Saturday, July 19, 2008

Saturday Academic Productivity Update (Shorter Version: Ha!!!)

Last weekend I went through all my piles of writing and sorta organized them. I found two paragraphs which I had thought I had written but were saved in odd places so I had no idea where they were, leaving me with the conclusion that I was insane or delusional or both and was now fantasizing the existence of dissertation chunks in order to be done more quickly. But with the recovery of these pieces, I know I am no more insane than usual. So I cut and pasted them into the larger draft.

This weekend, today, I went swimming and tamed some of the piles of crap in the living room. Then I ate a snack and moved the laptop to the kitchen table with a virtuous heart, intent on getting lots of work done. Skimming over the front end of my draft, I realized that a couple paragraphs were more of an information dump than an argument, without any clear signposting that would lead the reader along to my next point. "X idea is dropping out of these paragraphs," I wrote in the margin. "And why do I need to give the reader this information in order to get to this new point? What does it have to do with my new point and how will I keep it all connected to idea X?"

It was not long before I had unpicked these paragraphs and was left with a tangle of words, even more confused as to why I needed this information there. Worse, I had the sinking feeling that there was no relevant and interesting connection between all this information and X. It was like making negative progress on the chapter.

At this point my snack kicked in and, like a boxer socked with a KO, all the blood diverted from my brain and muscles to go hang out in my stomach ---- that was where the party was, or at least all the good food. So I dragged my groggy self to the sofa, with the chapter printout, and settled in under a blanket to "work."

Immediately I was dreaming that* I was the only hope to convoy an important shipment of tapioca to Antarctica for use in the rescue of Lord Shackleton. Saddling my trusty Iditarod sled dogs I bravely ventured forth, only to become bogged down in the thick Amazonian jungle. Undaunted I continued on, and the next thing I knew I was fleeing across the ice from giant mutant flesh-eating penguins with laser-shooting eyes. I tried to beat them down using my rolled-up dissertation chapter but in the end had to take a death-defying leap off a snowy cliff, only to land on the back of a giant white whale in the freezing ocean. With my bare hands I subdued it, bringing the giant kraken under my mind control, and it seemed that all would be fine until it submerged itself in the icy waters. When I recovered from the bitter cold of the ocean, I found myself trapped, stuck in an enormous spider web, or perhaps made very very small in an ordinary spider web. "Help meeee, help meeee," I piped in a tiny voice, but the giant Ann Coulter crept ever closer along the web, slavering, madness and death burning from each of her 8 little red eyes. How I was ever going to escape from being chained to the railroad track and save grandma's farm I did not know!

Luckily, at about this time I woke up. Is it any wonder that I'm so tired I need another nap again? I gotta watch out for this whole "writing my dissertation" thing --- it's obviously bad for my health.

* well, ok, no, the dream was totally boring and not at all like this. But where would the fun be in writing the truth?


Belle said...

Wow. I was totally involved in your dream... and then you broke the spell with the truth. Whine.

My morning dream had me all involved with Brad Pitt. Belle or Angelina? I can see his dilemma, but I'm kinda glad he chose me.

Obviously, jet lag is hanging on. You get back to finishing the diss; it's nearly over!!!

P.S. Finding that stuff isn't negative progress - it's fixing the final project.

September Blue said...

leaving me with the conclusion that I was insane or delusional or both and was now fantasizing the existence of dissertation chunks in order to be done more quickly.

It happens! It really does. I once spent a stupid amount of time (okay, about four minutes, but given the context this counts as stupid) trying to remember the title of a Dickens story that would be really really useful for the chapter I was writing... which, it turned out, only existed in a dream.

Earnest English said...

Oh how I love hearing about dissertation-revising! It does indeed feel like negative progress -- pretty much up until the moment you're done. And then there's that first time you look over the first few pages after it's all turned in and you realize you have a big nasty typo on page 10 that makes you look like the biggest idiot totally unworthy of any kind of degree.

Remember that revising the diss should be based on those comments you're getting from your readers. It's not about whether it makes sense to you -- academic writing can be quite repetitive -- hell, how many times do we get to write a clear assertive statement without backing it up and contextualizing it, discussing everyone in the world who ever had a similar idea? Though de-tangling your own writing here reminds me that our thought processes are often much more complicated -- and maybe this is part of your process.

At least you're making up dreams that are adventurous and exciting! I dream about things so closely related to life that it's really just closing my eyes and worrying for a couple hours between bathroom visits! This morning's installment? Where am I going to park and how far do I have to schlep if I refuse to pay for $6 parking at my grandfather's hospital?

Bionic-Woman said...

Earnest English: your point re: revisions is insanely reassuring.

AC: Umm I find myself napping akin to the way babies do. This whole in the throes of dissertating does that methinks. That and the waking up tired deal. Good to know it's not just selfish as that sounds.