Thursday, August 21, 2008


Two weeks ago, I submitted a third draft of my ongoing chapter to my dissertation adviser. I submitted it knowing that it was only the beginning to the end, not the end in itself. For someone who has enjoyed a lifetime of instantaneous academic approval simply for showing up, I cannot even describe what it feels like to pour so much life energy into 40 fresh pages, only to receive a shiny bit of approval for one tenth of the work. Apparently, I am being schooled in the art of writing as a European academic. In time, I know that I will thank my adviser for this (in fact, I already do), but at present moment, I feel as though my natural voice is being constrained and reshaped against my will. Here, my biggest strength is my Achilles heal. I have a natural inclination to want to find my own way and so I bristle at the imposition of someone else's standard. Next, of course, I bristle at the very fact that I find myself so reticent to change. The words themselves want nothing more than to scream back from their gilded page, and I remind myself to be more like water. Nothing is ever written in stone...

After the completion of my draft, I planned to reward myself with 10 solid days away. I closed up shop, jumped in the car on a sunny day, and made my way through Amish-country America, all of the way down to Washington, DC. The good news is that the dissertation monster does not affect the daily lives of my friends in DC. In fact, no one even has the foggiest clue that the dissertation monster even exists. Fortunately, life continues as normal for the people I love there. I was delighted to find that a number of them have climbed their respective ladders, moved to the suburbs and set up shop. They are either life mating, lactating, or soon-to-be lactating. Those who are decidedly not on the warpath to mating and lactation are gracefully climbing out of their twenties and "moving on up". These are the ones who are becoming 30-something professionals and no longer living with 10 other post-graduates in dirty row houses on the Hill. One friend in particular recently took her promotion at the office as a sign that it is time to move into a tall building with high security and a proper view. For what it is worth, I came to realize that I rely on my friends in DC for their continued success and happiness. As a whole, they possess the sort of steady pragmatism and approach to life that I happen to lack, and I love them for this. Their journeys are meaningful and exciting for me as a way of not being completely disconnected from what is considered the most successful way of living an American life. It never fails to impress me how every single one of them is smart, successful, driven, moral and entirely warm and wonderful people. I honestly can't imagine walking through life without them.

From the rigor of Washington, DC, I made my way north again and let out an audible sigh of urban relief when my dear little car, Betty, and I emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel and traversed our way along the West Side of Manhattan. I spent the next 5 days in what can only be considered my personal Zen. I indulged in a manicure and pedicure and spent the mornings running along the West Side along with the rest of the urban runners of Manhattan. It was a delight. The weather was amazing, and I did everything in my power to be outdoors as much as possible. I scheduled catch-up times with all of my good friends around all of my favorite Manhattan eateries-- including my favorite, down-home Middle Eastern spot in the East Village, and cash-only favorite French cafe in the Upper West Side. I anonymously attended Shabbat services. I wrote poetry on the subways. I practiced Hebrew with some Israeli friends. I finally managed to escape from my summer stresses of solitary confinement completely, and, in doing so, I was able to think about the future.

I realized that I am preparing for life to change soon. And it occurred to me that perhaps one of the reasons my dissertation writing has been so complicated and delayed this summer is because something deep within me is fighting against this change. I am not entirely sure what is going to come next, but one thing I do know is that I am missing the road.

Betty and I returned to our sleepy little town in New England last night. I am currently sipping tea and preparing to teach three classes in the semester ahead. My personal goal for the semester is basic survival. Beyond this, I am looking forward to the embrace of a routine, and making plans to pack a bag in January and hoof it back to the Middle East for a long while...

Maybe indefinitely.



VJ said...

Geesh. I mentioned that mine was a sneak attack at the end of term. There was one draft basically. I cleaned up a bit of the methodology and that was it. I defended it inside of 2 weeks. No submittal of piecemeal chapters to be picked over. What I was doing had never been seen in the Dept. I introduced them to an entirely 'new' type of analysis and contextual framework for envisioning the field & scope of time. No one quite knew what to make of it, and mostly they just checked up on the math & spelling as much as they could. But as a matter of course I always recommend the element of surprise here! Cheers & Good Luck, 'VJ'

Alan Ward said...

I guess it depends a lot on who your director is, and how closely he/she wants to follow your work. Where I'm based (Andorra + Spain) the tendency is towards paper-based thesis: the jurors let peer-review check the basic science for them.

Loved your description of NY and DC. You make them sound like interesting places to spend some time in, perhaps not to live full-time.

Hope you can get back to the ME before the Third World War breaks out. :-(

Laura said...

Sounds like a glorious 10 days away.

Gut Shabbes!

Anonymous said...

Dissertation, you can do it. You're already teaching, already living a faculty position .. I'm sure you can do it.

You've just got to believe it :)

Inspiring as always, Namaste.