Friday, October 21, 2011

New Article and Other Updates

So despite my great hopes of posting more in the blogosphere post-dissertation, this full-time faculty thing tends to keep me pretty busy.

However, I managed to find time to write and publish a non-academic feature article for catapult magazine recently, so I thought I'd mention it.

In other news, I've been having a ton of fun talking with my students in bits and pieces about writing and writing processes, language, and other related things in the midst of my teaching this semester of speech communication, communication theory, and interpersonal communication. I love having opportunities to have these discussions with my lovely students.

In all I don't mind so much that it's a season of teaching and grading and grading and grading and busyness. Other seasons will come again for more heavy writing activity. In the meantime I get to read a lot of what my students have to say, and I enjoy that much of the time.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Finishing a PhD; or "The Return of the King"

I remember sitting in the theater at the season that millions new people were being exposed to J.R.R. Tolkien's final chapter in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King. I remember hearing those around me murmuring that the ending never seemed to end--that it was a series of false endings over and over and over again.

I remember feeling like these people didn't understand the way Tolkien's story worked. After all, his trilogy was continuously page numbered all the way through. This was not simply the resolution for this particular movie, but for the entire 10 hours.

Big things take a long time to resolve, and they do so in fits and starts.

As I look back over my recent posts on my blog as well as my experiences this summer, it occurs to me that The Return of the King, whether or not it is good fictional narrative strategy, is awfully real life, at least when it comes to things like finishing a PhD.

One finishes one's first full draft and hands it to one's advisor. One's friends congratulate one. [Sam picks up Frodo and brings him up Mount Doom in what feels like one final push of strength.]

One gets it back, makes lots of changes, and hands it in again. One's friends congratulate one. [Sam and Frodo make it to their destination. Unfortunately, it's Mount Doom.]

Eventually, one is congratulated by one's advisor that it is nearly ready to hand off to one's committee for review. One makes the changes, hands it off, and one's friends congratulate one. [The ring falls into the fire at Mount Doom and hovers on the surface of the fire, then we see Frodo and Sam surrounded by flowing lava. The quest feels completed, and yet it still feels like it may yet fail.]

One prepares for and attends the defense, which contrary to nightmares is successful. One's friends, along with one's advisor and committee, congratulate one and call one "doctor," a term which sounds foreign. [The ring is seen to dissolve, and Sam and Frodo are seen to be taken away by eagles and eventually reunited with their friends. Happy, but with a sense of melancholy and uncertainty. The hobbits are still far from home, and are going to be parted from their friends.]

One tells oneself it will feel more real after the dissertation is accepted for deposit. Despite wanting to go home to sleep for a long time, one metaphorically girds up one's loins for the final(?!?) few paragraphs requested by the committee, runs them past one's advisor, eventually has them accepted, then proofreads the whole thing and goes through the nightmare of final formatting. After a few more final final changes, last minute running around to get forms signed, one has a successful dissertation deposit appointment, with only one last change done during the appointment. One's friends congratulate one, and it feels a bit more real, but like the defense, a bit anticlimactic. [The crowning of Aragorn, and the public honoring of the hobbits, fade to black, then another scene starts...]

One, after expending energy one does not currently fully have in a move to one's new place of post-PhD employment, returns to walk the stage. One's friends and family congratulate one, along with the university president and one's lovely advisor. It finally feels real, except for the note in the fake diploma in one's hand, which states that the information is still being compiled, the transcripts will reflect graduation, but not until a certain day, and the diploma will arrive within 4 weeks. [The hobbits, after a long journey, return to the shire at long last. But all is not perfect.]

One checks the online transcript site a few days past the promised date, and one still sees that one is listed as a continuing student. One is sad and a trifle panicked--after all this, is it not really done? It is not until a conversation with a friend the next day that the words "degree awarded" are deciphered on the online transcript and one rests easy again. One feels that the ending has come. [The friends go to the elf ships and Frodo says goodbye to Sam. One can't get more final than the hero leaving, one thinks.]

That is, once one's new employer gets the ordered transcript and agrees that yes, a degree has been conferred. Then one's new employer will congratulate one. [Sam begins his new life with his family. Roll credits.]

*Sigh*. I still like The Return of the King, but I'm beginning to think the genre was wrong--not fantasy drama, but farce...definitely farce. Or some weird (post)modern play about life never really having true endings...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I can't believe it's been 10 days since I crossed that stage, was hooded by my advisor, and shook the Purdue president's hand. And today, finally, it said in the online transcript system that it was official--that a degree had been awarded.

It's real. I'm done. So they tell me.

I still probably won't believe it until I hold the real diploma in my hands, which should be in the next couple of weeks.

But I'm done. The dissertation was deposited and officially accepted by the university. I'm free to move on to push its research deeper, to seek publication in the academic realms for articles related to it, to move eventually to other related and unrelated research questions.

I'm free, now that the dissertation has been approved, to also immerse myself in other non-academic projects as well, when teaching permits.

And now that I've slept a bit more, have begun to come down from an incredibly stressful year, am beginning to see the fog clear around me, I'm excited to move into a new school year with new syllabi and lesson plans. And I'm beginning to get excited about some of these writing projects as well.

But I need to read some poetry first. It's been a long year with lots of words having been plowed out on demand--I need to remind myself that word play is possible.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

But the Grass! It Really IS Greener!

As of this past Monday, the dissertation is off to my committee. The defense is in less than 2 weeks. I've gotten more sleep. I've noticed that there's a world outside my doors. And I've already started one of the large-scale writing projects that was waiting behind the dissertation.

The beautiful thing is that having researched and written a large project on the scale of my dissertation (approved by at least my advisor so far) has given me confidence to embark on other similarly large-scale projects that I've been dreaming about for years. People may at times take the three little letters that will hopefully soon adorn my name somewhat lightly.  And at times I'll be among them.

But in reality, the pain I have nearly won through in getting this degree to this point is worth its weight in gold--or should I say writing confidence. It's not just that the credentials will give me more credibility, both in and out of the academic arena. 

That's key, of course. But even more important to me is the fact that I've won through a major battle with that part of myself that insists that I can't finish large projects quickly. That I don't have the words to describe things adequately. That I have to wait to start writing things until I've done years of research I don't feel qualified to undertake.

With the (near-)completion of this dissertation project (which, incidentally, I liked, and still like a lot), I've done more than get to the (near-)end of a project that has taken a lot of time, and induced blood, sweat, and tears (along with a few hives, which is a story for another time). And I've even done more than jump enough hurdles to get to the time I've been craving for these other projects.

I've also been given the grace to beat my way through a lot of barriers to writing motivation and found a land of no excuses on the other side.

And I must say, the grass really is greener over here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Diss Handoff, Part Deux: On Strength Training

So I've been thinking a lot lately about page counts. Page counts have always been my nemesis. This story is perhaps best told in numbers:
  1. Undergrad: 6-8 pages in about 10 hours. Much angst. Best push ever in undergrad: 21 pages in three different papers in 10 days. Thought I was Superwoman.
  2. MA in English papers (yrs. later): 12 page paper in about 12 hours, though still only 1 or two days of that a week max. Feeling proud, though--not only coming back, but getting faster.
  3. MA thesis: still about 1 page per hour, but simmering and analysis, so 100 pages for a single large writing project produced in roughly 4 months while working 12 hours per week. Doing well and happy with the results.
  4. PhD papers: getting closer to 2 pages per hour when under the gun. During final month of the semester produced 70-80 pages for 3 different final papers. Best day: 18 pages of a single paper.
  5. PhD preliminary exams: Many were in-house in 2-hour chunks, so I pushed the amounts up to 3.5 pages per hour. 70-80 pages produced during about 30 hours spread out over the course of a month while teaching 20 hours per week. Feeling good and strong.
  6. PhD dissertation (while teaching 3/4 time, roughly equivalent to 30 hours per week):
  • As of December 2010, 90 pages of prospectus (half, approx., to stay in the dissertation, as it turned out) had been approved.
  • In a two-week period in March/April, I wrote 65 new pages in 2 weeks and 1 day. Personal record.
  • As of last week, I deleted 55 extraneous pages I knew didn't fit but had been saving up and edited the other 230 remaining pages of text. Then I finished writing the final 30 or so pages, finished adding 140-some references for my primary data, and handed in 302 fully edited pages (including references and appendices) this past Monday.
  • Best dissertation day: wrote 16 new pages and edited 120 pages to final form in one day.
If you were to have told me 4 years ago I'd be able to produce 370 pages and edit it down to 302 in such a short period of time, I'd have looked at you like I feared you'd had--or were about to have--one too many books dropped on your head.

But it's true. While my physical muscles have grown rather sad and pre-spinach-Popeye-like from sitting in front of this screen this past year (a condition I hope to fix this summer), my writing muscles have grown strong. I've gotten much faster, not only in pages per hour but in pages per day and pages per week. And for that, I'm thankful. One of these years I might actually be ready for NaNoWriMo.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Reflections on the Diss Handoff (Pt. 1)

So the reason I've been absent from the Internets for so long is pretty predictable: I've been too busy writing and editing to write. The dissertation project was huge and nasty, and it's not entirely done until it's successfully defended, formatted, and deposited.

But yesterday I passed a huge milestone in this pursuit: I turned in a full dissertation draft to my doctoral advisor, a full 4 days ahead of the end of the window we'd talked about.

I've worked tremendously hard in the last couple of months, especially in the last week, to get ahead of schedule so that I could shoo away this little dark cloud that's been following me everywhere for the last year like some sort of cartoon menace. I've given up days off. I've stayed up repeatedly until 5 a.m., giving myself only a few hours of sleep.

But it was worth it, all the pain. The cloud isn't gone, but it's moved over a few feet, allowing for the sun to peek through. And the draft feels good. I won't know whether I truly successfully communicated until my advisor tells me I have (followed by my committee), but this feeling, the feeling that I've discovered new insights and was able to put them on paper in the right sorts of ways--this is my "crack" that keeps me coming back again and again to writing, no matter what kind.

It's interesting, because of course there were huge chunks of time during this process when I absolutely hated it, when I despaired of ever moving the black cloud even an inch, when only having one of my dissertation support group (brilliant invention, by the way--thanks Pamela for starting it!) come over and make me write worked to keep me going. But the payoff is worth it.

Anyway, more thoughts on this soon--there are many churning around in my head about the dissertation writing process that I need to, well, process. For now I'll say farewell, and promise that this blog will become more active again this summer, because now that I'm done with the bulk of my writing I have time to write again.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Next Step on the Journey

It's official: I'm an author!

That's right--my name now appears on Amazon with that little all-important underline. Previously, sure, I had things that appeared in books, but never before have I enjoyed Amazon-underline-authordom.

But seriously, I loved working on this project writing the script for an iPhone tour for Purdue's Discovery Park. It allowed me to apply my academic dissertation-related knowledge to a creative project, and to use my creative writing skills in an academic project. Can't get much better than that.

Plus, it was great working with Sorin Matei, Robert Yale, and the rest of the team on the project.

Okay, I've enjoyed my moment of joy. Now back to my dissertation-writing.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I Blame the Dissertation

Yes, yes, I know. I've been gone a lot lately. Absent from these pages in much the same way the sun is often seemingly absent from the winter sky.

I blame the dissertation. It's a lot of work.

Well worth doing. And most days I still really get into the topic.

But it's a lot of work.

The kind that will probably keep me from regularly updating this blog much for a couple more months yet, at least.

On the up side, I'm glad to hear that they'll be discussing my "Cooking Chicken Wat" essay in The Spirit of Food (see a couple posts back for the link) over at the book study group at Tomorrow. So go check it out.

Or if you're coming from there, welcome. I will start posting here again at some point in the next few months, I promise. And in the meantime would love to respond to comments.

Maybe if you comment enough I might even start posting again sooner.

Correction 1/24/11: Fixed the link (oops!).