love arrives on the 8th—I’ve promised 20 pages by then.  

Thoughts on Revising My First Chapter


Ok, so March came and went, and so did my revised Chapter 1. I sent my revised chapter to my advisor at around 11:30 pm this past Thursday. I was mentally and physically exhausted. I had put in more time and more energy into revising this chapter than I did for the first draft. I guess that's why Anne Lamott calls them "Shitty First Drafts."

The chapter was not fully revised. In fact, there's a section there on Langston Hughes that is pretty much incomplete. It is the shortest section and it is the least developed section. I tried to force out something similar to coherent prose hours before the deadline, but it didn't happen. Instead, I added transition sentences and reworded parts of it. At 11:00 I decided it was time to let it go and move on. I was not going to produce 10 more pages on Langston Hughes. Not at 11 pm at night. I pressed "send," cried, and went to bed.

The problem was this: I worked on everything else in the chapter before I tackled the section on Hughes. In fact, it should've been the other way around. I should have worked on that section first and then revise, tweak, rewrite the rest. But I couldn't work on Hughes when I still had no clue what direction that section was going in. With Bremer and Perdomo, I (eventually) came up with some sort of focus that I sharpened in the revision. Hughes? Nah.

I've been struggling with that Hughes section, and it was only this Tuesday that I realized why. I was trying to tackle all of Langston Hughes's poetry. Yes. ALL OF IT. If you're wondering how much that would be, take a look:



Exactly.

So of course I had no clue where to go. But I thought I was just lazy: people write on huge texts like that all of the time. However, on Tuesday I had an epiphany. While reading some literary criticism on Hughes, I realized I should focus on Montage of a Dream Deferred. And suddenly everything was clear to me. However, I still had to sit down and revise the chapter AND write this whole new section from scratch. I panicked. Big time. (Actually, I was panicky all of last week.)

Yes, I should have done things differently. Yes, I should have had a plan of action. Yes, I should have handed in something more polished. Believe me, I had this conversation over and over Thursday night after I sent my chapter in. But I didn't do these things. Instead, I added new information to my chapter, gave it direction, and connected my ideas to a broader conversation. It's no longer at the "shitty first draft" stage. I can actually sit down to read it. And today's a new day.

My question is: should I continue researching chapter 2? I put that on pause to tend to the revisions to Chapter 1, and am eager to move on. (Rough draft of chapter 2 is due in two months.) Radioguy suggested I just take another week to work on the Hughes section, add it, then move on. But I'm not sure if that would be effective, since all I've been doing the past five weeks is chapter 1. So I'm torn here.

One thing I do know: I have a much better idea of how to work for chapter 2. It's okay if I start out with a shitty first draft, right Lamott?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Big steps!

I'm not sure if I should be posting every week or simply a blurb every day... maybe I'll start doing both, just to keep my self-accountable!

I've been in Philadelphia for a whirlwind trip inspired by the MACBS (Mid-Atlantic Conference of British Studies).  My sweet husband picked me up at the airport and there were a vase of lilies waiting for me at his small apartment.  My pudgy cat lovingly offered me his belly every chance he got, and even though I foolishly didn't bring along a jacket (it was 80 in St. Louis when I left!) even the cold Philadelphia air was welcome simply because it was familiar.

To be honest, I was rather nervous about this conference, even though I've done this at least a dozen times.  It was predominantly historians and I wasn't familiar with the practice of sending in your paper two weeks in advance--I'm more of the edit it until the hour you present kind of girl! Also, it's extremely difficult to whittle 70+ pages into 11 refined (and impressive) ones.  So I sent off my draft a week late but my panel leader was very kind and didn't comment on how many changes appeared in the draft I read.  At every panel, the chair would offer commentary and feedback on each presenter: she recommended I incorporate more information on how Thackeray's fictions were received (reviews and such) and consider how that inevitably shaped his writings on Englishness.  Also, two professors from Temple (who were kind enough to let me join there British Studies group when I adjuncted there) sat in and offered their support.  And... I now have an outside reader! Woohooo!  Plus, my wonderful friend Val had me over for a lovely brunch and introduced me to one of her colleagues from another Philadelphia University: "M" is also a Victorian and offered her support, to read pages, offer links, conferences to take part in, etc.  During my last foray into academia I felt critiqued and unsupported, but this week has been incredible and I'm grateful for the intelligent and welcoming British scholars I've been lucky enough to meet!

What I learned from the conference: after feedback from my panel chair, the various panels I observed, and an interesting  round-table on interdisciplinary learning is I need to approach my historical critiques methodically, carefully.  I'm not simply doing literary criticism here, which is as I prefer it, but it makes it more complicated.  I still have a lot to learn about Anglo-India, and want to locate more contemporary reviews of Thackeray's fictions, particularly concerning his portrayals of other groups.

But I'm back in St. Louis, Blue greeted me with immense excitement and won't let me out of his sight.  Craig arrives in mid-April to help me drive back to Pennsylvania.  Next step: move into the cottage at the lake.  I'll finish CH 2 this month and hopefully CH 3 in May, CH 4 June, CH 5 July, and defend in early fall.  I can do this!

My blog-co-writer Liana has the sharp idea that we start exchanging pages, I think it's a good one!  More soon...

Friday, March 25, 2011

So What?

"So what? Why does that matter?"

This week, as I talked thesis statements with my students, I found myself asking the same thing over and over. I love doing this, pushing their ideas just a little farther. Little did they know that I've been struggling with the same question for the past two years. I don't think about it every day, but it is always in the back of my mind.

I met a professor for lunch this week. She asked me about my research; in the past this would frustrate me, and I even got to the point where I told people not to ask me. When she asked me, I was excited to talk about what I had been up to, even if I still don't have a clear answer to my questions. (Being physically away from your academic community for months will do that to you.) Like I had with my students the day before, she pushed my ideas further and brought up things I hadn't considered. Instead of feeling frustrated, I made mental notes to write about when I got home.

I confessed to her that there were a lot of questions I still hadn't answered, the big one being "so what? Why talk about home?" She nodded in agreement, but of course had no possible answers for me. I've been looking for the answer since the day that question made its first appearance, one day I was talking to one of my field examiners. He asked me "so why home? Why is it important to talk about home in a day and age where populations are so mobile and have different allegiances?" Of course I'm paraphrasing. But that's not the point. He asked me "why?" I hadn't stopped to think about that. I think I just assumed it was important because it was exciting and relevant to me.

Assuming: big mistake.

I sat there and stumbled over academic buzzwords that I had picked up from years of being in the graduate classroom. But I knew I didn't have an answer. He said it was okay, but that I had to keep this in mind. I guess it was on the back burner until recently.

So now I'm obsessed with the "so what?" question. I should be revising. Instead, I can't stop thinking about why I am writing about home. And it's inevitable that home comes back to me. I could go on and on about the state of Puerto Rican studies and making connections between disciplines. But I feel the urge to say "home matters to me. It just does. It's been stuck on my skin ever since we left. This dissertation is my way of paying my respects to my NYC home, the one I had to leave behind. The one I may never go back to. You know what they say, you can never go back home." But is that enough in this project? I wonder.

Dear readers, how have you articulated the "so what?" of your dissertations?

Bonus track: here's Kanye West's "Homecoming." It's part of the playlist I had on repeat on my iPod that semester I wrote on representations of home in rap. That's the same semester I realized I wanted to write my dissertation on home.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Less prep... more write

So I think things have been going well... as noted in my "tweet," I reread and copied notes from Major Gahagan, this incredible but somehow overlooked early Thackeray novella: it's narrated by this Barry Lyndon type-braggart (Irish of course) as he retells his adventures while serving the British army in India in the first decade of the 1800s.  I think I already shared the episode where he "almost" married Julia Jowler, the Colonel's daughter who is 1/4 native; Gahagan is willing to "overlook" this for her beauty, but abandons her when he realizes that during his absence she married an Indian Raj ("Chowder Loll," whom Gahagan kills in battle) and had his child.  I want to explore how she's suddenly an unacceptable bride, not because she's a widow and mother, but "contaminated" by having married a native.  Still, I'm very wary of one-dimensional postcolonial readings...


I also read three interesting articles: Norton's "The Ex-Collector of Boggley-Wollah: Colonialism in the Empire of Vanity Fair," (a little less Bahktin & Foucault would be awesome...), Perkin's response to Norton's article ( a big Said fan himself), and this brilliant article from a history journal: Sivasundaram's “The East India Company's Elephants in India and Britain.” He tracks the East India Company's relationship with elephants, what they represent to 19th century imperial culture, and concludes with the significance of the horrific account of Chuny, the Indian elephant brought to London for show and horrifically put down in 1826 when he turned violent (seriously, look it up, you'll cry...)


But, the gem of this week's research is a reference in Sivasundaram's article to a 1911 book by F.B. Bradley-Birt entitled ‘Sylhet’ Thackeray.  I found it online (for free!), hoping for, but not counting on, a significant connection.  There were a LOT of Thackerays in 19th century Englannd.  


I learned A) Sylhet is a place in India and B) the book is about the original William Makepeace Thackeray, aka, Bill Thack's paternal grandfather and his distinguished career in India in the second half of the 18th century.  So many of the events recounted are foundational to Major Gahagan and even Vanity Fair.  The craziest event entails Willy T senior purchasing 60 elephants for the East India Company and marching them to a designated location.  Six elephants die along the way and the rest, understandably, arrive in rough shape.  The EIC refuses to pay Willy T Sr., leading to a bunch of legal drama.  Also, while there, he ultimately fins his bride and witnesses the displaced British marriage market (matches were not focused on love, but money and social standing), a social aberration which Thackeray criticizes throughout his novels.


After contemplating all of this in conjunction with his letters, relevant criticism and  his fictions, I'm coming to find that yes, Thackeray was racist, particularly in terms of interracial relationships; in addition to common 19th century prejudice, I believe this stems from his issues with his father's half-Indian daughter.  And yes, he supported the "Christian," "civilizing" mission of empire, but he uses his satire to critique what he sees as problematic about Englishness that's simply been transplanted into the British colonies: social climbing, dirty politics, greed, unnecessary warfare, vanity, etc.  This will make more sense shortly...


On a personal note, I'm working but need to work faster, and smarter, take a tip from Liana who cranked out 4 pages today!  I'm in my old mode of reading and typing up notes for days and days and not producing! I'm presenting on Saturday and hoped to include pages on India, so here we go...

Writing!

Nothing much happened today in the dissertation department. I spent most of the day grading and taking care of Miss E. However, I didn't beat myself up too much because yesterday I had a whole 3 hours--3 hours!--to work. And I did. I wrote 4 and a half glorious pages.

I've become so accustomed to producing little bits day by day, that I had forgotten what it felt like to sit down and write for a lengthy period of time. As JD says in Scrubs: "It. Was. Awesome." The feeling of following a line of thought, freewriting, thumbing through an article and not have to worry about the clock (sort of) was liberating. I believe it liberated me to think and to write. Now, I think I will change my schedule around a bit and spend more afternoons just sitting down and writing.

Switching things around scares me a bit though. My big New Year's Resolution was to make my dissertation a priority, and the way I enabled that was by working every day at the same time. So far it has worked, although sometimes it puts a crinkle in my days off from school. I like working in the morning. Yesterday Radioguy and I were talking about the importance of having a routine to develop your craft and getting your creativity jumpstarted. He thinks it's better to make a point of writing at some point in the day, whereas I think a schedule works better, at least for me. Both strategies are good, but I feel like I need a more structured approach (did I mention I am a professional procrastinator?). Dissertating in the afternoon the days I teach would allow me the two or three unfettered hours for writing and thinking when I used to grade or lesson plan. However, this is also the moment of the day when I start to feel myself unwinding and yawning. A lot. That's part of the reason why I worry about switching things: I know myself. I will find excuses to stop at Target instead of driving straight to a cafe. I will go to the grocery store. All because I am tired but can't drive home yet.

So this is food for thought. I won't be able to put my new plan in action until Radioguy comes back (the babysitting schedule has changed with him being away in AZ), but until then I'll hold on to the feeling of accomplishment: Four and a half pages.

What did I write about? Well, I focused on Bremer. I have decided to include a lengthy discussion of Sidney Bremer's essay "Home in Harlem, New York: Lessons from the Harlem Renaissance Writers." When I first read this essay, I panicked. All this time I had been wondering "how do I define 'home'? how do these authors define 'home'?" Bremer had it there, between pages 47 and 48. But instead of thinking "I have to rewrite my whole dissertation!" I decided to focus on how I am expanding and complicating her definition of home. I thought this discussion might be better off in the introduction, but I really can't bring myself to talk about Hughes, Perdomo, and Harlem as a homespace without introducing Bremer. I guess later on I can fix that, once I am working on the introduction.

What I like about Bremer's work in general is that Bremer is challenging the universality of the image of urban alienation as inherent to the experience in city spaces. These three dimensions that she points out (her words: “Harlem as home—place, community, aspiration”) that I shall be conversing with in my discussion of Perdomo and Hughes. I am expanding, adding to her argument by including the Puerto Rican writers, and putting them in conversation with African-American writers and their views on home. In that sense I am using her conceptualization of home, but I hope to also add depth to it. I'm trying to be very careful to delineate her ideas and distinguish them from mine.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

As per my twitter feed (susaneveray)

As per my twitter feed: "
reread Thackeray's Major Gahagan (in India), copied key passages, typed up notes & ideas...--nothing like some good old 19th century racism!"

Will offer up some of my more thoughtful reactions tomorrow...

Prepping

Sorry for the short post, but not much has happened today, dissertation-wise. I tried to get some grading done; I had to choose between reading for the dissertation or catching up on grading. Even though it's Spring Break and I had planned to work on my dissertation, I also have a load of essays to grade. I want to to finish them before school is back in session. My deadline for the revised chapter is at the end of the month, so I went with grading. I'd rather be thinking about my dissertation than grading, seriously.

I managed to carve out some time to read one last chapter from Sidney Bremer's Urban Intersections. For the longest, my advisor has been asking me what key text I am responding to in my dissertation. For the longest, I had no clear answer. But now that I have read Bremer's PMLA essay titled "Home to Harlem" and parts of her book, I think I have found the author I'll be responding to. Her articulation of Harlem as a home is the basis for my articulation of urban space as a potential home, but I am complicating it too. (Or rather, I was trying to articulate what home meant in these texts, and Bremer took the words out of my mouth. Proper MLA citation, folks!) When you bring Puerto Rican migrants into the mix, it complicates some of the statements she's making about Harlem as a home for Harlem Renaissance writers. Of course, she is writing about authors from another time period; her focus is late nineteenth and early twentieth century. My authors span from early twentieth century to late twentieth century. So I'm trying to keep that in mind, that her arguments may or may not apply considering the context.

Regardless of the complications, it feels good to have a firm base to stand on. I feel like I can incorporate a discussion of Bremer's arguments into the chapter, bring in Hughes, then end the chapter talking about Harlem in Perdomo's work. Tomorrow I am taking Miss E over to the babysitter (bless that woman's heart, because she is a lifesaver for taking care of her on short notice!) and I plan on camping out at the local Panera by her house for a few hours. There will be writing going on tomorrow afternoon. I'm actually looking forward to it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Good Days and Bad Days

I have been working on Chapter 1 for a while now. If you're keeping count at home, I've been working on chapter 1 since January 2010. But applying for teaching jobs, interviewing, having a baby at the end of the spring semester, moving halfway across the country weeks after that, changing jobs, and the like will affect your productivity. I managed to hand in a draft last November. It was 23 pages long; yes, you read that right: the draft of chapter 1 was 23 PAGES LONG.

I was worn out from thinking about Willie Perdomo and Langston Hughes for over a year. Heck, I've been mulling around ideas about home and urban space for over three years now. Thinking about space and home seems like second-nature to me (but that probably had little to do with dissertation--more on that another day). So when my advisor asked me to revise chapter 1 over the winter, I tried but nothing came out. I really had nothing more to say. Hence, the 23 pages.

I knew the chapter couldn't stay like that. But even though I loved reading Perdomo and Hughes, I really couldn't face that chapter another day. So I started researching chap 2. When I told my advisor, she initially agreed. I dove into re-reading Piri Thomas's Down These Mean Streets, looking for ways into the text to talk about home. However, my advisor recently asked me recently to revise chap 1 once and for all so that I have a solid chapter before I move on. I agreed.

She is right, even if I pouted for a little bit. I was on a roll, thinking about comparisons between Piri Thomas and Ann Petry. I had already started reading criticism on Thomas. I had a few pages' worth of notes. But I knew she was right: it has to be done. So I took it upon myself to finish this chapter by the end of this month...even though I'd be taking care of my daughter all by myself while Radioguy (my boyfriend) traveled to Arizona for Spring Training.

Yes, this sounds like crazy talk. Finish revising a chapter while you take care of an 8-month old baby and work, with no family or friends to shoulder the load? Yup. But postponing the trip was not an option. This is his job, and he loves it. I love my job too, and I respect and admire that he is as passionate about sports as I am about teaching and writing. And I've known since day 1 that there would be days like this where I'd be by myself. I'd like to think I've learned to manage them pretty well. Sometimes I even looked forward to them (hey, gotta look at the bright side of things, right?): I can make a light dinner for one if I want. I can watch tv in bed until I fall asleep (a single behavior that comes out when he's out of town). I can focus on my reading and writing when Miss E is napping. I get a little ME time. I thought I could handle revising; after all, I'd have a little more time on my hands.

But then I have days like today, where things go haywire and I fall off my hinges and don't know what to do. Then I sit down and mumble about how I should have finished that chapter in Binghamton, how I should've been done with grading, how I can't believe I am not yet finished with my PhD.

So I was glad to talk with my tweeps this am and get some positive reinforcement. I'm not the only one who wonders when she'll be done or the only one who wonders if she is just thinking crazy thoughts. They reminded me that having a community matters, even if it is a virtual community. And Radioguy reminded me yesterday that last year is over and done with. No use crying over the time I spent on my "shitty first draft." Just gotta move on and get it done.

Sometimes I have bad days. But then they turn into good days.

Goal for this month: extend chapter to 40 pages, minimum. Incorporate discussion of Sidney Bremer's text into chapter on Hughes and Perdomo.

Ray and Harden let me down!

So I've started pulling things together for my chapter on Thackeray and India.  While researching Ireland in Thackeray's six volumes of letters and private papers (by Gordon N. Ray and the subset by Edgar Harden) I found healthy indexes which included "Ireland," "Catholic" and "England."  However today I found, to my chagrin, there's no, "India," "Indian," "empire," "Calcutta" etc.

Thankfully, me and Willy T are close enough that I knew a few key names and publications to search under.  Furthermore, I found out some fascinating new Thackeray/family info! 


His father, Richmond Thackeray, started a long affair with a native Indian woman soon after he started with the East India Company in Calcutta.  His mother, Anne Becher, has an especially tragic backstory: her snobby upper middle-class grandmother told her she could never see her soldier boyfriend again; after virtually locking her in room, grandma told poor Anne that her “boyfriend” died and then sent all of his correspondence back to him, writing him that Anne no longer cared for him.  


Anne was then carted off to India (a practice he challenges in Vanity Fair) to find a suitable husband; she soon after married the wealthy, older Richmond, created a home in Calcutta and had William the next year.  The soap opera part? Richmond brings a buddy home from work one evening for dinner and..... it’s Anne’s ex-boyfriend, Carmichael-Smyth!  The couple ultimately tells Richmond what happened and he never looks at his wife the same way again.  Richmond dies a few years later, Willy T is sent to school in England (which was the norm for Anglo-Indian kids), and mom marries her "true love."

I’ve known this sordid tale for awhile, and that Richmond had a bastard daughter, but I now have new insight into how Thackeray felt about it.  As per his letters, though he squandered huge amounts of his inheritance gambling during college, he resented the small monthly payment due to his Indian half-sister (and requested by her family after her early death).  In a diary entry in his early 20s, Thackeray berates himself for dining on turtle soup “while Mrs. Blenchyden starves” (referring to his now married half-sister).  He later writes it’s “one of the sorest points of his life” that he didn’t treat her better upon learning of her death in the paper. Years later, Mrs. B’s “very black” daughter shows up in ENGLAND, he never names her but identifies her as “his niece” and is grateful when she leaves, even remarking how his mom was horrified when the girl called her “dear grandmamma.” 

I think its key that he never refers to his late half-sister as “sister” or even “Sarah,” always Mrs. Blenchyden, as if to keep her at distance.  When confronted with her daughter, he refers to her as “his black niece,” but never by name, as if hesitantly recognizing the blood relationship, but also pointing out the difference in skin tone.  Food for thought for my Chapter on India, especially as much of this family drama is reflected in Vanity Fair….

Just for fun, I’ve attached a picture of my alarm clock!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Baby vs dog...

First of all, God bless Liana for writing a chapter with a baby.  Today I finished and submitted my beautiful, polished and annotated Chapter One (60+ pages!) and was continually distracted by Blue... Craig left yesterday and the dog spent the better part of his afternoon putting his nose beneath my left forearm and flipping my hand up and away from the computer.  He's barked at every living thing that's passed by the window and a mile walk did nothing to appease his need for attention...

So yes, it sadly took me 2 months to turn in my chapter, but I've also read through, annotated and typed up four novels, plus located, read and annotated the bulk of my criticism.  I'm looking at this project, the five chapters, the same way a mechanic's apprentice would look at building five cars.  Building the first one SUCKS, but then you have the tools and the know-how, cars 2-5 should be relatively simple.  Time will tell...

Another hiccup in my forward progress was a 2 week visit from Craig.  We had a brilliant time, hosted dinner for our surrogate family  (the Roses), watched movies with grandma, ate at a delicious Greek restaurant (who new St. Louis was the epicenter of Greek cuisine..) and the Roses even lent us their lake house in the Ozarks for a few days.  I've attached some pictures.  In addition to hiking every day, we toured Bridal Cave.  It was rainy and miserable and we were the only one's there, so we had a private tour with a Jesse Eisenberg look-a-like, complete with white-boy afro.  We found out he's an avid climber and pretty much works there as the owner lets him privately explore the multiple-storied caverns.

But I've been at this computer screen for 10 hours... Blue's just dropped his saliva drenched Kong in my lap... I'm pouring a drink ... Huzzahh!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How Technology Changed the Way I Dissertate

Hi, my name is Liana and I am a professional procrastinator. If there were certificates in procrastination, I'd be the one teaching the courses to get certified. However, because I know I can procrastinate, I am strangely loyal to schedules and to gadgets that make my life easier. (An extra half hour of reality tv? Count me in!) Scheduling time is a big thing for me, considering I am an adjunct, a full-time mom, and a full-time dissertator. It ensures that I get at least something done regarding my dissertation. But scheduling is not the only thing that has kept my intellectual gears moving. There are several gadgets that help me get my work done on a regular basis. Some of these I have discovered on my own; others I have picked up from my peers. They make my job a little easier, so I thought I'd share them with you:
  • e-reader: I love books, and I don't just mean in the abstract. I love purchasing books and displaying them on my bookcase. I'm big on marginalia. For a while I was anti-e-reader; I believed they would bring the demise of the publishing industry. (Yes, I can be a tad dramatic at times.) However, I wondered sometimes if an e-reader would help with my dissertation reading and with the cost of books. I came across this Prof Hacker post by Amy Cavender, and I was sold! I still buy books (just recently purchased Sidney Bremer's Urban Intersections), and I have bought a few e-books, but I primarily use my Kindle to read PDFs. It has cut down on the amount of copies I need to carry and store. I am a big fan of highlighting and writing on the margins of my texts, but not having a pile of copies in a corner of my small apartment is a relief. The only problem is that the Kindle isn't the best when it comes to highlighting and taking notes.
  • Google Docs: I used Google Docs on and off for months last year, but when my laptop crashed a few weeks after I gave birth I began to use it on a regular basis. I didn't get my laptop fixed until two months after The Incident, and I couldn't reinstall Microsoft Office until last month. Needless to say, I depended on Google Docs for my word processing needs. I use Google Docs for my weekly dissertation chapter notes. I like the fact that it saves automatically, unlike Word. However, the formatting can get a little weird when you download something as a Word document, or when you upload a Word document. I still use Word when I sit down for the first official draft.
  • Foxit Reader: I recently discovered this application, but it has come in handy! It allows you to comment on PDFs, highlight passages, and copy text. I'm using it right now to revise my first chapter; my laptop refuses to install my printer, so I can't print out a copy of my chapter and mark it like I am used to. Now, I can make comments right on the PDF. I plan on later printing out the comments and have them by my side as I type up my revisions.
  • Dropbox: I never thought I'd use Dropbox as much as I do. I have an external hard drive (got it after my laptop crashed last summer) so I didn't think I'd need to put my documents in a cloud. Wrong. WRONG. I use Dropbox for documents I'll be using on campus and at home. I also use it to store pictures of the whiteboard after my classes are over. But more importantly, I use it to store PDFs and other dissertation documents. Just a few weeks ago a librarian friend found a few dissertations I needed to read via Proquest. She uploaded them to our shared Dropbox folder, and I could access them instantly! I do a lot of dissertation work at school after I'm done with class. I love that I can just upload the documents to Dropbox and it will appear on my laptop at home instantly. It also has a mobile app, which is super convenient when you use your phone as much as I do.
  • Evernote: I just recently got into Evernote, so I must admit I haven't explored all of its potential. But Evernote is quite nifty when it comes to taking notes and jotting down ideas. I don't use it on my desktop as much as I do on my iPhone. I use it to take pictures of books or quotations I want to remember. It also helps for jotting down ideas on the go when I'm away from my laptop. (When you're writing a dissertation, it's like your brain is always ON.) However, I don't use it as much for note-taking (see Google Docs above).
  • Smartphone: How could I NOT include my smartphone? I have an iPhone, but I'm sure this could work for any smartphone. I used my cellphone a lot before I gave birth. But after giving birth, I became attached to it. It was my connection to the outside world for the first few months of my daughter's life. It also allowed me to stay productive when I wasn't as mobile. Now I check books on Amazon, upload documents onto Dropbox, post a thought on Evernote, read my notes on Google Docs, or find out if any of the local libraries has a book via Worldcat. It is my computer away from my computer.
  • Social media: Ok, it's not necessarily a gadget. But being far away from my campus and from my dissertating peers, blogging and tweeting has helped me get in touch with other academics, intellectuals, PhD candidates who are interested in my work--and whose work is interesting as well. It's nice to know there are people out there who find the work I do interesting, and who want to talk/read about it. I also post a daily update on my dissertation work on Twitter (hashtag: #dissertation, although I am not the only one posting there), so social media keeps me honest...if anything.
One of my new year's resolutions was to make my dissertation a priority. I used to complain and get upset when days would go by last semester and I couldn't get any work done. Part of the problem was, with all the changes in my life I was trying to research and write the way I've always done. When I couldn't disappear for a whole day to work at the library, or when I didn't have hours at a time to write, I didn't know what to do with myself. These gadgets (and a daily routine of at least an hour for dissertation stuff) have helped me get more work done even when I can't sit at my desk--or when I don't have more than an hour to spare.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Friday, March 4, 2011

a page every 3 hours??

So even though it's Craig's first day here, I spent a solid amount of time in front of my laptop.  Earlier today her and Ga ran errands, one being a trip to the Verizon store where he picked me up a Droid ('the incredible'?).  I understand it's a very cool, high tech phone, but I personally feel to out-dated to use it!

Anyways, I spent my work time today editing, revising, reading through my notebook of quotes, entering in relevant quotes, cutting passages (I have a ten page document entitled "Cut Parts), writing new passages...
and at the end of the day, I've added a whopping two pages! WTF?  How miserable!  At least the chapter seems cleaner and more cohesive. In short, my confidence in the project is up, but my page productivity is down for the day...

At least my love is here to offer supportive hugs and tease me when I bang my head against the tabletop...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

31... 2 hrs and 10 minutes

So I'm on page 31! I should be stoked, but am concerned that after setting up my theoretical frame and explaining why other critics are reading The Irish Sketchbook incorrectly, it's been ten pages of my analyzing controversial passages and images from The Sketchbook and his letters.  You reach a point where you realize "Damn, I need to cite someone recent and relevant to back up me up here," which is especially difficult if not one is reading it quite the same way...

On a lighter note, Craig lands in 2 hours! Together for 12 days, can't wait! I look forward to when this project is done and I can get back to having him around all the time...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lucky 21?

I'm on page 21.  Not as quickly as I'd hoped to move, but I can round out CH 1 by Saturday.  This will allow me three weeks to get knee-deep in my chapter on India and I'll be fully prepared to read sections from both for my conference at the end of the month.

I can't wait for Craig to arrive Thursday... suddenly he actually feels a thousand miles away.  But I see him 2x this month and am trying to remain positive.

My grandmother and I just started watching pieces of the Anne of Green Gables series in the evenings... haven't seen it since I was an adolescent so it's a wonderful, dream-like deja vu experience to see them again.  I remember really identifying with "Anne with an 'e'"  (in both the books and the film), all dreamy-eyed and awkward with her nose in a book... good times...