Monday, January 08, 2007

Fortune Cookies

So, I may not be writing so much of this internet writing for the next couple of months...maybe years. If anything, I'll try to touch in once a week or so, but I can't promise.

The deal is that I'm supposed to be writing my doctoral dissertation at present, and I've managed to piss off the last year and a half doing other things. Of course, "other things" have included 6 months of language study, moving back and forth across the country, living in a war zone, working a series of menial jobs to support myself, dealing with health and family issues, etc, etc, etc. Poor, poor me. Certainly it's not the blog that consumes much of my time, but I do fully admit that in light of everything else, I need to be more disciplined. In fact, if I believed in New Year's resolutions, this would be one: Radical Discipline. Indeed.

Today, after what some would call a complete "Come-to-Jesus" meltdown with my (now-freshly "former)" dissertation advisor, I realized part of the reason for my proverbial pissing in the wind is due to fear. No, I take that back: The absolute largest part of this issue is paralyzing fear:

Fear that my research is crap. Fear of getting it all wrong. Fear that I have nothing to say. Fear that if I start, I may never finish. Fear that if I finish, I will be seen as a weak intellectual at best, if not a downright fraud. How can this girl who comes from nothing achieve something so lofty? (She must not deserve such a thing. Who did she sleep with to get through so fast?) And finally--this sounds completely insane, but--fear of success. Even if I do manage to claw my way to the finish line, then what?

I would say that I am moribound with fear and practically paralyzed as a result of this 98% of the time when it comes to this particular situation. The irony is that while I am mostly worried about the repercussions of finishing, I am also as equally stunned0stupid by the fear of not completing the mission at hand. The thought of leaving this behind me without completion is also something that renders me incapable of cogent thought. If I fail see this last leg of my journey to the very end, I know that I will forever be scarred by the story of how I spent the rest of my life paying off the thousand of dollars of institutional debt I incurred when I never got my PhD.

The reality check is that, in a very real way, I have practically mortgaged my life on my success in this endeavor. No doubt, a tremendous gamble. And even the completion of it doesn't guarantee much of a financial pay-off, other than the mere satisfaction that I've done this entirely on my own, for myself, because I can. (And because, at the end of the day, I can actually say that I really love what I do.) Unlike my colleagues, however, I have no trust fund or even one or a set of supportive parental units to pull from when I've had to steal toilet paper from local coffee shops, or forgo two month's worth of electricity when I couldn't find enough pennies in the bowels of my car to keep the lights and the heat on in my apartment. None of this mattered, by the way, because there was no food in the refrigerator to spoil, that is, unless you count the peaunut butter and Ramen Noodles I survived on for a year and a half.

Before my illustrious meltdown this afternoon in my emotionally-distant, supportive-yet-cold, caring-yet-cruel advisor's office today, I told a friend of mine on Friday that I'm officially going to stop making this PhD thing look so smooth. Because it's not. It's terrifying. In actuality, I feel like an Olympic figure skater, pumped up on steroids and artificial painkillers, who actually is in the running for the coveted Gold despite the fact that she's competing on two broken legs. I'm just not that tough. Nor do I care to be. I refuse to be inhuman. Who cares if I'm breaking the stoic, PhD code of silence by saying so.

Yes, I am well aware that 98% of all doctoral students experience this issue, too. This is why only 10% of us actually manage to complete the PhD. The failure rate is beyond staggering...and stiffling. And if that 10% of lucky masochists weren't completely certifiable before the process, they certainly will be in the end. Please don't tell me that what I am experiencing at present is "normal". I know it's normal. But I am also brutally aware that the path I'm on right now is the farthest point on the map from normalcy and "healthy" that one can choose. I'm a mental athlete, training to compete for the Nerd Olympic Games. On Mars...

The problem is the love-hate paradox. I love it; I hate it. I love reading and learning and talking shop. I love teaching. Really love it. But I hate being told that if I don't write a widely-respected book, I will not be able to freely do what I love to do. I hate the fact that I can't write just to write. Everything is strategy and innuendo. It's a huge chess game with no end, much less a clear and decisive victory. Moreover, I have to write to please an audience of people I hardly respect, and who typically act like emotional 7 year olds, and hardly respect themselves.

I may have officially just now crossed the line in becoming the person that I silently pray for: The PhD student who blogs to all of her internet pals about how completely psychzoid she is.

I promise to work more. Blog less. Fortunately, this sort of thing is a rarity. In the meantime, thanks to those of you who managed to read this far. Rant over. Oh, and for the record, I, too, believe in Fortune Cookies, and really hope that Someone Up There has a better handle on it than I do. Are the stars just simply out of alignment this month? What gives?

Ambiguously yours,


I-66 said...

While this news of less blogging is disconcerting, I understand that prioritization is probably in order. You know I'll read ya whether it's daily, weekly, or monthly, so take your time. Just don't forget about e-mail ;)

Kathryn Is So Over said...

Sending you calm, intelligence, and grace. Which you already have. Shoot. Okay, okay, sending HUGS. Many hugs.

VJ said...

Godspeed N. I wish you everything K sends here your way, and the stuff you'll really need. The patient dogged determination of Mme. Curie. The stubborn refusal to quit against tall odds of McAuliffe, and the sheer will to battle of Grant. Grace will be with be with you. (We're sending her by train...). Calm is either with you or it's drained from you by the committee.

No damn Extra book is necessary until after the project's complete, or nearly so. Do find the calmest, sweetest, easy going person in the department who'll be the main reader. Often times, it's not that they can adequately understand what you've done, in that you're just so far out ahead of where they are or what they did way back when the earth was just cooling.

The fear is here is natural. Most learn to live with it and work along with it. Some can't handle the unique stresses here, and it affects their health greatly. The money will come eventually. (And you'll do wonders for the place being handy with languages!) But still, the politics & the BS are so bad precisely due to the fact that the pay and working conditions are often so lousy. Forget the damn strategy & innuendo. Write what you feel. Write Your truth. If they've got an issue with it, call it the first draft and try to work around their issues. But I always thought a 'sneak attack' was always to be worthwhile as a recommendation. I gave them 2 weeks to read about 450P, and I think all they could do mostly is check the spelling and the citations. None of them there in my Dept. had ever done similar work or were familiar with the issues I dealt with.

All this can and should be done with dignity & dispatch, but it does require great discipline. Doing it with a family is tough, with kids tougher still. So you are fortunate in that. So say a silent prayer for the late MOMOFUKU ANDO, who just recently passed. The inventor or Ramen noodles, the savior of Grad students everywhere, [] would understand your plight. So do many millions of folks out there. It's a daunting task, it's got more to do with a fighting a battle than anyone ever cares to let on, and by the end it will all but consume your life. Then you can think about paying off all the loans & looking for that elusive academic posting. (You might do some of the latter while this is happening, but it might also be depressing as hell too, so people generally shy away from it).

Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'

Namaste said...

Thanks to all of you. Big hugs, smiles, and tons of appreciation for your kind words. I definitely rode the good vibe today. There's no place to go but UP.