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.