Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Toward Remembering Oneself

Some days the deadlines seem overwhelming. The list of tasks seems endless. The number of licks it will get to the faux-chocolate center of the dissertation lollipop seems to be one of those numbers that go on and on. Like Pi.

On those days, it's easy to forget a few crucial things. That, for instance, one likes to think. One likes to write. One even likes to turn double-hyphens into em dashes. That one chose one's dissertation topic (or...[insert long writing project here]) because one actually likes thinking and writing about it.

And then something-or-other happens (it's not always even easy to pinpoint what), but the waking occurs. One opens the document. It makes a certain amount of sense. Adding a few citations to Zotero no longer seems like a Sisyphean task, but something that's eminently manageable. One re-reads a few pages from, say, Walter Benjamin, and it jumpstarts the thinking and theorizing battery in one's brain. One starts to think about one's dissertation not as the weight of Atlas on one's shoulders, but something one gets to do. And one begins to revise and write. And it is good.

I think it can't be emphasized enough that I'm not simply talking about a change of attitude here, or a simple matter of procrastination and motivation. This is a forgetting and remembering of self. In these off periods, quite frankly, I'm convinced the grad student or writer literally forgets and/or strongly doubts his or her identity as a writer or a scholar. (Perhaps I'm not either of those things after all, the voices might murmur. Not really.)

Sometimes, in the good cases, something triggers an awakening and the demons flee. The students remember with joy who they are and that they enjoy it. That they really are writers and scholars. That it only takes 1500 or so licks to get to the center of the dissertation pop (the rest of those innumerable numbers are after the decimal point, so they don't matter). That they're already a good way in. And that the center is sweet and chewy.

(Now if only we could find a way for this forgetting to stop happening at least once during any major writing project, for both graduate students and writers in general...)


Laura said...

Hello, Ms. Nyabuti,
I have been working through The Spirit of Food as the book club leader over at the High Calling. (http://www.thehighcalling.org). I post every MOnday on a selection of essays from the book. Your essay is part of our reading assignments for tomorrow's post and I wanted to invite you to come over and join in the discussion! I'll be linking to this blog, though it there is another link you would prefer, please let me know. Nice to find you in this place :).
Laura Boggess

Deborah Leiter Nyabuti said...

Hi Laura,

Thanks for the notice! I'll have limited access to the Web tomorrow, but I'll stop by if I'm able! Thanks so much for hunting my nearly-halted-during-my-dissertation-year blog! (Hopefully I'll get this started again later this spring or summer).