Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

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.





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