The power of shitty first drafts

I think Anne Lammott gets the credit for establishing the power of “shitty first drafts.”  She says as long as you sit down and write something, anything, you have the chance at editing something terrible, into something good, into something terrific.  But if you have nothing in front of you, you have nothing to cultivate, and that’s not a good feeling. Until the beginning of this summer, I was lost in that uncultivated place.  I had been told so many times, both blatantly and insidiously, that was I stupid, that my values were misplaced, and that my project was unimportant, that I couldn’t hear the voices telling me I was good at my work. As a consequence, I developed a bit of rust.  Not engineless-tractor-in-the-cow-shed kind of rust, but a layer just deep enough to make each attempt to restart my project a slog.  Given my depleted confidence, I interpreted that slog as incompetence. But eventually, with enough distance from

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The bad news is, I’ve not posted here in a while. The good news is, that’s because I overcame demons, broke curses, and wrote a new dissertation chapter. The extra good news is, my advisor loved it.  He said it was well-written important work, even. The terrifying news is, that means my project has taken off at an accelerated pace, with a brand new panel, schedule, and defense date. Why is that so terrifying? Well, there’s the obvious reason: I haven’t been producing at a fast pace in quite a while, nor have I had other people depending on my production. But when I stop and think about that, it’s less scary and more challenging.  I like a good challenge.  I like seeing my word count rise.  Deadlines have always been easiest for me to meet when I have external accountability, people waiting for me. So, is it the pressure to out-perform myself with each new chapter–to write a chapter

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Huzzah, it’s my birthday! The perfect occasion on which to get all introspective.  Or at least more so than other days. I must say, I’m excited to turn 32.  I much prefer even-numbered years, for reasons I can’t quite explain, and since 8 is my lucky number, this year should be especially great, since 32 is divisible by 8 four times. Oh snap. I’m also excited to turn 32 for more “real” reasons, though. Reason 1: My dissertation is in a good place I don’t want to say much more than that.  One of the things I’ve learned about myself over the years, is that if I expend too much energy talking about the intricacies of what engages me, or the excitement of it, I lose the magic.  Sort of like if I let an actual cat out of an actual bag, and the cat turned around and was like, fuck you, man, you put me in a bag!? and

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Dissertation voice: curricula

I’ve mentioned in another post that I tend to write in a question-driven manner.  I like to explore issues, controversies, and weirdnesses, and figure out what makes them tick and how they move. But, of course, that raises the problem of shape.  What does a cohesive project look like if it’s not moving from point A to B?   I went back to my method books to look for the answer, and I found it in John Law’s Aircraft Stories. Aircraft Stories is a collection of tightly related stories/essays about a miltary project that was cancelled back in the 60s.  It covers decision-making procedures, the aesthetics of science, the culture of construction, and the way by which a single object, like an aircraft, takes on multiple meanings.  So, it’s a lot of stories grown “alongside one another” as Law says, as though he tacked them all up on a wall, stood back, and wrote about the coolest stuff he saw. In

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Central research questions

When most people think of history, they think of a story.  They think of time passing, people acting, events happening, and the record of such things. Certainly, that is part of what history is–the narrative.  And certainly you can write this sort of history, filling in gaps in the timeline, discussing new archival materials, and broadening scope. But, to be perfectly honest, I usually find this kind of history rather boring.  Unless I’m already keenly interested in a time period or a person, reading a basic narrative doesn’t hold my attention.  And it definitely won’t win my attention if the subject is new to me. For that, I have to see that the author is answering a unique question, trying a new method of analysis, or issuing a challenge.  Whether or not it’s narrative doesn’t really matter to me–I like a collection of stories or unexpected asides as much as I can dig on a strong central story. And so,

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The Holloway Project

Yes, this project is technically my dissertation.  I’ll continue to tag it as such on the website so that it links to prior posts on my theory and research.  And I intend to defend it and complete the graduate journey I started. But I also have plans for this piece that move it outside of the realm of the typical dissertation. Namely, I want to make this a compassionate project, for me, for readers, for those directly affected by my research. Here’s what I mean… Self-compassion: Over the past year, I realized that I don’t really want tenure.  I don’t want committee appointments, where I have to turn brilliant people down for funding.  I don’t want high-pressure research projects that divorce me from my students.  I don’t want to communicate in code.  And I am six kinds of over all the rambling conference presentations. I recognize that some people feel empowered by these codes and systems.  I do not.  If

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Shifting (read: grinding) gears

Steven King says that after you finish your first draft, you have to chuck it in a drawer for at least six weeks.  Then when you go to edit, you will have achieved proper distance from the manuscript, making it easier to gut what needs gutted. Sure. He also says that during this six week period, you must forget the manuscript exists, and that this can be accomplished by switching to a different project, distracting yourself with other things. Bullshit. Maybe when you’re Steven King and you’ve written approximately six hundred novels, you can just switch tracks, but after your first novel? Literally all the varieties of bullshit in all the land. Here is what actually happened when I tried to do that: First, I came down off my elation so hard that I started running a fever.  I had plugged up sinuses, chills, aches.  I was nowhere near possessing the level of energy required to undertake a vast new

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Uncoverage as a model for doing history: a personal testimonial

One of the major debates in the teaching of history right now is whether you should cover or uncover history. The first model, coverage, is likely the model you’ve experienced in your high school history classroom.  The teacher presents scads of information to you, chronologically or thematically ordered, and you read until your brain explodes, taking copious notes and memorizing lists, dates, names, all without much connection from one topic to the next. Sometimes you luck out with a brilliant lecturer, but more often than not, this model ends up as boring and alienating.  It’s the reason people tell me they hate history. When you uncover history, though, as proposed by Lendol Calder in “Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey” you start with method–research approaches, question formation–and then you go and find the answers to your questions.  This model is beneficial for a number of major reasons. First, when you formulate your own research questions, rather than

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Traveling internationally for the U.S. humanities grad: planning

Over the past seven years of graduate school, I’ve earned the funding to travel overseas on four occasions–once for my MA and three times for my dissertation. Research trip #1 was almost diverted by a freak snowstorm that hit London and threw everyone into such a tizzy that Heathrow closed its runway and the London Times printed a front page story about people helping each other cross the treacherous streets in the “spirit of the blitz.”  It was like…six inches of snow, guys. The day I flew out for research trip #2, VISA cancelled both my debit and credit card in a company wide fraud protection scheme, leaving with me a bare minimum of cash.  My roommate at the time had to mail me my replacement cards, which was a total fiasco I had forcefully forgotten until just now.  That’s worth a post on it’s own. Anyway, research trip #3 went off alright, aside from the horrid customs officer, but

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