Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Sunday, August 28, 2016

I'm Not Back...An Extended Hiatus

As some of you may have noticed, I have not been my normal chatty, super-posting self. And I won't be in the near future, so I wanted to write a short explanation.

For those of you not caught up on summer events-
  • I did not defend my dissertation in June. I did not graduate. Instead, I am starting over, and not just revising the dissertation but completely throwing it out, setting it on fire, and rewriting the dissertation. From scratch.
  • I can tell you this summer that I came really close to quitting. A lot of things, not just my PhD program.
  • With no face to face support system, everyone gone for summer, I found myself floundering on many levels. 
  • So I retreated a bit into hermitage in order to take stock, find my footing, figure out my next steps. You know, the normal cliches.
After two months, this is what I know:
  • What I wrote was an interesting literary survey of the devil in English literature from the Anglo-Saxons to Paradise Lost
    • A survey is not an argument, it is not a dissertation.
    • It certainly has a lot of information, and I have lots of stuff for future projects, but it's not going to get that Dr. in front of my name.
  • So a summer of soul searching, multiple crying jags, break downs, radical decisions, calls for help no one answered, and a lot of meetings later,  I have a revision plan/outline for a new dissertation.
    • This revision plan has a clear argument. Each chapter has an argument. Each chapter builds on the previous, with the final chapter's argument interlocking with each previous chapter.
    • This is a leaner dissertation, four chapters instead of six. Each chapter only focuses on 1-2 primary documents instead of 20-30.  Size-wise it will be probably be a little more than half the size of the original. More importantly, it does what a dissertation should.
    • While the dissertation is still on the devil in English literature, I'm trimmed or dumped a lot of the things weighing it down. Folklore and my original methodology is interesting, and still what I want to explore in the future, but it's not in the dissertation, neither is a lot of the interdisciplinary work I originally wanted to do. This is okay. The dissertation is my ticket into this world. It doesn't have to do everything I want to do in my entire career.
  • I know people have written about how isolating writing the dissertation can be. So have I. But I realized this summer that I was really, totally, on my own. And it took me most of the summer to not just internalize that but find a way forward from that.
I have a rough plan for HOW and WHEN I'm going to complete these chapters but I'm not married to it if notes, revisions, the work requires something else. This summer sort of cured me of that.
I'd like to draft one chapter a month, with the goal of having a complete rough draft of this new dissertation by the end of the year (so by January). But past that, I couldn't tell you. At least now I can see a way forward. I do feel as one committee member said, that once I figured out my argument, since I'd done all this reading, research, and work, much of the rest would fall together. I hope that all means that I'm on the right track. I trust too that my committee will guide me if not.

So certainly a lot of this contributed to my social media withdrawal.
But a lot more of it is practical.

I reported to my high school teaching job 5 August. Students reported 11 August.
I leave for work at 630a and I am at work from 7a until 230 or 3p. I teach five classes. My classes are bigger this year with mostly 30+ students. We also this year have had it  recommended that we give an assignment per week, with at least one assignment given every two weeks, so there's a lot of grading to do.
I had one week of this before I started teaching my online early Shakespeare class for my university this semester (which covers my tuition, and with the late notice of everything this summer, I'm happy to have it). There are currently 73 students in it, and I do not have a TA. However, I designed and taught this class this past spring, and made some changes based on student feedback this summer, so I feel good about it. The first week went well. Last semester the class started with 75 with a 5 student wait list but the class dropped quite a bit by the end. I was told this was the norm. But I also took some steps to make the course more accessible, and barring that, asked students to check with me before dropping. We'll see.
Right now scheduling and organizing is key. Lucky for me organization and color-coding is my superpower because every day, every hour is scheduled and set aside for specific things.
  • I have Monday through Friday during my school day to work on my high school stuff, so lesson planning, grading, etc. I'm aiming for getting it all done during the school day, but we'll see. 
    • I answer/check emails all day from my online course and once I get home I log onto my online class and grade daily so that it doesn't get out of hand.
  • Saturdays I have set aside for dissertation work (week 1 close reading for chapter, week 2 interact with/add secondary sources, week 3 write chapter intro and conclusion, add footnotes, week 4 final revisions). The good news is that the last year was not wasted. While I can only use about five pages out of the original 333 page dissertation, the research, the scope, the knowledge I gained has made writing the revision plan, and hopefully the writing, easier.
  • Sundays I grade in my online course, post the announcement of weekly reminders for week. Since I don't have a TA, I probably won't get their bigger papers graded and turned around in a day like I did spring semester and this summer. But I'll get it done as soon as I can, and I think I've scheduled the bigger papers where it will be okay. I'm letting myself off the hook with this because I know of no other professor who turns papers around in a day.
So, I am busy.
I am scheduled within an inch of my life.
Because of this I'm a little worried about hiccups- small things could have big impacts if they mess up. For example, the grad student I hired to come let Nehi out (she's crate trained) during the day quit with 3 days notice, so I'm scrambling a bit with that. I also have been horribly sick this past week so working when I just wanted to sleep was hard. When it's just you everything is harder. But I'm working on it.

I've tried to separate the wheat from the chaff, of things I really have to focus on, that matters, and what doesn't. Certainly in my personal life, the events of this summer made that easy. People who revealed themselves to be fair weather friends were easily cut from my life. If you can't be there for me during a crisis, then I don't need you.
I do feel better about myself than I have in a long time. I proved to myself that I could survive anything. I can do anything. I had forgotten that. I believe in myself again. And I am happy with myself. I have found my balance.
This is not to say things are always easy.
I love teaching high school, and am enjoying my school and my students. But I miss working from home. I miss spending most of my time with Nehi. I miss the flexibility of that schedule. I am sure I will miss participating in department events at my university that I won't have time for. I will miss submitting to conferences and participating in conferences I've attended for years but can't just now. I'm just going to one this year, #Kzoo17, because I can't afford more money-wise and I can't afford the time off from my teaching job.  I will admit that while this workload is a lot, the trade off is I am not worried about money, which I find has eliminated a lot of other stresses I had last year.

And all of this brings me to my hiatus.

I love Twitter and blogging. I love that  people who have read my blog about my grad school and dissertating experience have found it helpful. I love the community of Twitter, the sharing of ideas, the networking, the people. But this summer I realized a couple of things. The first is, I was looking to social media for answers, and help, and support that I needed, and I realized this summer that the help I needed was not to be found on social media. Not because people aren't nice or interested. But everyone has their own lives, their own priorities, their own stuff. I needed to find my own answers. My own support. And since I don't have a face to face support network I needed to be that for myself. This means I have to put myself first because no one else is.
Also, others have said this before, but Tweeting, blogging, a social media presence, requires a certain environment, a privilege in your life to be able to do it and do it well. I don't believe either is something you can dip your toe in and have it be meaningful. It's time consuming. It takes daily work to cultivate these conversations and relationships, to be aware of the ongoing conversations, to read all the references, the comments, the posts. And I just don't have that time right now.

I'm not deleting accounts or anything.
I get emails when people message me, and I appreciate those of you who have reached out to check on me.
I have a roundtable at #Kzoo with a deadline in September, so I've posted reminders to the CFP. I'm sure when #Kzoo17 does roll around I'll be tweeting and sharing as conference time allows.
But for now I need to focus on balancing my multiple jobs and workloads and on making sure I get through this all.


  1. I'm mostly silent. I've withdrawn in a lot of ways because of my dissertation, where I've also been floundering, largely because I feel disconnected from my committee, the school, and my own process. I freak out when I see myself and my debts as never being complete. I'm consistently in awe of you. Even from afar.

  2. I think normally dissertating can be a lonely process, I think adding any complication makes it almost insurmountable. But it's also one of the reasons I write and share- I want people to know they are not alone, that almost ALL of us feel this way, and that there's a way out. Hang in there!