Monday, February 18, 2008

Circular Reasoning

I have stuff to do. I don't feel like doing it; I want to do something else. But I don't do the fun stuff, because I have stuff to do, and that makes me feel guilty when I want to do something else. And then the not doing the fun stuff makes me feel so crappy that I don't feel like doing the stuff I have to do.

Thus in a nutshell has been pretty much my experience of grad school. It's especially bad right now as I've gone back to my chapter at the same time everyone I know skipped town for a Presidential Valentine weekend ---- that makes me think of Hallmark cards with pictures like this on them, except maybe with a bouquet instead of a hatchet ---- and thus there's no one to take a break with. Usually when I feel so wound up that I can't even make myself slack off, leaving me staring dully at the computer and counting down the minutes until the next day, when I will be doing the exact same thing, then I know it is time to skip town and go camping. Or at least head out for a mindless movie. But no one is around! Grah! Argh! I don't want to go camping or movie-ing alone. And campus was closed this weekend, so I haven't even run into random people to have human interaction with. I think I'm going stir-crazy. (Ok, ok, I know I had some people over for a (very quick) movie session on Sat, but please, I'm whining here!)

Once I get into the circular mode of guilt and ennui, nothing looks good. Well, just give up and watch one of your DVDs or Greenecine picks ----Nah, I can't be bothered. Ok, go hang out somewhere? ---- And do what? I don't want to do anything. Hmm. Go shopping or out to the beach? --- Meh. I don't feel like doing that either, and if I tried it I'd just feel guilty and miserable about not doing my diss work. Fine then! Why don't you read back through this book and figure out what you need to put in that paragraph? ----- Whah-ah-aah! Not that! God no, I don't want to stare at that stupid paragraph any more! Hmm, work on your conference paper? (squalls of misery) Uh, look at the other chapter? (wails louder) This thing? That one? Apply for more jobs? MwaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ok, ok (jingles keys) Calm down, you're fine, you're fine, that's a good cog there...

You know you've come to a sad place when talking to yourself is actually a sign that things are going well, as opposed to baby-sitting your own id. These days, I wish I talked to myself. At least I got paid in pizza and soda when I dealt with this back in high school. (jingles keys again) Rock-a-by cog, up in a tree...

I obviously need more to do. Or some sort of hobby. No, better yet, some horribly onerous and mindless task that would drive me to work on my dissertation for hours in the hopes of avoiding it. (Nope, grading's done, before you suggest it.) Maybe it sounds counter-intuitive, but I think I work better when I'm overscheduled and rushed and flustered and I don't have time to overthink things, just hurry through them bam bam bam. Of course, all that stress and overwork and ignoring the self is bad for me too, but when I have lots of open time filled with nothing but dissertation deadlines, I feel too behind and under the gun to stop things and exercise, but there's always time to walk to the refrigerator and have a bite of something. Or maybe I'm just not doing enough drugs. Ritalin, Valium; up the energy and focus or mellow out the overthinking until I just don't care anymore ---- you choose; it's six of one, half a dozen of the other.

In other news, it turns out I started blogging a year ago back at the beginning of the month, but I missed the anniversary. Seems fitting, since I didn't notice the various impending holidays until I tried to schedule up some activities with my friends and discovered no one was around. Thinking back on it, this may also explain section attendance this week. Hmm, yes, I see you, you little finaglers; since when is there a "Valentine Week" vacation in our schedule? Now it all makes sense.

Humh. This should get better once I have meetings and assignments and people to deal with at school this week. But anyone have any advice for getting out of the circles? Any straight lines, off-ramps? Magic beans that would let me climb out of this situation entirely?


SEK said...

So yesterday you asked why I was working on my Wharton chapter again, and the answer is: because I'm going back through all my chapters and making sure I'm telling a story.

Yes. A story.

Rethinking the dissertation in narrative terms has been a godsend, inasmuch as I'm now thinking about how to draw readers into my analysis ... which makes the analysis itself all the better, since it's now both 1) absolutely, positively, 100 percent more-correct-than-anything-ever and 2) compelling.

So if you'd like a hobby, when not try writing like a writer ... taking that mass of analysis and turning it into something you'd want to read. Give it a plot! And tension! Suspense!

Or, I've heard people like puppies.

kermitthefrog said...

I detest the circle. My usual trick is to try and do something physical (exercise, singing, walking to the grocery store) and try to transfer the physical momentum into a feeling of being able to accomplish small discrete tasks. The alternative is desperately looking for more blogs to read.

kfluff said...

Oooh, I like Sek's idea! One of the best questions I got at my defense was "tell me a story about desire in your dissertation." What?! don't you want to question my short history of cultural studies? Hell yes, desire! So, tell yourself a story about something.

Kermit's idea is one that I'm currently in week two of trying. Dammit, it makes me feel better, I have more energy, I'm less grumpy. Grumble, grumble. I hate it when people are right.

Dr. Crazy said...

Tricks I use for getting out of the circles:

1) Sometimes I will give myself "permission" to blow off work, but only if I journal about what I'm going to do and how I'll do it when I finally do work for about 15 minutes to a half hour (I put a timer on so I can't cheat). Often doing this makes me excited about something that I have to do, and I end up working even though I'm "allowed" not to. (It seems positively rebellious to work when you've given yourself permission not to, and this motivates me pretty well a lot of times.) or, if I don't end up working, I can enjoy myself and I've got a plan for when I get back to it.

2) I can also usually trick myself into working if I say I'm only "allowed" to work after I clean the bathroom or something. Without fail, I'd rather work than clean, so usually that inspires me (as I end up only cleaning off the counter or something and then I don't want to do any more so I work in order to justify not cleaning).

3) Even when you're not sitting and working at your computer, you're still thinking. Give yourself credit for that. So, for example, it's ok to go to the beach as long as you bring a book related to work with you. You don't necessarily need to open it, but don't bring something else to read either. Inevitably, your mind will wander to the work stuff and you'll be doing intellectual work even if you don't get anything down on paper. (Sometimes I like to do this with the actual texts I'm talking about - not theory, not criticism - in order to remember why I love them. You know what I work on, so you can imagine it's easy to forget that sometimes :) )

I hope some of this helps! (I still have the circles periodically, but I will say I beat myself up about them much, much less than I used to do.)

Dr. Virago said...

Ooh, I like Crazy's advice. I'm going to use it because I *still* get caught in the circle. I've been in it for the past few days, in fact.

And yeah, that circle pretty much sums up grad school for me, too.

undine said...

All these are great ideas. I'd second the idea of the timer, too.