One of the things I’d forgotten over the past year was how important is was–it is–for me to look outside of my department, my university, for support.
This isn’t to say that the faculty in my department aren’t supportive of my work; for the most part, the ones whose opinions I value are. But you know what? They’re also really fucking busy.
There’s a lot of bullshit involved in the day-to-day life of a graduate program; the persistent minutia of academic life, like who’s teaching what course, who’ll serve on which committee, who’s not talking to whom. In addition because our program’s so small, most faculty members are on multiple dissertation or thesis committees, and they all have, you know, family lives.
So no one is here to hold your hand, as a PhD student, and most of the time, for me, that’s been ok. More than. Generally, I don’t like to be fussed over.
But it also means that there’s a lot of stuff I’m not saying, that I’m not sharing with anyone in the program. About my project, my work process, I mean. Because at some level, when people on your committee ask “How’s the dissertation coming?”, what they want you to say is “fine.” For many good and right reasons, most people don’t want to hear the messy truth, one I’d struggle to communicate, anyway:
It’s hard. I’m a little lost. Having to plan a project before I did it is kind of biting me in the ass. Today was ok. I read some good theory. I found a great source. Look what was posted today at this site that I’m studying. I think I’ve got something good. Writing is hard.
Truth be told, though, I don’t want to share the complexities of the project with my committee, because I don’t want them to interfere. Yes, I want help, or at least a sympathetic ear, but I’ve learned over time that those asks often come with a cost.
Paradox of exhausted grad student, huzzah.
I’m also the only member of my cohort that’s here on campus full time. So the few (the two) colleagues that I’d trust with the kind of bullshit I’m spewing above, my own brand of personal angst–they’re not around.
And I’m tired. Did I mention that? I’m really tired. And isolated, stuck in my own bubble of suck, while at the same time feeling that I’m under constant observation from the unseen departmental eye, because fuck: I’m supposed to be applying for jobs soon, and what I am doing to position myself for that?
Ugh. I know. Paranoia much, me?
But I went to a couple of conferences recently, for the first time in a year, and for the first time in ages, I’m looking forward to my project again.
Part of it, I think, was having to crunch wee parts of the project into 15 minute chunks for audiences who are outside of my field (or my official one, anyway) of rhetoric; always a good challenge for me.
The bigger part of it, though, was the atmosphere: hanging out for a couple of days with a community of scholars who are, you know, HAPPY to be scholars, who are excited about their work, who want to talk about yours. One of the conferences I went to (that I go to every year) is the national PCA/ACA shindig, and I spent most of my time there in a room of popular romance scholars. What I love about these folks, this particular community, is how generous they are in terms of suggestions, questions, and book recommendations. As a group, they are just fired up to get together and talk about this thing–popular romance–that they all love and study from a wide variety of different perspectives and disciplines.
Not to point too fine a point on it: there was a lot of love in that room.
Oh, I flitted around to other areas. Sat in on an awesome and raucous fan studies panel, heard a paper on religion and 50 Shades of Gray, even went to a rhetoric and composition panel, one that was ostensibly focused on fan scholarship. Heh. But I kept coming back to romance, and damn if I didn’t feel more fired up about my work after two days with them than I have in, fuck it, a year.
I’d forgotten how to find joy and pleasure in my research. An easy thing to do, I think, when I’ve been so focused on the hoop-jumping required to get the project off the ground and on navigating the unsettled politics of our department, true. But still. To bastardize Andrew Carnegie, I’d forgotten that my heart was in the work.
Coming back, it’s been REALLY hard to hold on to that sense of promise, to those threads of happiness I thought I’d managed to snag my fingers in once more. Honestly, I’m demoralized, and being back in the lion’s den, in the belly of the beast, has brought that home one more time.
Still. There was a moment when I was back onboard with my project. When it felt like something useful and interesting and even exciting and not a sodden, unhappy slog.
It’s a beginning. A start. I can work with that.