Monday, January 17, 2011

Through hell and back, part 3, the end

At some point near the end of December, or the beginning of January, I started referring to the chapter as the Lernean Hydra, because it felt as though with every component of it that I organized, I realized that there were two other bits that needed work. Ironically, that was actually the point at which I also began to believe, really and truly, that the end was in sight.

Well, the first end. M will have feedback, and I've already mentioned specific areas of concern to him that I'll want to keep improving. But I could actually identify the specific components of the argument, and the way that they needed to fit together that would make them compelling; I knew, too, what I was leaving out, and why I was leaving it out at this point.

And then it did start to be fun. I glanced back at a source from 1932, and realized that it treated my subject much differently than it's handled today, and it allowed me to add a nice show-not-tell component in the front of the chapter. I started to be excited about the fact that I was starting the chapter with a mid-century parody that gleefully roasted the poem which had been my main subject in the previous chapter, and that also supported my interpretation of it.

I did have to rearrange things, and I kept making voice memos on my iPhone about specific bits of tinkering I could do, tweaking tiny things that would make the argument as a whole more nuanced, more exciting. Honestly, I sometimes think that the best part of the iphone for me in terms of academic work is not InstaPaper, or Dropbox, or anything of those sophisticated apps that keep appearing -- it's that when an insight hits as I'm walking along, I don't have to stop and fumble for a pencil and paper, or try to write as quickly as I can think. I just have to yank out my phone and start talking.

There's little to say about the last parts, or little that I think will be helpful. On the day before I turned in the chapter, a discussion that I've been wanting to write for three years suddenly became clear, or rather, I knew how to start the first sentence, and then the second sentence, and so on. I didn't realize it at first, which is why it's written on a string of yellow 4x4 post-its that you can see on top of a pile of papers in my first post about this.

By that point, I was making lists of things to do, labeled high priority and low priority, and enjoying the satisfaction of crossing them off, one by one. And then came the moment when it was finished.

And then I realized that I was out of printer paper. Oops. (But this is what campus libraries are for, I suppose).

Today I'm prepping a fellowship application, and making plans for the next part of the diss. This requires a bit of thinking, because where I'd originally planned to do 5 chapters, it looks increasingly like I really only have room for 4. On the other hand, a lecture that I went to on Friday afternoon helped to crystallize a few ideas, and I think I know what the main subject of the conclusion will be, and thus, what direction this will go as I turn it into a book proposal.

Of course, M. might write back when he's read the chapter and say that I'm loony. But I don't think he will. He might say that the chapter needs a lot of work, though. That's okay. That, I can deal with.

Writing these reflections may be useful for other people, or may not. They've been very helpful for me, not only because they've allowed me to become more conscious of the matryoshka issue, and how that affected my mood; and if I can put that to good use in moving forward, then these three posts will have served their purpose completely.

I hope, if you land here, that reading these posts will be helpful for you, whether because they're a concrete record of someone else flailing about in frustration, or because you can feel superior, having flailed less, or flailed more gracefully. Or maybe just because using the voice memo feature on your ipod or smartphone will be helpful. Whatever the case, if you're here because you're in the midst of writing a dissertation or thesis chapter, I wish you well.


  1. These posts were fascinating. Thanks for sharing the process!!

  2. You're welcome. And thank you for looking at them; I'm glad that they were interesting.