Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Changing How I (Re)Write for the Dissertation

I've been thinking a lot the last few weeks not just about what I write but about how I write.

I've refocused or rather reclarified that my work is not Milton work, or medieval work, or early modern work, but rather applies a folkloric lens to all of these things. Reexamines and reconsiders the folkloric figures within these texts and the cultural work they do, how they are the vehicle for the fears, anxieties, and desires of the folk at any given historical and cultural moment.

This clarification has helped me focus as I consider my dissertation rewrite on the fact that it is not a Milton dissertation but a Devil dissertation.
I've written before that I've struggled with this issue, and I thought I had fixed this with the help of using my hashtag (#DevilDiss) to focus but apparently not.

So in thinking about the how I write I have to consider what processes I need to strip away because they distract from the product, the goal, of the writing. That being said, I have a lot of things that work for me that I continue to use.

I am a visual person so I still find sketching and planning ideas out on my office whiteboard in different colors very helpful.
For similar reasons I find color coding notes, highlighting, and even colored paper drafts helpful. It helps if I can tell just by looking at something WHAT it is. 
My dissertation notes are in blue so my pen ink is blue, my Post-Its are blue, my main highlighter is blue. This may seem silly. Except I do not have the luxury of just writing my dissertation. I also have to teach my classes for UNM and teach high school. 
I'm not currently working on any articles for publication, and cannot really afford to attend conferences so I don't have other projects I'm working on but in the past color coding has helped me track all of these projects.

One of the first things I had to do in approaching this re-vision of the dissertation was reread, cut, and start thinking about reorganizing.
So I cut.
And as I read it seemed to me that the argument I wanted to make would most clearly be made according to themes. So that was how I roughly approached the rereading, using color coding to mark passages according to theme (visual rhetoric, religious Others, women, rebellion). This also allowed me to cut anything that didn't contribute to these arguments.
Once this was done I copied and pasted everything into new Google Docs. Then I printed them out. And for the last couple of weeks I've been rereading, and rewriting, these documents.  
I find myself in a bit of a chicken-egg situation.
I need to figure out how I'm preconceiving the dissertation, while not locking myself into ideas. But I don't know how to reconceptualize and revision the dissertation UNLESS I write out the argument, reshape it, throw stuff out. In a lot of ways this way be a lot of work for nothing. I won't know if something works or doesn't until I do it, and if it doesn't then I have spent a lot of time on useless work.
I have had a committee member very helpfully point out a couple of things I'm keeping in mind. One was that they sat down with me and went through sample chapters with me, showing me models of what they thought would help, footnotes, intros, that type of thing. They also showed me the outline feature in Word.
I don't know how I never knew about this, but it's this super cool tool (under View, Outline) that shows you the first line of every paragraph. It's a great way to check that your topic sentence is making an argument. For me this was the main thing I have to fix with the dissertation-- arguing not listing or describing so this is very helpful. Several people on Twitter have also shared the idea of reverse outlining which I'd never heard of but am looking forward to using once I finish reworking.

Having samples to look at is also helpful. While it won't be an exact model, it does help. I have another meeting in a couple of weeks and I hope to share some rough work to see if I'm on the right track.

I do not have a writing group. I admit to getting a bit pissy when people suggest this as an end all, be all answer. One, it assumes people all make friends, have cohort, have access, social skills to have these groups. Not all of us do. But I am reaching the point where I do need some feedback on what I'm doing, so I'm struggling a bit with that. I have had a couple of people offer to read some preliminary work, which is helpful but I do think I need some more long term, sustained help. But I'm trying to think of different ways to work through this.

For the first three drafts of my dissertation I kept notebooks. I divided these notebooks into chapter sections and then used them to track ideas, jot down notes about callbacks and throughlines.
I felt as though these notebooks were really helpful. I made notes, I printed out images that I found helpful. I could outline arguments and subtopics for reference so I can track things through.
But while they were helpful for making notes about content they were not super helpful for helping with argument. So I'm super conscious of that as I use my new notebook. I'm still using it to track things, and scrapbook ideas, and outline arguments, but I am more focused on the argument.
What I've ended up using so far is a combination of approaches-- a new notebook (still divided by chapters), a working outline of chapters and subtopics, color coded timelines to track primary texts, legal pads for writing insert notes, and my color coded printed draft (we're on pink because this is the second go around with this re-visioning).
As I reread and re-vision and rewrite I plan on adding the key secondary scholarship to this (in a different color of course) so I can make sure that I'm engaging in what I should be.

I'm using many of my familiar habits and tools in new ways. And it's one thing that I think maybe we don't talk about enough. Lots of people say that for most people the dissertation is the largest project they've ever undertaken. And it is for me.

I guess what  has really struck me this last month is how DIFFERENT writing this is from other things I've written. I've shared before how I was taught to write conference papers as a way to focus on MY argument, and then add secondary scholarship to turn it into an article. I've used blog posts --> book chapters in a similar way. This has always helped me make sure my argument was the focus and didn't get lost or buried. But this was how I tried to write the first three drafts of the dissertation and this process failed me.

For me trying to apply this shorter writing approach to the bigger project just didn't work. I'm not sure exactly why but I think I became overwhelmed with trying to prove I'd read everything I was supposed to. With inserting sources. With interacting with some and not others. Any dissertation has a huge scope, but by attempting a chronological history of the devil from the 10th century to the 17th made it bloated and beyond enormous. And I lacked the tools for sorting through, organizing, and creating an argument from all of this information. For me the chronology was also weak because I'm not an Anglo-Saxonist. So the first chapter, my foundational chapter, had huge holes and weaknesses because while I was examining devil figures in Anglo-Saxon texts, me not being an Anglo-Saxonist weakened an already weak argument. There are also issues with trying to apply a historicist lens to these texts, or make arguments about popular literature, the list goes on and on. So one reason for the switch to a thematic approach to chapters, and then building the argument within those chapters chronologically is that it fixes a lot of the original, inherent weaknesses in my argument by both eliminating them and folding them into chapters that work better.
So I sidestep problematic arguments about Grendel as devil (he totally is thought) and instead just focus on the actual devils that appear in Juliana, Guthlac, and Christ and Satan, and Genesis. I drop arguments about what is and is not popular literature and instead frame the texts I use as case studies. Hopefully too showing how female saints interact with the devil from the Anglo-Saxon period up through Margery Kempe shows a throughline in the tradition.

There are of course possible pitfalls to this approach, and not every one is a fan. Correlation does not imply causation. I have to be careful too of applying patterns where there are none. And as one committee member said, the thematic approach is harder to write. All that being said, this is where I'm taking it for now because as an approach it eliminates a lot of core issues. I really believe this thematic, versus chronological, approach is better.
But even if it's not, I'm still rewriting to focus on argument, which could then be rearranged. It's really about what my committee will approve. 
But we'll see.

So I'm trying new approaches, and trying to use tools that I have used in the past in new ways to try and make sense of all of this.

While this is helpful and I feel making progress, I also admit to still feeling very lost. Because I have lost all confidence that I know what I'm doing, that my content and/or writing is any good. While I am trying to feel confident that my argument and approach is valid, I don't know it is.

On top of all of, well everything, the last almost month, is the very real fact that I cannot see my future anymore.
A year, six months, even three months ago I had a very clear idea of what I was doing. I was teaching high school to pay bills while I re-applied for college jobs. I was presenting at conferences. I was branding myself. I was making me and my work known. I had a publication plan. While much was uncertain, the steps I was taking, and what I was working towards was not.

I was initially told that there was no way I could go on the job market this year and I admit while this should be the thing that worries me most (I can't rewrite this in a year? Two? I have two years of limbo to look forward to?) it's not. It no longer worries me because I cannot see anything in front of me. I cannot see any future for me. I can't see past 5 August when I return to my high school teaching job. I have no idea what my future holds, what steps I need to take, or what work needs to be done. I just have no idea. About anything.
In some ways letting go of any concerns about deadlines is freeing. I can focus on the work I'm trying to do rather than tying myself into knots trying to do something by a certain time. But it's mostly terrifying. Terrifying because I worry that the reason I cannot see my future, my way out, is because I don't have one.
But for now I'm just trying to put one foot in front of the other until I no longer have to think about putting one foot in front of the other.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Branding as a Grad Student and Scholar

I've been thinking a lot the last couple of weeks about what exactly my work does. Not the point of it per se, but rather, what is my argument? What do I contribute? What gap does my scholarship and specifically my dissertation fill?

On a separate but related note, I cut all my hair off last week.
I went from this:
 To this.
My hair hasn't been this short in almost twenty years. So the last few weeks have been full of radical changes.

I immediately took pictures and posted them online, changing avatars across platforms. But while this is cute, it's not professional, so I had it on my list to make sure I took a professional picture I could make my avatar before the end of the summer.
I really hate selfies, and a lot of selfie culture, but there you go. So this morning, using a carefully balanced set of paperbacks to prop up my camera, and waiting a bit for the high desert sun to be in the right place, I took my new, carefully constructed, avatar picture, and then made sure it replaced my avatar on all my main platforms.
This is what I ended up with.
It's me, but it's also a carefully constructed image of me. I like my garden, and the stucco wall makes a good background. The snake pin is a conscious call out to my work on the devil, as is the color scheme. This past year I bought several shirts in this color for the express purpose of wearing them to conferences. Part of making myself identifiable.
I used to do this through a Twitter handle of "Tie Girl" and wearing ties all the time which was very successful. But dealing with anxieties last year made ties impossible to wear, and teaching high school again meant some changes in wardrobe anyway, so I've shifted to this. While I still like my ties I can also admit that this look is much more comfortable, and hence, more me.

You'll notice in both my Twitter, and Blogger pages that my shelf display of my adorable crocheted present of a devil against my devil scholarship is the background. I like this because it's cute, it's clear, and it shows a lot of the scholars my work interacts with. It also clearly works, because I've had people comment on each of these elements.

As part of rethinking, re-visioning my dissertation these last few weeks, I've also been tweeting about it differently.
I have not been using my #DevilDiss hashtag. For a variety of reasons, but one is that I need to focus less on my process, and HOW I'm writing it, and more on the actual argument. So I've been using my tweets as short statements of argument, in addition to Irene Clark's function outlines, to clarify for myself exactly what I'm trying to say.
I imagine too this will mean a shift in how I blog with more of a focus of using Blogger to write and think out smaller pieces of my argument and less on the "look how cool this process is."

My Blogger has a slightly wider shot of the same shelf, with the same avatar. I also make sure that my blurb about what my work does is copy and pasted across platforms for consistency. I rewrote my "my work does X" statement this past week as I thought and rethought exactly what the throughline in all my pieces was.
I do not use Linked In.
I unsubscribed from the emails.
I usually only go on there on days like today when I need to change my avatar. But while I don't post to it regularly I do maintain it because it comes up in search results. So I make sure it says what I want to say.
So I do try to post some of the more professional writings. So not the Blogger post links, but for example when In Media Res ran my short video essay as a companion to the short piece I wrote for Cinema Journal on the folkloric forest in Twin Peaks, I posted the link to that.
I also make sure my UNM English Department graduate student page is up to date.
I am also very good about self-publicizing. In this Dr. Will Brooker has been an inspiration. I remember him mentioning a few years ago about the importance between sharing your work, getting it out there, and having the confidence to do so, and just being someone who only uses social media FOR that and not for connections or support. That has stuck with me.
So when I publish something, or present at a conference I make sure to fill out our department's form to publicize it.

I think it's about balancing being savvy about your work and being genuine.
So more good, focused things that come up in a search for me.

Another thing I do is every couple of months is I Google Search myself, not only to make sure that I'm presenting what I want, but also to see what comes up. A lot of things I can't control, like the biased and awful RMP. But I do know what's out there, and if every asked there's a narrative or explanation.
My blog posts and other scholarly writings come up in a search of me, as do Web 2.0 tool accounts with resources I've created for teaching.
I also have a Google Scholar alert for "K. Shimabukuro" which is what I mostly publish under.
But mostly this just returns results of the K. Shimabukuro who is an M.D doctor, and works on bone related things. Grandpa Hank says Shimabukuro is the equivalent of Smith in Hawaii and Okinawa where we're from, so these don't surprise me.
I am also not related to this guy, as I have to explain every time I have students come back from vacationing in Hawaii.
A few months ago I had a student threaten me, so now in my searches I also look very carefully to see how much personal information is available, as this student was able (I still don't know how) to get my home address and ask if it was a good place to find me.
That, and another misogynistic incident, has made me a little more wary.
While I enjoy being a public scholar, and think it's important, these types of things are now the world we live in. So it's important to be aware and do what we can to address.
These incidents are also the reason I no longer try to use Twitter in the classroom. I tried twice, it failed, for different reasons I think, but this one student so easily used what I innocuously tweeted under the class hashtag against me that it was scary. So I don't do it anymore. I know others use it with great success and I'd like to revisit it, but admit to be a little too raw about it all.

The important thing to me in all this is that I present the different facets of what is important to me in my work (scholarship, public engagement, teaching) and that my online presence creates a unified picture. So that the threads between my medieval, early modern, folklore, and popular culture work are clear.

At conferences the first thing I do is hack my badge. I add my Twitter handle, but I also draw a little devil me on it. It's my way of providing information, but also presenting myself as a brand.
At #Kzoo16 I was reminded how much I hated the conference badges on strings. They blow in your face. And I think they encourage people to look at your chest and not your face. Which I have issues with. So since I usually attend 2-3 conferences a year, and it was inexpensive on Amazon, I thought I'd make my own conference badge holder, to carry in my conference binder, and as a bonus have it showcase my own personal scholarly branding.
I was ridiculously proud of the results.
Of course, I'm not a Dr. yet, so I can't use it for a while, but it'll be great when I can.
I've also changed by @ handle to @LuciferArgues but imagine once graduated I'll return to the above, so that's fine too. If not, like I said, this was cheap and could easily be replaced.

Revisiting all of this, and updating my blurb and avatar has also clarified/reminded me of a few things for me about the dissertation:
  • It's not a Milton dissertation. While I believe Milton's Satan to be the end in the evolution in the figure, my dissertation is on the devil, not Milton.
    • I thought my hashtag #DevilDiss helped me stay focused on this but again I think I got stuck on process not product so now need to make sure the dissertation actually ARGUES this.
  • Visuals have rhetorics. The visual rhetoric of the devil is the foundation on which everything else is built.
    • This is why I've reorganized my dissertation so this is the first, and foundational, chapter.
  • These rhetorics then act as a short hand for narratives, enabling them to mention, then dismiss, appearance and get to what the author really wants to talk about.
    • This is how hagiographies, early modern drama, pamphlets, and Paradise Lost use the English devil, as a vehicle for other things (mainly the fears, anxieties, and desires of that historical and cultural moment).
  • Arguments should be clear, concise, and to the point.
    • There should be a clear argumentative thread that can be traced across works, chapters, subsections.
So those are the things I do to brand myself and my work. I know there are some who do not understand a grad student or early scholar wanting to share so much of their work or process online. I know others who think it's dangerous. That it will be held against us. Or that people can steal our work.
I both understand those concerns and recognize they are not my concerns.
My public scholarship has given me far more than it has cost me. It has gotten me book chapters, conference roundtables, articles, and online posts. It has gotten me an online support network. It has gotten me scholarly input. PDFs of hard to find articles, help, advice. There have been days and weeks where I do not know how I would have gotten through the day without my online system. Particularly these last few weeks.
But I do understand there are pitfalls. And those are some of the reasons why I curate my presence the way I do. I think it's important, and more and more, I think it's going to become the accepted direction. Already I know scholars who put their social media work on their CVs as a form of service. But it is important to do it right. And I think as grad students, figuring out HOW we want to present ourselves also helps us figure out how we want to present our work and what we want to say.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Amelia Bedelia of Literary Studies: A Matter of Difference

When I was growing up I was lucky enough to see myself on screens, both big and small. Mostly in the losers of John Hughes' films.
I easily understood Cameron not wanting to get out of bed.
I was pretty much every Anthony Michael Hall character. Too smart for anyone to like. No friends. Sitting alone, for you know, pretty much everything.

While I was always an outsider, and moving every three to six months for most of my life certainly never helped this, there was usually a group of freaks in any given school. We may not have all liked each other but it seems like we gravitated towards each other. Safety in numbers and all that.
Working tangentially in theatre throughout high school helped this, a larger pool of freaks to draw from.

One of the reasons Mom wanted me to take a theatre class freshman year of college (undergad) was that she knew if I didn't I'd just sit in my dorm room. Not leaving. Not making friends. I had always preferred books to people. I never understood the complexities of social interactions. 
I'm 40 which means that when I was growing up we did not have an awareness, or at least not the labels of on the spectrum, neurodiverse, or neuroatypical.
You were part of the popular crowd or you were a weirdo. That was it. And it was not a porous boundary. There was a very high wall in between.
We may not have all been The Boy Who Could Fly weird, but a lot of us were close.

So many of us grew up without labels, and without support. We were weird, we were different. We didn't fit in. We didn't make friends easily. We didn't do well in social situations. But I think most of us just accepted that, internalized that there was something wrong with us, and created coping mechanisms to get us through the day.

In the last few years there have been more and more articles about academics who are on the spectrum, and what this looks like and means, as well as more resources for teachers/professors to serve the needs of their neurodiverse students:
 Here's what I can tell you about me.
  • Everything is color coded. It is a way of enforcing order on disorderly systems. Post-Its, pens, notebooks, even clothes. If I'm having a good day these systems are looser. If you see my shirt, shorts, hair tie, and socks all matching, it's not a good day. The worse my anxiety, the more rigidly I adhere to systems. There are comfort in systems and routines.
    • Most of the time I can make these systems work for me. Most of the time. But it also means when things go badly sometimes not even my routines are comforting.
    • It is comforting for me to look at something and know from the color what portion of my life it pertains to.
    • But it also means I've been known to have meltdowns and been unable to work when I run out of certain colors of pens or Post-Its.
  • If I have to travel outside of my routines/comfort zones there are days of prep that go into this. For conference travel (a requirement of my profession) this means that there's a "way" to pack/prepare. It also means I carry a folder of prep that has maps with highlighted routes printed out. It means the conference program/schedule has been printed out, highlighted, planned.
  • It is not just me, but the very visible evidence of these routines, that have often left me open to criticism, and  being made fun of.
  • If I don't know you and don't have a baseline for your behavior I don't read social cues. At all. This past semester someone said "that's why he was passive-aggressive to you." Oh, was he? Didn't notice.
  • This also means that I am  very literal. I'm the Amelia Bedelia of literary studies.
    • This means you can't be subtle with me. I won't get it. If you imply something, I will not get it. You have to say it to me. 
    • This is an issue because I assume  everyone is this upfront. So I often get bitten in the butt by people who are not.
    • Funny enough though, I get sarcasm.
  • I am not good at parties. I don't know what the rules are. I have a hard time mingling. Work things are okay because I can talk about work all day. But anything else? Unless I can talk about Nehi all day I can't do it. I usually have a 45 minute time limit. I will stay that long, then leave, assuming that I've checked whatever box I was supposed to.
  • But even though I don't read social cues well it still hurts my feelings when people are mean to me. In part because I don't understand it. One acquaintance calls me a bitch. I'm pretty sure they don't mean it. I think they mean that I'm vocal, outspoken, and unconcerned with public opinion. They mean it as a compliment. Still hurts my feelings every time they do it.
    • Even more so I think because I'm always willing to share my work, my lessons. I gave away my comp study books I created (color-coded of course) to the grad students behind me. I share my Google Drive folder of lessons. I post here. I figure sharing is good. I think these things make me a good person.
    • But I don't get judged on these things. I get judged for my missteps.
    • People often mistake my inability to read cues as not caring. As a result they are mean, cold, nasty to me, as though they're trying to match me without understanding me.
  • I've been told that faculty, students don't like me. Again, why would you say this to anyone? Just because I can't read (and can't is the important word there) social cues doesn't mean I want to hear people hate me. No one wants to hear that.
  • There are some positives, especially in academia. My systems and routines mean I'm a helluva worker. My natural inclinations along with my working class background mean I work all the time. 
    • A lack of understanding of time passing is part of this--- I can easily work for 12 hours straight and not realize it. This is where Nehi is a life saver, she forces me to stop, exercise, eat.
    • I've never taken a vacation. I don't really understand the point of time off.
      • I struggle with not working on weekends.
    • Work has clear guidelines and expectations, so it's easier for me to work all the time. But it also means when you tell me to take time to do something I don't really get what you mean. Back to the Amelia Bedelia--- you'd do better telling me what end product you expect. I'm good at that, producing. 
    • Also this means that I do not do well when people try to dictate how I work. I struggle with new patterns. While as a teacher I am open to trying new things, designing and adopting new approaches, my own personal routines are fairly rigid.
    • How I work means I am a great worker bee. Need something turned around fast? Need me to fill in for someone who dropped out? Need me to pick up the slack? I'm your gal.
      • But this also makes me unpopular with co-workers. I've had people tell me that the only reason I'm able to work so well/fast is because I don't have a life, a family, a husband. 
      • Work is a routine. I like routines. I also don't understand putting something off if you know what the fix is and can do it.
        • I have learned to balance this though because it can exacerbate my anxiety. So rather than try to do a lot at once I will space things out on my planner. As long as I know that the different bits are scheduled to get done I'm okay.
But while academia as a whole is a flexible enough situation to accommodate my quirks, there are still issues.
I still have people treat me badly. I still get punished for how I work. I still feel in a lot of ways that I don't fit. Online support networks are great. And lifesavers. But I don't have in-person systems which is an issue. By my age, I've made my peace with my differences and the fact that I'm never going to fit.
It's too bad no one else has.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Rethinking Student Papers and Projects

This past fall I taught an Early English Survey course. I made two key decisions with the course design. The first was that the course was designed thematically around the concept of monsters--- what defined them, how different time periods characterized people and places as monstrous, and what this revealed about the historical and cultural moment. I also allowed my students to choose to do a final project rather than a final paper. They had to come up with detailed criteria and describe it to me, but many chose this rather than a paper. Surprisingly those that wrote papers mentioned in their cover letters that they wanted to do a project but the paper was "easier."

I gave the same option in my Online Early Shakespeare class this spring, and again in my Online Shakespeare and Film Adaptation class this summer.

But Kevin Gannon's post about his Great Student Blogging experiment got me thinking about taking this a step further.

When we design our courses we all see the final paper or project as the culmination of a semester's worth of work. But I wonder, do our students? I stress in my low-stakes assignments that they are practice for larger papers but while we may see a throughline from one assignment to the next I don't know if our students do. This past semester I had a student tell me in the end of semester evaluation that the discussion boards were a waste of time. Others said those discussions helped them the most.

In the past I've also encouraged my students to choose a single topic or theme based on their interests or major to write on. They aren't tied to it, if they hate it after one paper, they can change it. But I think choice is really important to their engagement and the quality of their work.

But Kevin's post got me thinking. What would happen if I not only designed my course with a throughline from one assignment to the next but designed how they presented those assignments so that the throughline was clear? That they could "see" how each assignment built on the next?
If I take the same assignments I gave to my Online Early Shakespeare course and just shift how I present them and what products I would assess them on, how would this change my students' understanding?

Would they see how these build on each assignment that came before? Would writing to different genre conventions help them to internalize the skills and content?

In my classes I assign Critical Reading Responses. I provide supplementary scholarly readings each week. They have to do five. I encourage them to choose ones that will help them with their papers or are on topics they are interested in. I do this to expose them to scholarly conversations in the field but also as a low-stakes way of getting them to interact with and evaluate secondary sources.
I noticed this past semester though that because they followed the rhetorical precis model for the first paragraph they were journalistically and not parenthetically citing in their papers. This resulted in their argument getting buried or lost in a lot of cases. So I changed some language to the assignment now and we'll see how that works.

But what if instead of assigning or offering works they had to do one of these for a source used in their presentation? Two for their thematic paper? Two for their final? What if I present these assignments not as alone but as part and prep for these other assignments?

The more I think about it the more I really like this idea.

I think I'd like their first post to be a sort of K-W-L on their topic or theme. Why they are interested in it. What they already know about it. What preconceived ideas they have about it. What questions they had about it. This then becomes the research and exploratory platform for the rest of the semester.

Now, I have two initial questions I posed to Kevin. The first was I don't use WordPress so I am nervous about having students use a platform I don't. But I think I could easily transfer the tech skills if I asked them to use Blogger, which would dovetail nicely with my GoogleDoc obsessed world anyway. They can still play with embedding, and formatting, and some coding if they want but the tech wouldn't be prohibitive.
The other question I had was about students who may not feel comfortable publishing work online. And his answer was right on--- students can anonymously name a blog as long as I know who belongs to what. Also, because this has its basis in a more traditional course design I can always have leery students submit papers through our LMS. And I do still envision using my LMS for delivering content and the discussion boards.

So those are my initial thoughts, I'm sure I'll revisit them and reframe them. The one thing that jumps out is how to reframe the assignments in the course so that this pattern and design is clear to the students.
Would love to hear from others who have experimented with these types of changes either public scholarship for students, blogging, or moving to more project-based options.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The week my life blew up

This week my life blew up.

On Tuesday, a little more than two weeks before my scheduled dissertation defense, I received an email that my dissertation was not in a condition to pass, and that I was looking at a complete re-visioning of the project and rewrite in order to pass and graduate.
I had a complete and total meltdown that honestly, I'm still in.
I was humiliated.
I was ashamed.
And I was really tempted to not write about this.

Here's why I am-
Only one person emailed me to see if I was okay. And when I broke down and admitted I was not, I didn't hear back from them.
Three days after this devastating news, not a single person had called, texted, stopped by, or emailed me to see if I was okay.

Not. One.

And guess what? I am not okay. I am not even remotely okay.

The same day I got this news I had to go to campus for other errands. I dreaded seeing anyone in my department. I had a feeling that if anyone spoke to me I would break.
When I broke the news on social media, people were supportive. Lots of "you can do it" and "it'll be fine." And I appreciate that. This support got me through that first day. But the fact is I still don't know how I'm going to get through this. I don't know what happens next. I feel like I'm looking around at the rubble of my life, overwhelmed by the sheer destruction.
I feel an incredible pressure to agree with people it will all be fine.
I feel an incredible pressure to shake it off and keep going.
I feel an incredible pressure to not acknowledge the fact that I'm not sleeping. Not eating. Having a hard time getting off my couch.
I feel like I'm supposed to just get back on the horse and act like my like has not imploded.
Part of that is the academic institution. We're not supposed to have issues. Or if we do, we're not supposed to talk about them.

And in the end, this was what prompted me to write this. Because I believe that one of the benefits of public scholarship is that others can find it. Learn from it. At least learn they are not alone. Because I would not wish this experience or these feelings on anyone.
So here you go.

How Did I Get Here?
I have to tell you, this is what has haunted me. I honestly don't know how this happened. 
One minute I'm planning celebration food for the defense, checking in with family and friends coming into town, and looking forward to graduation photos, and then this.
I had cleared my summer schedule because I was going to reward myself with my first summer off in twelve years as a graduation gift. I had turned down work, rescheduled training, and said no to opportunities.
After three years of working seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day I was looking forward to time off. After this last semester of working a full time high school teaching job, teaching a large online Shakespeare class, and completing final revisions on the dissertation, I was exhausted. I was ready for a break.
And I had planned it so I had these three weeks off between high school teaching ending and my defense.
So I was looking forward to, and needed, the rest.
While I had not secured an academic job this last year on the market, I still considered myself a unicorn of sorts. I felt like I had broken new ground with both WHAT I had written (applying a folkloric and historicist lens to medieval and early modern English popular literature) and HOW I had written it (tweeting my process, sharing drafts through Google Docs, blogging about dissertating).

I was feeling good after my first #Kzoo experience. I met some great people. I made some great contacts. I spent the last two weeks with a Twitter conversation about tattoos leading to someone creating a medievalist tumblr of tattoos which then turned into a #Kzoo17 roundtable proposal about this. More contacts, more sharing. I started to think about what I would present on--- saints' narratives as written on their bodies through torture and connecting this to how tattoos are narratives written on bodies. Neat, new stuff.

I felt good about having a high school teaching job for the next year to pay bills while I went on #JobMarketTheSequel. I felt good about being asked back to teach the online Shakespeare classes I designed. I had a clear plan to beef up my medieval and early modern publications and conference presence. I felt good all the way around.
I've written before about how hard teaching high school is. How radically different it is from teaching college. It's not 2 or even 4 classes a semester. It's 6. It's not being on campus a few days a week for a few hours then working from home or in a coffee shop. It's 7a-3p non stop. It's tutoring during lunch. It's no breaks. It's not 2-3 major assignments a semester. It's 150 students doing work every day. It's having parents scream at you. It's exhausting.
Now, don't get me wrong, I love teaching. I'm good at it. But it's a very different work load from teaching as a TA and dissertating.
So I was really looking forward to going back to my high school teaching job this year and JUST teaching. Teaching online classes in addition would be easy because teaching is ALL I would be doing. I had articles I wanted to work on, and job materials to tweak, but I was looking at a VERY different work load.

I admit that the prospect of now doing all this AND rewriting the dissertation is beyond daunting.

Where Do I Go From Here?
For me, this whole experience has been a series of humiliating experiences.
This week I had to call family and friends who were flying in and tell them I hope they could get refunds. In one case I was then given grief about the time and money already set aside for this. Like I planned this.
I also had to email professors I respected and admired, whom I had invited to my defense and tell them I would not be defending.

I'm struggling with the feeling that I'm a failure. That this is proof I do not deserve to be here. That I cannot do this.
I am published. I present at conferences. I have a strong professional network.
But I'm struggling with the feeling that I am a complete and total loser.
My committee has reached out to me and assured me that they want me to succeed. That they will work with me on the rewrite to get me where I need to be.
And I appreciate that. They could have let me get to defense, fail, and that would have been that.
So I appreciate this chance to fix this, to make it work, to get it done.

I'm still not sure where I go from here specifically.

I've been told to honestly re-read the dissertation. Re-conceptualize it. Then by mid-August submit a revision plan. I've been told not to work on revisions/rewrites this summer. I admit to struggling with this for a couple of reasons. The first is I don't know how to not work. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing when I'm told to just think about things. I'm a worker. A doer. And sitting here not doing anything, making no forward movement, is increasing my anxiety.
I'm also really, really concerned on how this gets done during the school year.

So, I'm not working. I'm not writing. I'm not DOING anything.
I'm laying in bed, laying on the couch, feeling like complete and total failure.
My anxiety has made sure my brain is a hamster wheel of not shutting up.
So I can tell you that I've been thinking about nothing other than the general issues of the dissertation.
  • Originally my research revealed that the character of the English devil fell into two main categories: form and function.
    • By trying to have the first half of the dissertation work as a survey and the second half look at genres, these throughlines got completely lost. Not only that but the survey + genre format makes no sense.
    • Months ago, when bemoaning my lack of publications on the horizon I was told to look at common themes in the diss, pull like bits out and form an article out of them. This led to considering a thematic approach to the dissertation into book. I think this is where I'll start with my reconception, re-vision.
      • Form
        • Visual Rhetoric (difference = Otherness = threat)
          • Darkness
          • Animal
          • Merlin narratives
          • Shakespeare's Transnational Devil
        • Jews
          • Magicians
          • Religious Others
        • Women 
          • Saints
          • VM
          • Early Modern Sexualized Other
      • Function 
        • Polemics
          • Pamphlets (purpose: like form, to ID the enemy)
          • Carnivale/Comic Devils (purpose: to render threats safe)
          • Disobedience and Obedience in Milton (purpose: to teach right action)
        • Rebellion
          • Lexical Analysis
          • Rebellion in medieval texts
          • Shakespeare's Devils at Home
          • Pamphlets
          • Milton
  • The dissertation as it stands now sought to be a comprehensive examination of the English folkloric devil
    • This is too much. It's biting off more than I can chew. It's methodologically unsound. It's too sprawling.
    • At one point I thought of the project as a series of case studies. In reconceptualizing it, I think this is the best approach.
  • The dissertation is currently 459 pages with the bibliography and appendix. 331 pages of actual dissertation. Dissertation guidelines say 150-200 pages. So over. By a lot. But as it was pointed out, that in and of itself is not the issue. The bloatedness of it is though.
    • Re-think of chapters more as articles that interlock, perfectly contained arguments where each piece builds on the next.
    • Identify the essential element, trim, cut the fat, focus.
    • This means too that a lot of things need to be cut from the dissertation.
      • I really enjoyed the Old English work I did in my Anglo-Saxon chapter. But it's really an exercise. It's out of my field. It's clunky. The main part is the section on female saints and Jews. Both of which can easily be folded into other, better chapters.
      • The analytical work I did for my pamphlet chapter was the biggest surprise and some of the work I am most proud of. It's also unnecessary. Most of it belongs in an appendix, make it available online, but it's not key to my argument.
      • When I first started I was asked why this was not a Milton dissertation. The truth is Milton's Satan is the end point of this character's evolution, but not the focus. So while the analytical work on Paradise Lost is interesting, almost all of it can be cut because it doesn't lock with the rest of the work OR focus on Satan.
      • Likewise, the work on Milton's prose works is interesting but not connected.
  • I also spend a lot of time saying what I'm doing instead of actually doing it.
  • My chapters need a clearer foundation
    • Introduction that acts as a roadmap
    • Methodology, key scholars
      • HOW I use and apply this
    • Historical background
    • Literary analysis
  • I also think that while the process of writing (Twitter, blogging, Storifying) was to me essential, I wonder if I got distracted by the novelty of the process and as a result the product suffered.
Next week I have a meeting with our chair of graduate studies to make sure I understand where I am. So I can move forward.
I have also set up meetings with my committee members who are here to talk through where I am and where I need to go. I've been told I'll get notes from them. And one has said they'll have models of the types of chapters they want to see.

By the end of the summer I'd like to have a couple of dissertation based article submissions. Not just for more publications, but to get feedback. I will submit my revision plan but have been told not to include any deadlines or completion dates.
I will teach online.
I will struggle with the idea that no one believes in me and I shouldn't be here.

I will continue to struggle with the idea that I am doing this alone. With no support network.
I will lesson plan for next year.
I will ignore the fact that I am back in limbo, feeling like my life is again on hold. That it is out of my control.

I'm hoping come early fall I will have some more details. A more concrete idea of what the timeline is.
It's hard to figure out what I'm struggling most with, but it may be that I've also been told not to go on the job market this year.  I think this may be the hardest because what that means to me is that I can't rewrite this in a year. That no one thinks by this time next year I'll be done. And that means I'm not looking at a year added to my timeline, I'm more likely looking at two.
And that's hard.
That timeline seems insurmountable.

But I since the beginning of the process this has been my mantra:
So I just need to focus on the work. Making sure it's good. Sharing drafts with my committee. Trying to get some dissertation things published. Make forward movement.
I need to try and have faith that it will work out.
That I can do this.

But I may need you to remind me.